Edmonds teacher brings music to children affected by cancer

Class focuses on rhythmic patterns
By Cheryl Aarnio | Aug 02, 2019
Photo by: Cheryl Aarnio At Camp Sparkle, from left: Sarah Rifkin, Keira McDonnell, a camper, Charlie Hill, Alley Bell Music’s Elizabeth Galafa Ylaya, and another camper.

Music teacher and singer-performer Elizabeth Galafa Ylaya of Edmonds’ Alley Bell Music has an additional role this summer: teaching music to 6- to 12-year-olds at Camp Sparkle, a free one-week summer camp for those affected by cancer.

This includes children who have lost someone, have had it affect someone in their family, or have cancer themselves.

The summer camp is organized by Cancer Pathways, formerly Gilda’s Club Seattle, a nonprofit dedicated to offering support for people impacted by cancer.

Madeline Ritter, family program manager and social worker at the Seattle office of Cancer Pathways, said children who have a cancer diagnosis in their family often do not know other children who are experiencing it too.

“Our goal is to create a space where the kids can meet other kids that maybe have a parent on hospice, or maybe have a sibling that was just diagnosed, so we’re really trying to normalize that experience,” Ritter said.

While Camp Sparkle is offered at four different locations, Ylaya will teach a class at three, using the Music Together program she teaches at Alley Bell Music.

“(The) philosophy of Music Together is that we can make music anytime, anywhere, with our bodies, with our voices,” Ylaya said. “So it really kind of goes back down to the basics of just using your hands and your body and the voice that you've been given to sing a song, to tap a beat on the floor, on your body.”

Camp Sparkle has previously had a Music Together teacher offer the classes, but this is the first time Ylaya has had a chance to teach them. When offered the spot, she said she jumped at the opportunity.

“I feel like my love language is music, and when I can marry that with hanging out with kids, that’s like a no-brainer for me,” Ylaya said.

The camp’s curriculum strives to include healthy coping strategies, such as the music class Ylaya is teaching, because music is used by so many people the world over to cope with their own emotions, said Ritter. The curriculum also includes art therapy, exercise, and drama.

In Ylaya’s class at Camp Sparkle in Seattle, as with any of her Music Together classes, there was an emphasis on rhythmic patterns, involving the participants tapping their hands, first on their legs and then the floor and back again, just as Ylaya showed them.

Everyone repeated certain words, some of them nonsensical, such as “bidi bidi bum bum,” corresponding with the movements.

Toward the end of the class, campers got excited when she brought out coffee-can drums, which were exactly what they sound like – coffee cans that are used as drums – and the children transitioned to drumming rhythmic patterns on them.

Much of the class was a cappella, – Music Together focuses on making music at any time and anywhere – but Ylaya included two free dances, one to “This Is Me” from “The Greatest Showman,” and ended the class with “Can’t Stop the Feeling” from the “Trolls” soundtrack.

For both songs, she handed out colorful scarves, prompting many of the children to start playing with them, putting them on their heads and waving them around. The scarves, Ylaya said, encourage “shy movers” during the songs.

“I'm not in here trying to make musicians out of people,” Ylaya said. “I'm just kind of displaying a musical buffet.”


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