Kids discover music through play with Santa Rosa's Music Together program
As Ginger Parish began to sing and play guitar one recent morning in Santa Rosa, she got an immediate audience reaction. One of her listeners stood and pranced in front of her, squealing with joy. Another crawled up on her lap and clamped his mouth on the neck of her guitar.
Parish never stopped smiling. She’s used to working with a very young audience. In fact, some of them are still teething.
Parish teaches classes for children from birth to age 7 and their parents in a program called Music Together, designed to introduce children to music as early in life as possible.
Her impromptu dancer this particular day was Adam James “A.J.” Felciano of Santa Rosa, 20 months old, who came to Ellington Hall for the first class with his grandparents, Frank and Cathy Valerga.?“He’s quite a ham,” Frank Valerga said of his grandson. “He really likes music. Every time he hears it, he gets excited.”
Parish, 54, a folk singer who has long performed for fun, is now in her 15th year of teaching the internationally popular Music Together curriculum. She considers an atmosphere of gentle acceptance a key part of her approach to the classes.
Unlike conventional formal music lessons for older children, the Music Together sessions are set up to introduce music and simply let the kids become comfortable with singing and playing. Parents are coached to sing and play along.
“For children to think of themselves as music-makers, they need to have people in their lives making music,” Parish said, but parents needn’t feel pressure to become proficient musicians themselves. “It’s not about performance. It’s not meant to be threatening to the adults. Each class is a group environment situation that is so supportive.”
Music Together isn’t the first program, or the only one, to recognize the value of introducing music to children early in life. More than 50 years ago, Japanese violinist Shinichi Suzuki established the Suzuki Method, which endorses the value of exposing children to music from birth and starting formal music training at age 3 or 4.
Parish makes a distinction between Music Together and other programs in that it includes babies and toddlers in all classes, and it conducts some classes specifically for babies and their parents, exposing them to, and involving them in, group singing and letting them play with simple instruments.
“Our approach begins at birth. No other traditional approach begins that way,” Parish said. “I think a Suzuki teacher would welcome kids from Music Together. We’re all about keeping children from hating later music lessons.”
Surrounded by a dozen small children and 14 parents and grandparents sitting cross-legged in a circle, Parish started with a simple rhythm created by slapping hands on knees. Later she passed out ball-shaped rattles, which one frisky kid immediately began knocking against a wall mirror.
Cheerfully singing her instructions, as she did throughout the class, Parish gave a melodious call-out to the adults. “That’s a great thing to direct a child away from!”
With teething toddlers in the classes, many of the rattles went straight from hand to mouth.
“Put them in the baskets when you’re done,” Parish said. “We have two, one for wet ones and one dry ones.”
The session included both classic folk tunes such as “The Crawdad Song” (“You get a line and I’ll get a pole”) and songs composed especially for Music Together. Sessions traditionally open with “Hello, Everyone, Hello” and close with “Goodbye, So Long, Farewell.”
Music Together doesn’t aim to produce proficient musicians, although Parish predicts regular students should be able to sing in key and keep accurate rhythm by age 4. The primary goal is to create a musical bond between adult and child.
“Music is a language, and it’s learned by watching and listening to the people you love,” she explained. “You wouldn’t introduce English to children by handing them a CD, but that’s what happens with music.”
Music Together, based in Princeton, N.J., is offered in 2,500 locations in 41 countries. The curriculum, created in 1987 by founder and director Kenneth K. Guilmartin and music professor Dr. Lili Levinowitz, is based on the belief that all children are musical.
After training for the Music Together program, Parish brought the curriculum to Sonoma County and established Santa Rosa Area Music Together in 2000. During the current fall session, she and three other teachers - Tom McCurry, Ali Miller and Krystle Jeffers - are conducting 23 classes for 220 families at five locations in Santa Rosa, Windsor and Healdsburg.