It’s hard to imagine a more exhilarating way to engage children in dharma than through song. Betsy Rose, who jokingly calls herself a “country-eastern singer,” has created songs for, and sometimes with, children about the spirit and practice of Buddhism. After almost two decades of inspiring songs and performances on themes like feminism and peace, Betsy has recently added Engaged Buddhism to her empowering repertoire.
The “dharma songs” reprinted here are based on the teachings of Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, and were written primarily on two of Nhat Hanh’s retreats, one for western artists and another for young people and their families. “Children’s Precepts” was adapted from the traditional children’s precepts which Nhat Hanh teaches on retreats.
“Breathing In Breathing Out” emerged out of a creative collaboration among eight children and several adults. Betsy sees herself as receiving a teaching that she transforms, with others into song that then becomes her teaching as well. Through song Nhat Hanh’s teaching becomes a community experience.
“It was fun creating ‘Breathing In Breathing Out’ together,” Betsy reflects, “We set up an easel board and started writing out what people remembered of the words of the meditation. Then we talked about the spirit of the meditation. I asked, ‘What kind of music would invoke that kind of spirit? Would it be fast and lively?’ We agreed that it needed to be slow and dreamy, a seductive healing kind of sound. So I started singing ‘Breathing in….’ in a 3/4 waltz time. It evolved from there. Somebody called out ‘I’m a flower. I’m fresh.’ I sang that with a chord change.” Later, when Betsy taught the song to the rest of the retreatants, everybody sang it again and again as children and parents joined hands and waltzed around the meditation hall.
Betsy Rose’s most recent cassette, In My Two Hands, recorded at a Zen monastery, is a “country-eastern” blend of folk hymns, lively chants and meditation ballads from various sacred traditions. To get a copy, or to find out more about Betsy Rose’s performances, songwriting workshops or recordings, visit www.betsyrosemusic.org.