Spotlight on... Mindful Music Moments & organizer Stacy Sims
In January 2016, the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra helped pilot a new program called Mindful Music Moments, coordinated by Stacy Sims, a mind-body educator and author and creator of the True Body Project and City Silence. Each day during the morning announcements, the students attentively listen to an excerpt of classical and orchestral music, then spend a few minutes discussing it with their class. The program began at the Academy of World Languages (located in Cincinnati’s Evanston neighborhood) and was “an instant hit,” according to Ms. Sims. She shared more about the inception and benefits of the program with Fanfare Cincinnati:
Fanfare Cincinnati: Tell us briefly about your organization City Silence.
Stacy Sims: City Silence was created in 2015 to celebrate the True Body Project’s 10th anniversary as a way to provide a no-cost, barrier-free introduction to silence, meditation and mindfulness practices. The True Body Project (TBP) is an award-winning, trauma-informed, social emotional curriculum that celebrates holistic wellness and body-based self-regulating tools. More than 2000 girls and women (and now men and boys) have experienced True Body programs in the U.S. and abroad. Both the True Body Project and City Silence were created by me. I am a mind-body educator and author.
Today, City Silence features community mindfulness gatherings, mind-body workshops and trainings, and Mindful Music Moments: an innovative program bringing both mindfulness and classical music and/or opera into schools and other organizations on a daily or regular basis over the morning announcements or other cultural "pauses."
FC: How did Mindful Music Moments get started? What was the inspiration behind the program?
SS: I have been working with schools for more than a decade and have observed that students and teachers across all demographics are having more and more difficulty with stress, trauma and resilience. In the spring of 2015, I did a 10-week daily mindfulness pilot with 7th and 8th grade students at Academy of World Languages who had an extra bell to catch up on cultural and social-emotional learning since this group of students had missed educational learning due to refugee challenges. I knew that this level of intervention was not replicable. Yet I heard the morning announcements every day and it occurred to me that this could be a bandwidth for a school-wide ritual.
I approached the CSO’s education department and AWL and we piloted Mindful Music in January of 2016. It was an instant hit.
FC: How as the MMM program grown since its inception?
SS: The 2016-2017 school year we grew 2000% and reached 28 schools and organizations and 10,000 students. We are now reaching 45 schools and organizations in the Greater Cincinnati area, plus another 20+ in Cleveland (with the Cleveland Orchestra) and soon Columbus (with the Columbus Symphony) connecting classical music and mindfulness to more than 22,000 youth every school day.
FC: How did your partnership with the CSO come about? Do you personally have a musical background that maybe contributed to this partnership?
SS: I don’t have a particularly musical background—my work has been more in the visual and literary arts—but my City Silence experience placed me every weekday morning in Washington Park for an hour of meditation with the community. As I began to conceive of the morning announcement ritual, sitting in front of Music Hall, it was as though the music presented itself to me as essential to the concept. The beauty of being in Cincinnati is that arts organizations are highly collaborative and approachable, so with an introduction via a CSO staff member, we were pretty quickly on our way.
The way MMM works is that each week, students listen to a new piece of music each day with slightly different mindfulness prompts proceeding each 3 minute excerpt of music. I work with the CSO to create a playlist that mirrors the Young People’s Concerts, Pops and the season schedule. I have learned so much about music! Not all of the music we present is “meditative,” and we create a listening context so that fan favorite “Flight of the Bumblebee” is as relevant to mindful attention as is a more sedate work.
We start every school year with Fanfare for the Common Man. It makes me so Cincinnati-proud every time I hear it.
FC: What have been some of the positive results of implementing MMM in schools?
SS: I still go to the Academy of World Languages every school morning to deliver the content personally and to stay in touch with the student/teacher experience. Each morning, a student delivers the “Pledge of Allegiance” and sits with me during Mindful Music. I always interview them and without fail, they say that Mindful Music helps them feel calm, helps them learn, and helps them have a nice start to their day.
Here are some of the things we are hearing from parents and teachers:
"When your child comes home and says they love school, it is a good day. When your child comes home and says they had fun while they were learning, it is a great day. But when your child comes home and tells you that the best part of the day was listening to mindful music and names the classical piece, it is a mind blowing day!" - Parent
"I am usually the person playing the music on our PA system so I don't get to see what is happening in the classrooms during Mindful Music Moments. But I know it is working when students tell me that Mindful Music Moments is the best part of their day. I have students demonstrating what they do when they listen and sharing that the breathing techniques help them when they feel anxious or stressed." - Principal
“I just finished my school counseling needs assessment (the one I used to show the need for MMM). One example to show you is in 2014-2015, 46% of our 5th graders said they needed help handling stress; this year only 17% of our 5th graders said they needed help with stress. I know that MMM has a direct impact on that number.” - Counselor
FC: Do you have any personal anecdotes from your observations of the program? Have you noticed a greater increase in musical interest in students?
SS: It is a joyous thing to see children drop into the experience of the music and share what they feel. Recently, I visited with several groups of students at Covedale Elementary and asked what they thought I should know to improve Mindful Music Moments. I loved how specific they were: “more Beethoven, more Mozart, more flutes, more violins ...” I also love hearing about what happens when the students attend the Young People’s Concerts and are familiar with the music from listening to Mindful Music. It is so empowering, that familiarity!
FC: How would you like to see this program grow in the future?
SS: I want every student in every school to have access to Mindful Music Moments. Locally, I am hoping to help fund every school that needs it. We are also working to create more content for educators and parents to connect to the music and the ritual of listening together and having a conversation about the feeling, emotions and thoughts associated with deep listening.
FC: The CSO’s mission statement is “to seek and share inspiration.” Where do you seek and find inspiration?
SS: I find inspiration in knowing that so many students overcome great obstacles just to arrive at school. Every day I see them trying so hard to learn, participate, thrive and achieve. I also find inspiration from the teachers and administrators who serve these students. I find inspiration in meditation, community and the arts. Our town is riding an amazing wave of artist and cultural excellence. It is literally thrilling to be here to witness and participate in it.
FC: Is there anything else you would like to add?
SS: I just returned from a conference in New York with leading neuroscientists, psychologists, and thought-leaders on mindfulness. I was reminded that these rituals of listening and attunement to beauty, stillness, sound, music and each other are essential to our well-being and that during these difficult and busy times, there may be no better medicine than having a shared experience of music.