Newly-released Blue Lion Album brings dharma to children through music
About This Resource
This week marks the launch of the Blue Lion Album, a joint project from Blue Lion Preschool and Dharma Kids Collective. The album, released March 8, 2021, is available as a digital download (offered on a pay-what-you-can basis), and can be accompanied by a songbook (hard copy or PDF download) so that children and parents can sing along.
Simon Thomas is the musical artist behind the album and director of Dharma Kids Collective, a recently-launched platform where creators and artists can share their dharma-inspired creative resources for children. Below, he shares with Middle Way Education a bit about the Blue Lion Album and Dharma Kids Collective, including what was involved in their inception and creation, and what to look for in Buddhist resources for children.
Middle Way Education: How did the idea for The Blue Lion Album and Songbook come about?
Simon Thomas: In February 2020, I was invited to contribute songs to complement the curriculum of the new Blue Lion Preschool established in Singapore under the guidance of Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse Rinpoche. Thanks to a grant from Khyentse Foundation, I was able to engage a young, up-and-coming producer/musician named Jampal who has added dimensions to the music that I could never have achieved alone. We have also had the most incredible contributions from numerous industry professionals, turning the project into an international collaboration unprecedented in the annals of Buddhist children’s music. The companion songbook grew like a flower from the passion of artist and author Alicja Zmigrodzka.
MWE: Where do the songs come from?
ST: Curriculum designer, children’s author and senior Buddhist practitioner Heather Sanche and I are old mates, and she identified three different niches in which she envisaged music as a powerful and effective learning support: (1) transition times such as arrival and departure, (2) songs which embody the essence of each curriculum unit such as impermanence or interconnection, and (3) traditional mantras. While each of the 15 songs is tailored to that particular curriculum, I also ensured that they would be relevant to children all around the world, not just those with Buddhist parents.
They will be available in English and Chinese soon, and I hope one day in many other languages as well!
Buddhism is about refining our relationship with the way things are compared to appearances. So, the religious expressions of Buddhism are not essential to the understanding of the most important features. In fact, the cultural and religious aspects can be a hinderance to assimilating essential knowledge.
MWE: You have described the songs as being “spiritually nourishing without overt religion.” Why did you take this approach, and how do you think Buddhist children’s educators can share Buddhist wisdom without being overtly religious?
ST: I spent five years working with a team to establish a Buddhist school in Australia. Although the school never went ahead, my work on curriculum design with the wonderful Buddhist educator Jackie Mitchell has left me with profound intuitions on how to communicate subtle messages. Buddhism is about refining our relationship with the way things are compared to appearances. So, the religious expressions of Buddhism are not essential to the understanding of the most important features. In fact, the cultural and religious aspects can be a hinderance to assimilating essential knowledge.
In terms of methods, children respond well to stories. For example, the topic of interconnection is dealt with in the song Plant Your Heart with Love. In the first verse, we tell of planting a rice seed and giving it conditions such as water and sunshine. From this, we know that rice will grow, not potatoes! The second verse illustrates the example of an acorn from our grandfather’s oak tree. In the third verse, we explain that our hearts are like gardens and our thoughts are like seeds. If we plant seeds of love and generosity then that is what will grow! “Because we know our thoughts can grow into reality.”
MWE: For parents and educators looking for resources to share with children, what would you advise them to look for in order to find quality materials?
ST: One of the joys of working with children is their open-minded curiosity. Ensure that the media you present to them engages with this natural resource—nobody likes having philosophy rammed down their throat! Next, assess the standard of the presentation. If care has been taken with the music, illustrations or whatever the medium is, that is a key indicator that the deeper levels have also been addressed. Finally, assess the messages and whether they are harmonious with the spiritual environment that you are creating for your precious ones. Try and find works which build on one another to encourage an ever-expanding understanding of the world and everything within it.
MWE: In addition to the Blue Lion songs, you’ve recently launched the Dharma Kids Collective (DKC). Can you tell me about this project?
ST: As the Blue Lion project began to take shape, I realised that we were creating something unique which could add tremendous value to people’s lives. I wanted to find a home for it where we could give context to the songs and provide supporting material. As an independent artist, I also needed it to be a commercial site where we could charge a fee or at least accept donations. I realised that there must be many other artists in a similar situation, so I decided to launch a multi-artist social enterprise where each artist can curate their own page and we can share the benefits of the platform, such as promotions, payments, shipping etc, to help with administration costs.
MWE: What kinds of materials does DKC offer?
ST: The website is in its infancy but already we have music, books and art. All of our offerings are appropriate for children and have a connection with Buddhist philosophy. I hope that many more musicians, authors, visual artists and film-makers will find that this platform is beneficial both for them and for the parents wishing to access high-quality media for their kids.
For parents and carers looking to support their children’s spiritual growth, it is hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. I hope that the curated content of DKC will make it easier for them to find what they are looking for.
MWE: Why, in your view, is this project important?
ST: The internet has brought the world to our fingertips but there are many downsides to it as well. For parents and carers looking to support their children’s spiritual growth, it is hard to sort the wheat from the chaff. I hope that the curated content of DKC will make it easier for them to find what they are looking for.
For most artists, digital distribution has been a financial catastrophe. People have become so accustomed to copying and sharing that they lose touch with the fact that the people creating these beautiful works have bills to pay like the rest of us, and that their professions are incredibly time consuming. So, by creating a marketplace where these works are valued and respected and where the customers interact directly with creators, it gives people the opportunity to support the type of creations that they wish to see flourish. In addition, having a larger well-run website helps artists establish a stronger online profile. Win – win!
MWE: How would an artist looking to join DKC get involved?
ST: That is the easy part! Just visit dharmakidscollective.com and click the tab login/register on the top right. There is a set-up wizard to help you get started and I will be posting some videos soon to help understand the details. Each artist has their own page that they can curate similar to eBay. You can add and delete products, connect the page with your social media, and tell the world about your work. The website takes care of payments and shipping for a percentage fee.
Firstly, look into your own heart for the meaning of what you want to convey. Communication with children happens on a more emotional and sensory level than the intellectualisation in which we often find ourselves trapped.
MWE: What advice would you give someone who wants to create songs or other creative materials that offer the wisdom of the dharma to children?
ST: Firstly, look into your own heart for the meaning of what you want to convey. Communication with children happens on a more emotional and sensory level than the intellectualisation in which we often find ourselves trapped. Ensure that your message is clear without dumbing down too much. Remember that if a child likes your book or song, they will enjoy many repetitions so their own understanding will develop with time. Make it beautiful and don’t forget the fun!
Purchase the Blue Lion Album