In 1999, I made a mural with all the students at Hillsboro
Elementary School (Virginia) called "The Challenge of Beauty". When the
project was completed, a second grader named Meredith said, "I wish the
whole world could see our painting and then the whole world would be
Then she asked, "What if the whole world made a painting together?"
I said, "I like that picture better than what we're doing. Let's do it, and let's start with the children."
THE WHOLE WORLD IS INVITED!
A true story in a book called The Singing Tree by Kate Seredy provided the seed for a series of murals:
One night during World War I, soldiers crawled for hours on their bellies to escape the enemy. Everything had been destroyed by the shells, bullets, and violence of war. They didn't come across any evidence of life ? not a house, person, rabbit, squirrel, bird, tree or bush. However, when dawn came, they saw that one tree was still alive. Birds from hundreds of miles away, who don't normally come together, were in the tree, singing.
The earth is the Singing Tree of the Solar System. All the things that divide people are not as important as the fact that there is no other life that we know of for billions of miles around. WE ARE ALONE TOGETHER IN SPACE! We can chose to destroy each other or to create something beautiful together, like the new song of the birds in the Singing Tree.
In the spring of 2001, a pilot project took place in the Rappahannock
County schools (Virginia), where I was teaching and living. All the
children of this small county (about 1000 children) west of Washington,
D.C. in the foothills of the Blue Ridge mountains, made the first "Singing Tree" (the Elm), funded by a grant from the Headwaters
Next, four more "Singing Trees" were created in Pittsburgh, PA under the umbrella of the Pittsburgh Children's Museum. High
school art students from an inner city school (Peabody High School) and
a suburban school (Mt. Lebanon High School) painted the background;
chose the kind of tree; and cut out leaves, tree trunk , earth and
stars so that 4000 students could be a part of the paintings. Young
people from Peru, Sierra Leone and Germany have contributed to the Gingko Tree.
The Goal of "The Singing Trees" is to promote an understanding of that
which unites young people across economic and cultural lines by giving
them a common creative experience where they can express their
individuality. It is based on two ideas:
1. That children are deeply engaged in learning when they are making a real product for a real audience that expresses real interests.
2. That children are a source of wisdom and vision for our deeply troubled world.
A mathematical component includes solving the engineering problem of organizing such a complex image, measuring, numbering and assembling. Painting the universe uses Cosmology; deciding on the kind of tree and researching its leaves and trunk uses Biology; creating a picture of the world uses Geography and putting it all together, with public, private schools, homeschoolers and students from around the world uses Cooperative Learning.
So far the Singing Trees have been exhibited at the 2001 graduation of Rappahannock County High School, Virginia; the 2002 Three Rivers Arts Festival of Pittsburgh, Pa; the U.S. Botanic Gardens to commemorate Sept. 11th, 2002; the downtown space of Manchester Craftsman's Guild in Pittsburgh, Pa; and at Peabody and Mt. Lebanon High School.
Funds are being sought to create six more Singing Trees, involving 6000 more children. In addition to involving suburban, inner city and rural children, there will also be a focus on homeless, handicapped and sick young people of Pennsylvania, Native Americans in Arizona, and young people in Peru. Funds are also being sought to print the Singing Trees on canvas banners that can be shipped and displayed more easily as well as outdoors.
A student from Mt. Lebanon High School said the paintings should reside where people are suffering from not being united and not being free. Laurie will be working with young people to achieve this important goal.
As of 2009, 11 Singing Trees have been made with over 8000 people from
more than 15 countries. They have been exhibited at the U.S. Botanic
Gardens, at the IONS conference and in schools
throughout the world.
The fact that an eight-year-old had the unifying vision for this project is significant. Without the lenses of division worn by so many adults, Meredith saw that all children of the earth could work together, making something beautiful and alive. This is the root of peace. In a world torn by hatred and fear, the hope, heart and creativity of youth can play a leadership role in healing the violence between people. "The Singing Tree" is a joyous, large, physical reminder of the big picture that humans share a rare and precious planet.
"This project will grow like a tree - where the light shines."
If you are interested in creating a Singing Tree in your community, contact me.
Click to see the Forest of Singing Trees.
Click to order the Singing Trees book.
Want to start your own Singing Tree? Click for Teacher instructions.