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Santa Rosa kids music program adapts during pandemic

Music Together fundraisers

To date, Music Together has held several fundraisers, with another planned for April 17.

Past fundraisers have supported:

*Three Music Together families who were displaced by wildfires.

*A mother facing financial struggles related to a cancer diagnosis.

*The construction of play structures for Aidan’s Playground at Santa Rosa’s A Place to Play park in honor of a 6-year-old Music Together child Aiden Hansen, who died in 2014.

The April 17 online fundraiser will benefit the Volunteer Firefighter Foundation, a nonprofit established by Music Together mother Jacqui Jorgeson, which aims to support the nearly 600 volunteer firefighters in Sonoma County.

The 10:30 a.m. fundraiser will feature a performance by Gerry Dignan, a Music Together artist known widely within the program as Uncle Gerry.

For more information, visit facebook.com/SRAMusicTogether or santarosamusictogether.com.

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.

Music Together fundraisers

To date, Music Together has held several fundraisers, with another planned for April 17.

Past fundraisers have supported:

*Three Music Together families who were displaced by wildfires.

*A mother facing financial struggles related to a cancer diagnosis.

*The construction of play structures for Aidan’s Playground at Santa Rosa’s A Place to Play park in honor of a 6-year-old Music Together child Aiden Hansen, who died in 2014.

The April 17 online fundraiser will benefit the Volunteer Firefighter Foundation, a nonprofit established by Music Together mother Jacqui Jorgeson, which aims to support the nearly 600 volunteer firefighters in Sonoma County.

The 10:30 a.m. fundraiser will feature a performance by Gerry Dignan, a Music Together artist known widely within the program as Uncle Gerry.

For more information, visit facebook.com/SRAMusicTogether or santarosamusictogether.com.

Instructors ask parents and caregivers to give no direction to their children about how they should be acting during the class. Parish said they want the children to be able to experience the music in their own way, but the adult stays fully involved.

“We say ‘Park your inhibitions at the door and just let your children have fun with this,’ ” Parish said. “Those are the types of things that are important in early childhood learning. The more we ‘correct’ a child, the less they are going to want to do it.”

She said children have to find their own path and they need to have a strong example in order to do that.

“Our whole goal in Music Together is to help adults communicate the language of music to their children, so not only will their children grow up to realize their musical potential, but they’ll have a musical bond in their families,” Parish said.

Thanks in part to the pandemic, having Canta y Baila come to Santa Rosa Area Music Together was possible because six-year San Diego Music Together instructor Diana Davidson will be able to teach the class online.

Regina Barba, who has three children, has been attending Santa Rosa Music Together for six years. Her oldest daughter was 2½ when she discovered the program after moving to the area. She felt she was having postpartum depression and the combination of movement and music helped lift her spirits as well as connect with her children.

“Even today when I have them brush their teeth or pick up their toys, I use the songs from the program,” Barba said.

She said the flexibility of the program also benefited her, especially with three children at varying ages.

“(Music Together) provides an extensive library of music, both original and classics, which span many different moods, rhythms and vocalists, and so are much easier for a parent to enjoy day in and day out than a single kids artist,” said Music Together parent Eben Miller, who has been in the program for more than two years.

“Luis (Miller’s son) demonstrated understanding of rhythm within a couple of class quarters. Now he is almost 3, and in the last six months has started singing every day, both alone and with us. He sings to himself before bed, and when he wakes up in the middle of the night to get back to sleep.”

The spring session began the week of March 22 with both online and outdoor classes. One of the other instructors, Tom “Star Tom” McCurry, who has been at Santa Rosa Area Music Together for 13 years, will be teaching the outdoor mixed age classes in Santa Rosa and Healdsburg through the spring. Parents and caregivers can still sign up even though classes have already begun.

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