Santa Rosa kids music program adapts during pandemic
With a 20-year-old business that features the word “together” as part of its name, Ginger Parish had to adapt — and quickly — when the coronavirus pandemic arrived last March.
Parish, who is celebrating 20 years of operating Santa Rosa Area Music Together, had 180 families enrolled for her in-person classes, which introduce music and rhythm concepts to children from birth through age 6. She quickly worked to transition her program online, with pre-recorded classes and live Zoom sessions so the 140 families who stayed with the program could still participate once in-person gatherings were limited to prevent the virus from spreading.
The business celebrated its 20th anniversary with an online concert using Zoom, a format Parish has turned to for a series of fundraisers, the next of which, on April 17, will raise money for the Volunteer Fire Foundation. Parish, who lives at Pepperwood Preserve, where her husband is the preserve manager, said the cause is close to her after her home and most of her possessions were destroyed by the Tubbs fire in 2017. The Kincade fire in 2019 also burned parts of the preserve, and she feared she would lose everything a second time.
“I'm just not looking forward to the anxiety created by the constant fires,” she said. “So it just feels right to donate to the volunteer fire departments who are so stretched during the fire season.”
She offered outdoor classes in the fall, before moving back to online only as the weather cooled and transmission of the virus soared locally. Now, as transmission of the virus has begun to ease and the weather is warming up, Music Together has resumed outdoor classes, held at parks in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg.
Music Together, based in New Jersey, began in 1987 and has grown to more than 40 countries using the curriculum. It is a music and movement program for children from birth to age 6 and their caregivers. Parish said its research-based approach to how children learn basic music competency helps them develop their own skills by watching and playing at their own pace. Santa Rosa Area Music Together has been able to serve thousands of families since opening in 2000. Parish said Music Together’s curriculum gives parents and children the ability to communicate beyond language.
“Just like you would never think of not talking to your child, you start talking to a baby as soon as the baby is born,” Parish said. “What we do with music is just that.”
Music is its own language and the majority of her classes are mixed age, Parish said, allowing children to experience songs without words. Instead, they hear sounds like “meow meow meow” and “la la la.”
Prior to opening her facility, Parish performed songs in preschools. She said she could tell which children felt comfortable with music and which did not.
“It made me realize how much the way music is done in somebody’s home matters,” Parish said. “When I was pregnant, I discovered this program.”
It impressed her, but it wasn’t until her son was 19 months old that she received training and decided to become an instructor.
“I thought I would just do it while he was small, maybe until he was in kindergarten,” Parish said. “But when he was in kindergarten, I thought ‘Wow, this is great. Now I can expand.’ It’s been going strong. I’ve never wanted to stop.”
Akhtiara Riley, who has two daughters, signed up when her older daughter was a baby after learning about the program from other mothers in Kaiser’s Mommy and Me group. She went to a free trial of Parish’s Babies Only class.
“I just loved it. I thought it was so sweet to have that dedicated time to look into my baby’s eyes and sing to her,” Riley said. “It felt like a really awesome way to impart knowledge about rhythm and language.”
She signed up after her trial ended and has been with the program for the past four years. She said she met her best friends in the class because it was a bonding experience for the parents as well as the children, some being first-time mothers when they entered the program as she had.
The three main class types available through Music Together are Babies Only which is birth to 8 months in person and 9 months online, Mixed Age, which is birth to 5 years old, and Rhythm Kids which is for children 4 to 8 years old. Since March 2020, the majority of classes have been available only online.
While Music Together focuses on developing a relationship between movement and music, the Canta y Baila companion program is language immersion and music learning rolled into one. All of the melodies in the curriculum come from Spanish-speaking cultures in Central and South America, Mexico and Spain and are not songs that have been translated into Spanish.