It’s been more than six years since the day my not-quite-two-year-old son and I walked into our first Music Together class, unsure of what to expect but excited to do something new together in our new home of Portland. Since then, much has happened … a new house, preschool, a baby sister, kindergarten, grade school, preschool for her, and just starting kindergarten herself. But through that all, my weekly visit to the musical circle that this program creates has been a constant pleasure for me and one or both of my kids to look forward to. It hasn’t quite sunk in yet that as this fall rolls around, I won’t be taking my kids in for the next round of music and fun.
This does give me the chance to look back over the years and share a bit of my experiences with parents who might be thinking about checking out Music Together for their own children. So here we go…
To start, we walked in the basement door of a small church in southeast Portland and were greeted by Joelle, our teacher, and a gang of kids and their parents. This is one of Music Together’s mixed age classes, with kids ranging from birth to 5. The class starts every week with the Hello Song, with each child greeted by name, and a chance for the group to settle down and get busy making music. Each class features a selection of songs from the CD which parents are given at the start of each session (two copies, one for home and one for the car) along with occasional favorite songs of the teacher. We sit for some songs, stand or dance or move for others, and for some the teacher brings out drums, scarves, stretchy bands, a parachute, hula hoops, or even pots, pans and kitchen utensils to bang on. The kids love all the variety, and it provides all kinds of ways for them to play with their caregivers as they absorb the music. At the end of each class, we quiet down with a lullaby and finish with the Goodbye Song.
The teachers are quick to reassure parents … it doesn’t matter if your kid sings in tune, or has rhythm, and the same goes for the parents too. Kids will learn to love music, and develop their own musical skills, if they see their loved ones getting into the music themselves. Music Together is all about getting the parents to be actively involved, both in class and the rest of the week, in showing their kids how much fun music is. And I found these classes to be exceedingly fun!
Different kids respond to this differently, and mine were no exception. My son quickly got into things in class, singing along, following the stories and the movement, and learning the patterns of each week’s class. My daughter, three years later, was much more reserved. She rarely sang in class for the first few years, although she’d join in the dancing and movement. But during the week, at home, she’d frequently be spontaneously singing songs from the current CD, so it was clear that she was soaking up everything that was happening like a little musical sponge.
I should note that Music Together of Portland offers two other kinds of classes along with the mixed age class. Infant classes are for kids from birth to 8 months old (although it’s not unheard of for the occasional expecting mom to take the class so that their child can start hearing the songs and feeling the rhythms even before birth). I never took the infant classes, since my son was older when we started, and when my daughter came along, I just took her along with me to my son’s mixed age classes, which is also welcomed.
The Bigger Kids classes are for 4 ½ and 5 year olds, so when my son started these, I took my daughter to her own mixed age class on a different day. In the bigger kids class, parents only attend class occasionally, as the teacher is providing a more structured musical curriculum directly to the kids over the course of three sessions. By the end of their respective years at this level, my kids had started to learn to read musical notes, understand dynamics, tempo and rhythms, and had received a good foundation for future music education. My son is now taking piano lessons and summer music camps at Ethos, both kids have taken summer Taiko Drumming classes, and my daughter is very interested in musical theater. And we all sing a lot of the time (currently mostly songs from the musical, You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown, taking turns singing the different characters).
The three teachers we worked with, Joelle, Betsy and Bonnie, were all fantastic, but from what I hear from parents who’ve been with many of the other 14 teachers on staff, that’s par for the course. Classes are offered six days a week at eight different locations around town, so you should be able to find one near you. They do fill up fast, so don’t wait to sign up once registration is open.
Visit their web site at www.musictogether-pdx.com for more details.
The opinions expressed in this review were Eric’s own – they were not paid for or sponsored in any way.