Pelham teaches joy, belonging with music

Children join Music Mobile's director, Ruth Pelham, far left, in singing and learning about peacemaking and cooperation as Albany County District Attorney, David Soares, second from left, participates.

ALTAMONT — Ruth Pelham’s Music Mobile will make a stop at the Altamont Free Library next Wednesday to share a family program called “Room For Us All: Building Safe Communities Together.”

Pelham started the program, which she calls her life’s work, 36 years ago in Albany.

“It’s using music to teach everything else,” she said.

“There were a lot of children wandering the streets with very little supervision and very little to do,” she said. Her program of bringing music to the children and their families as a “loving and free way to learn about each other, and how to be a kind and decent human being” grew from a six-week summer event into a full-time not-for-profit organization.

“Through singing, building musical instruments, games…what runs through each Music Mobile program is an abundant sense of joy and belonging,” Pelham said.

The Music Mobile will stop in seven Albany County sites this summer, including Berne at an undetermined date. Pelham and the Music Mobile will be at the Altamont Free Library on Wednesday, Aug. 28, at 3:30 p.m., and the program will be outdoors with good weather, or indoors with bad.

Families and people of all ages are welcome, she said. Designed for kindergarten through fourth-grade children, those in pre-school up to sixth grade enjoy the program, she said.

“Teenagers like being there,” she said. “We don’t have an age limit.” During the program, older participants are often encouraged to help the younger children as they meet during the activities.

The organization also visits schools and after-school programs during the rest of the year.

“We use participatory music to help people learn about getting along, math, science, nature…We do that through using songs that are catchy and easy to sing,” Pelham said. “What builds community with Music Mobile is when our voices blend into one community singing together. People will come up to me on the street and start singing the Music Mobile song to me with a great big smile and hug.”

The program offers free CDs of Music Mobile songs for children to take home, but part of the program involves “making up words to our songs — they’re part of the creative process,” she said. The CDs have “been a wonderful addition to the on-site programs,” she said.

Music Mobile creates reading materials, including books and calendars, for the children and families who attend, acting as “a bridge between teachers, parents, and the child,” Pelham said. The programs also offer and teach non-competitive board games, all of which are centered around being involved with the community, justice, recycling, and other positive aspects of living together.

“It’s a very significant and hopeful way of affecting the world for the greater good,” Pelham said. “I love what we do here at Music Mobile.”

Non-violence in Altamont

Music Mobile is funded through donations and corporate grants, Pelham said.

“Music Mobile puts really good use to every dollar we get,” she said, noting that, for 36 years, the organization has provided free programs. “We go right into the neighborhood,” Pelham said. “It’s everybody pooling our resources to reach people who might not have resources.”

 This summer’s program, “Room For Us All,” is funded as part of the Albany County District Attorney’s Office ENOUGH initiative geared toward prevention of violence in Albany County.  The ENOUGH Programs are supported through the District Attorney’s ‘Making Crime Pay” initiative, which is a program designed to deter crime by depriving criminals of the profits and proceeds of their illegal activities. Those ill-gotten gains are used to support law enforcement, prevention, education, and public safety initiatives throughout the county, Pelham said in an e-mail statement.

“Violence comes in all degrees and all different forms,” Pelham said when asked how her program applied to low-crime areas like Altamont and Berne. Children are exposed to violence “just from watching television and watching movies. It is confusing to children when they see adults behaving in ways that are not congruent with what they are told in school,” she said.

“Anti-bullying is a national program — learning anger management, how to understand other people’s feelings,” she said. “Cliques can be extremely painful and deeply wounding. Words can hurt. Even a nasty look can hurt. We teach how to be cooperative, to be compassionate, to be caring. It’s up to each of us to be a global family to each other.”

Pelham said that places where tragedies occurred, like Columbine and Sandy Hook, were not necessarily thought of as violent.

“It comes in all forms,” she said.

Altamont’s program

On Wednesday, families will arrive and sing several songs to begin.

“We’re going to be interacting with each other through clapping and working in small groups. We’ll say, ‘Everybody, take a look around the circle. Meet somebody with your eyes and say, “I’m glad you’re here.” ’ ”

Pelham said that every person deals with issues, such as not feeling part of a group.

“Each one of us is needed,” she said. Using the song “B-I-N-G-O,” Pelham will teach the group the song “P-E-A-C-E.” The singers will begin in pairs and clap each other’s hands, touching another person in a safe way. The circle will increase to four people, with each pair being introduced to the other.

“Strangers become more like a community,” Pelham said, adding that the groups then increase to eight, and continues to double, reinforcing math concepts while building community. At the end, the group is in one big circle and everyone knows everyone else, she said.

“It’s all very integrated,” Pelham said. Participants clap their hands, clap their bellies, clap their shoulders and those of their neighbors to feel the bones, she said.

“It’s those things that break down barriers. Human contact has become the exception rather than the rule,” she said. “We feel the power we have through friendliness and interaction with each other. It’s about love, acceptance, and inclusion.”

Once the group has met, they will build musical instruments from recycled materials, Pelham said. The construction helps build competence and confidence, and Music Mobile provides age-appropriate materials, she said.

If groups want to attend, they are welcome but are asked to contact Music Mobile beforehand so that Pelham and her staff bring enough materials, she said. For information, Music Mobile can be reached at 462-8714, at  , on Facebook, or online at

“Come ready to sing,” Pelham said. “All voices are welcome. And heard.”

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