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feel the beat
|Toddlers develop musically through innovative class that teaches students, parents
that everyone is musical
By JEAN ZEHRINGER GIESIGE
PORTLAND, Ind. < How many verses do you know to "She'll Be
Cominı ORound the Mountain?" If you can't think of at least six, youıre no match
for the toddlers in Kae Byrd's Music Together class at the Arts Place in Portland, Ind.
In Monday morning sessions, and again in the evening, Byrd leads
students - those old enough to know what to do with bongo drums, as well as those too
little to be steady on their feet - in singing, stomping, clapping, dancing fun.
In Monday morning's session, mothers and grandmothers joined in, too.
"He loves it here," Sue Burk of Portland said of her 2
1/2-year-old grandson, Adam Burk. "I had heard that the class would teach them some
basics about music, and I thought that would be good for him."
Byrd, a classically trained violinist who once played with the Atlanta
Symphony Orchestra, knows enough not to lecture her little students about the difference
between pianissimo and fortissimo. She mainly teaches by example, leading the toddlers and
babies in traditional songs like "Eliza Jane" and "My Bonnie Lies Over the
But in every minute of the class, with every beat of the music, she is
"We saw some very important things today," she told the
adults near the end of Monday's session. "We saw some very little people keeping a
steady beat. They may not have always been with the beat, but it was a steady beat."
What looks and sounds like fun to the toddlers and babies is critically
important, said Byrd, who is the staff performing artist at Arts Place as well as a
registered instructor with Music Together, a nationwide program that promotes musical
learning among small children.
"The basic philosophy of the program is that everyone is
musical," Byrd said.
Modern culture is choking out music on a personal level, as more and
more people become passive listeners, Byrd said.
"With Music Together, we like to ask people, OWhen did you stop
singing?" she said. "People don't sing anymore because our culture teaches them
that if they want to sing, they have to be perfect performers up on a stage."
As a result, she said, very young children, who should be soaking up
music the way a tulip soaks up rain, are growing up without ever opening
their mouths to sing. They should be moving through normal and fairly predictable stages
of musical development < not just the rare child prodigy, but all children - yet
educators are seeing less and less of it, Byrd said.
"Children are arriving at school five years behind in their
musical development," said Byrd, and anyone who can do the math can see that she
means theyıre arriving at school with no musical development at all. "They're simply
not growing up in an environment that fosters musical development."
Carrie James of Portland wants music to be a part of her children's
lives. Her son Ian, who will soon be 3, is now enrolled in his second session of Music
Together at Arts Place. While he spent part of the class
dancing and part of the class hiding behind the baby grand piano in the Arts Place music
studio, he was still surrounded by music, feeling the beat. His twin 1-year-old sisters,
Emma and Hannah, wiggled and grinned along with their mother and their great-grandmother,
Joy Fenters, who came along to the class to give James a hand.
Music Together stresses that parents and other loving adults have
to take part. If children see the adults in their lives singing, Byrd said, the children
will be more likely to sing out themselves.
"It is important for parents to make music a part of their
day," she said. "In our class, you'll see that the parents are all singing, and
that's exactly what's supposed to happen. The parent is the most important role model for
the child - no child was ever emotionally attached to a CD player. And if they see the
parent enjoying music, the child will be disposed to like music."
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