Ten-month-old Malia Guillory settled into her mother’s lap, ready to dance and play as music filled the community room at Santa Rosa’s Sunrise Villa assisted living facility.
She and the other wide-eyed children wiggled and bounced around as Ginger Parish sang, “the little bells of Westminster go ding dong, ding dong.” The moms and senior residents, known as “grandfriends,” swung their arms back and forth like bells.
Once a week Parish leads the “Generations” music class at the senior facility off Highway 12 on the east side of town. Part of Music Together, an international early childhood music and movement program, the class bridges the gap between the generations, bringing together children from birth to 4 years old, along with their parents and more than a dozen of the seniors at the facility.
“It’s more about” the kids, Malia’s mom, Erica Wilson, 27, said about her daughter, Malia, the youngest in the room. “They light up.”
Parish has been teaching the popular Music Together curriculum for 17 years. She and two other teachers — Ali Miller and Tom “Star Tom” McCurry — offer more than 200 families music classes in Santa Rosa, Windsor and Healdsburg. But there’s only one class at a senior living facility, where 15 residents take part in it every week, along with about 10 children and their parents.
Parish started offering the Generations class three years ago, shortly after the death of her mother, who suffered from Alzheimer’s disease.
“She loved singing so much,” Parish said of her mother — her inspiration to start the Generations class, which other Music Together directors already were offering around the country. “She’d get really lucid and remember the words.
“Every elder I look at, every elder person I lock eyes with, I think of my mother. They have so much to bring.”
Kian Coates-Hood, 2, has been taking part in Music Together classes since he was in the womb, said his mother, Miriam Coates, who first enrolled the boy’s older brother, Tatsu, 5, in the classes three years ago. Coates, 46, of Santa Rosa, said she decided to take part in the Generations class to expose Kian, who’s part Native American, to different generations.
“Elders are really an important part of our community,” she said. “I want my children to respect elders.”
The senior residents also benefit from the class, said Marc Johnson, Sunrise Villa’s program director. They feel like they’re giving back to their community while enjoying their time with the children, he said.
“All you have to do is see the smiles and joy (on their faces),” said Johnson, who joined in Friday.
The kids darted across the floor on all fours as Parish emptied onto the rug a large basket of percussion instruments. They reached for the tambourines, maracas and cabasas. Some licked and chewed the instruments, while the moms and grandfriends rattled them to the rhythm of the songs.
The grandfriends laughed as the parents and children got up to play patty-cake and wave scarves. One toddler ran in circles around the group.
“It just reminds me of my grandbabies when they were little,” said Alice Webb, a 87-year-old Sunrise Villa resident, who’s participated in the class since it moved this past fall to the facility, where she’s lived for two years. Webb said she’s been able to watch the kids mature over the past months. Some of them initially didn’t want to let go of their moms.