Learn by doing. This is the philosophy of the Oklahoma 4-H Youth Development Program and a new musical component to 4-H programming is making good on those words. Under development for the last 18 months, the Oklahoma 4-H Music Corps is now in full swing.
Treasure Gibbs, a Stephens County 4-H'er who has been part of the group since the beginning, said she is excited about it because it gives her a platform on which to expand her musical abilities.
"It's a place where I can play music and hang out with people who like music as much as I do," Gibbs said. "It has helped me get more comfortable playing different musical instruments like the guitar, ukulele and the cahon. We travel around Oklahoma and play different gigs and have a lot of fun."
She said the music camps the group has had where they come together and write songs have been a great learning experience for everyone involved.
Gibbs said playing music is important in her life because it makes her happy.
"My parents taught me how to play the piano when I was 3 years old," she said. "From there I learned other instruments. I like to write my own songs, too. Music is a big part of my life and Music Corps is helping me expand that."
Under the direction of Mike Carter, Oklahoma State University Cooperative Extension educator, 4-H Youth Development in Pittsburg County, the Oklahoma 4-H Music Corps started with youth who had participated in 4-H vocal contests and talent shows and went from there. Now, just a year and a half later, this group of musicians has several music camps, original songs and performances under their belts.
Carter, who has always had a passion for music, said the group is open to those 4-H'ers who also have a passion for music in all aspects, including performing, writing and collaborating their talents.
"Our main goal is to just play music," Carter said. "Music Corps is a 'we' project, not a 'me' show. We're in this together and all have an equal part. We have to work together to get the best music. Through Music Corps we're building a place and creating a culture for Oklahoma 4-H youth to be creative and expressive while providing a comfortable and respectful environment."
Music provides both the performers and the listeners much more than simply the enjoyment of the music itself. Research shows there is a significant connection between music and brain activity.
According to "How playing an instrument benefits your brain," a TED-Ed informational video, listening to music engages the brain, however, playing music is the brain's equivalent of a full-body workout. Playing music engages nearly every area of the brain at the same time, especially the motor, visual and auditory cortexes. Disciplined, structured practices increase those brain functions, allowing musicians to apply those strengths to other activities.
Tack Hammer, 4-H Music Corps member from Roger Mills County, said he likes the fact the group isn't competitive.
"Just about everything we do in 4-H, we're competing against our friends for a ribbon or a trophy," Hammer said. "It's not like that in Music Corps. We're not competitive, we're cooperative. We all get along and we all have an equal opportunity within the group. That's what sets this group apart from other things in 4-H."
Something he has discovered about himself is the ability to play a variety of instruments. Hammer has been involved in music most of his life, and 4-H Music Corps is providing him opportunities to expand upon his musical abilities and share that with others, he said.
Another aspect he said he likes is that members of 4-H Music Corps are from all over the state, so this is a great opportunity to meet new people.
"We don't go to school together, but we have music in common," Hammer said. "It's a great way to collaborate. I wasn't old enough to be in Music Corps when it first started, but Mike saw what I was capable of, and here I am now," he said.
As with most 4-H programming, there is more to Music Corps than playing music. Carter said the group is learning about all aspects of music performance.
"When we get together at our music camps, it's more than writing music and lyrics. We also work on our performance skills and how to interact with the audience, because that's as important as the music itself."
Music Corps teaches members about leadership, too, he said. When preparing for a performance, the 4-H'ers are responsible for setting up the stage. Carter said the process is not any different than it is for setting up a county fair or a stock show.
"It's all the same process. They're learning teamwork and developing decision-making skills, all of which is part of 4-H programming," he said. "All of the kids have a leadership role within Music Corps. We're just like county officers or 4-H Ambassadors - only we use musical instruments to teach with."
Carter said he is a firm believer in how music influences not only the musicians, but also the audience.
"One thing that makes music so special is that the audience may forget performances and maybe even names, but they'll never forget how they felt while watching a performance, or the personal interaction they had with those on stage," Carter said. "That's what 4-H Music Corps is all about. Music is a gift, and hopefully, this group will help youth decide how they want to share that gift."
Providing youth opportunities to develop life skills falls right in line with the mission of the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service, of which 4-H is the youth development component. Through OCES, 4-H is dedicated to helping Oklahoma youth, families and communities reach their full potential.
By providing hands-on programming, 4-H not only helps youth learn life skills they need to become the leaders of tomorrow, but it also teaches its members they can lead today and make significant changes in their clubs, their communities, their state and their world. 4-H reaches more than 5 million youth around the world each year.
-By Trisha Gedon