Songs of the Heart
Unique 4-H program lets students practice, write and perform music
Students participate in a 4-H Music Corps recording session. Photos by Todd Johnson/Oklahoma State University Ag Communications Services
When it comes to songwriting, says State 4-H Music Corps member Elizabeth Chambers, “You have to get the bad ones out of the way.”
Chambers says when she and her fellow corps member, Treasure Gibbs of Duncan, collaborated on a composition, “We came up with five versions of the same song and basically picked the one we liked.”
Teamwork is key for members of the Music Corps, a performing group founded just over four years ago and made up of musical 4-Hers from across the state.
“We always say we don’t want stars,” says Elizabeth’s mother, Kathryn Chambers, a volunteer Music Corps leader. “We want people willing to work within a unit to create the best sound. It takes humility and the spirit of collaboration.”
The program allows the youth to stretch themselves musically, said Kathryn Chambers, whose ranching family lives in Osage County near Pawhuska.
“They are encouraged to pick up instruments they have never played before, especially percussion,” she says.
Elizabeth Chambers, 16, says she had taken vocal and guitar lessons for several years before joining the corps as an eighth-grader. She now plays the ukulele as well, and the harmonica is next on her list.
Former State 4-H President Trent Gibbs, who is Treasure’s brother and a sophomore at Oklahoma State University, performed with the group for three years before aging out.
“I would go back in a flash,” says Gibbs, who sang and played guitar, piano and percussion.
Gibbs also started writing songs while in the corps, which he says was a big step for him, to share things that came out of his own heart and experience.
“They are fearless,” said Murray County Extension 4-H Educator John Holman, who helps plan the retreats where corps members gather for training. “They bare their hearts in their music, and I really admire that.”
“A lot of your deepest emotions come out in music, so when you express yourself in such a deep way to other people, you tend to get really close to them,” Elizabeth Chambers says.
The corps is open to 4-Hers ages 12 to 18 and typically has about 10 members. Performances are once every couple of months at venues such as the Tulsa State Fair, OSU alumni events, the Roxy Theatre in Muskogee and the Arcadia Round Barn.
The pandemic canceled all summer concerts this year, but leaders hope to hold a retreat before year’s end. Corps members continue to practice on their own and in small groups through the use of technology such as FaceTime.
“The biggest lessons I learned were how to be confident in front of groups of people, but at the same time be focused on the team on stage,” Trent Gibbs says. “It was not so much performing, but bringing that private experience of music to a public setting.”
Holman says the State 4-H Foundation helps fund the corps, and it also has sponsors including the Tulsa chapter of the National Farmer’s Union.
“Multiple parents have told me how much 4-H Music Corps means to them and to the 4-Hers,” Holman says. “It has given their kids an opportunity to blossom.”
Kathryn Chambers says corps members don’t waste a minute of their retreat time.
“When it’s midnight and those kids really get to rolling, it’s incredible to hear them,” she says. “It will give you goosebumps.”
Music has a healing quality about it, Trent Gibbs says.
“You might not know what somebody is going through in the audience, but when you’ve taken time to present a positive message, you might not change their life, but at the very least you can change someone’s day.”