Dàmaris Gelabert

Singer educator and music therapis

“I wanted to be Mary Poppins and I did it”


Thousands of children love her songs, and nurseries and schools around the country use them in their classes, while they can also be heard in theatres and she has a large following online. Dàmaris Gelabert is a star in the world of small children.

Children’s music is experiencing good times, but it’s taken a lot to get there.
I’ve been working in this field for 20 years, and it’s true that interest in our sector has grown exponentially in recent years.
To what do you attribute the growth in interest?
Various factors. There’s a greater concert culture among young people who are now parents and passing it on to their children. There’s also been a change when it comes to hiring children’s music groups. We’ve gone from just looking to keep kids entertained, to looking for groups that offer more elaborate performances. I found it hard to find my own path, as this demand is only recent. Four years ago we began renting theatres for our show and doing a summer tour.
Theatre programmers are getting the message.
It seems so, but above all it is down to people responding enthusiastically to family concerts. I don’t think programmers saw that there was a potential audience out there until these shows began to work and new companies began appearing. The theatre is an ideal place to get children’s attention and to get them to take part in the music. The secret is offering children’s audiences musical performances of the same quality as those offered to adults.
What is the main aspect of the shows?
I love it when the audience sings along and plays an active part. Fortunately, and after many years, I now perform the music live.
Your shows sell out. Are you scared of becoming a victim of your own success?
For the moment, I’m handling it [she laughs]. I’m aware that I’ve reached a high level I never expected to. I also know I can’t keep it up forever. But I’m having the time of my life. We have six shows on, and we’re constantly getting offers we can’t refuse, like last year when we were asked to do a children’s concert for the 50th Barcelona Jazz Festival, or this December when we performed at the Palau de la Música alongside the Vallès Symphony Orchestra, a choir of 60 children. They are amazing challenges, and a bit scary, but also fabulous!
Your music is popular with nurseries and primary schools. Good allies to have.
For sure. I’m grateful to them for using my music. Many people tell me they began discovering the world of Dàmaris through their children at nursery, and they now sing the songs at home. It’s been a long journey since the first album, 25 years ago.
Your music has also spread around the world due to social media. How do you think children should make use of that?
It took me a long time before I decided to use social media as a loudspeaker for my songs. I come from the world of education, where it’s an issue of debate. When I decided to post videos to YouTube, it was with the understanding that social media is a tool for music to reach everyone, but the songs are to be sung in families, at school, or on excursions, not as a way of keeping kids quiet.
As they get older, children tend to study music as a subject less.
And it’s a big mistake. We need to work to bridge the gap between the basic teaching of music and learning an instrument. Anyone can play an instrument without first knowing how to read music. It’s the same as learning to talk and later studying grammar. Music education is changing, and there’s increasingly more interest in learning music in a more open way that does not exclude anyone.
What were your musical influences?
I was born in Barcelona, but moved to Andalusia aged three, where I lived until I was 13. That meant many musical influences were not Catalan, and I had to catch up later. I always liked the soundtracks for classic musicals like Mary Poppins. My dream was to be Mary Poppins, and in a way I did it! Also, at home music was a big part of our lives, which is something I’ve shared with my own family.
What is TotSona?
It’s an association to promote and develop activities related to music education at home and at school. We put on workshops, courses and events that allow us to show music’s educational possibilities. The best known and most popular parts are the concerts and shows that we take around the country.
You are a greater defender of the curative effects of music.
The therapeutic qualities of music have been shown. Contact with songs influences our mental, physical and emotional health. The effect on children as an educational strategy is really important, because it establishes a learning mechanism that serves them for life.

Non-stop training

Dàmaris Gelabert (Barcelona, 1965) graduated in philosophy and educational science at Barcelona University and specialised in music therapy, graduating with honours from Boston’s Berklee College of Music. After returning from the US, with her husband Àlex Martínez, she set up the TotSona Records label. Her first release was Tot sona!, followed by over 200 songs, most of which appear on 15 albums and two DVDs. In 2018, she won the ARC prize for the best tour adapted for a family audience. In 2012, she opened the Espai TotSona centre in Cardedeu, which offers classes, workshops and masterclasses for teachers. Also, Gelabert teaches a masters in music therapy at the Esmuc college of music and the Gimbernat university school. She also gives talks, courses and seminars in a number of universities, schools and training centres.

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