Owen is four. That’s months, not years. He can’t walk or talk and only occasionally rolls over. But he can see and he can hear. He can hear the music; he can hear the melodious rhythms of instruments; and he can hear the lullaby of Mommy’s voice. He can feel her rocking and swaying with him, tapping his belly in syncopation to the song, moving his little legs to the soothing strains of the violin. And so his journey into the magical world of music begins in a curriculum called Music Together.
This presentation, now offered at four New Jersey locations in Brick, Howell, Pt. Pleasant, and Spring Lake, was launched two years ago by elementary school music teacher Brenda Limaldi. Brenda took the Music Together program that’s been around since the 1980’s and now it’s available at the Jersey Shore.
For a six-month old infant, singing becomes associated with language development. The swinging, massaging, and moving the legs in a bicycle motion releases hormones that relax the baby as well as strengthening the bond between parent and child. Toddlers get to toddle around the room experimenting with sounds and instruments. At two-and-a-half, you’re not always aware of how things work. One little boy picked up a drumstick; he was blowing into it. But the freedom to move from place to place, to touch, to share with the other kids, and all under Mommy’s watchful eye, stimulates their cognitive and social development.
The focus here is on family. Instruments pass from child to Mommy to another child and back again. It promotes a sense of sharing and getting along. Everyone sings; everyone dances; it’s a wonderful sense of community while bringing music into their daily lives. Classes overlap in age so that brothers and sisters learn together. At home it’s something to do for the whole family. Something to ease the transition to bedtime.
When a youngster graduates from daycare into the adult world of kindergarten, his musical abilities step up with him. These four-to-eight year old “rhythm kids” add rhythm and beat into their repertoire. The drumming component becomes a bridge to formal instruction. Here they’re exposed to music from around the world so that different tonalities in foreign music are not so foreign. In no time at all, they’re matching their vocal pitch to an instrument or to their teacher’s voice.
Classes burst with the unbridled energy of toddlers. Toss in the exuberance of teachers Miss Brenda and Miss Kim and it’s a baby rock-a-palooza. These babies are actually at an advanced age for Miss Kim who, for her graduate thesis, designed a prenatal music program. Some people are obsessed with music; some with kids. She has a remarkable affinity for both. “Can you believe I actually get paid for this?”, she rhetorically asks. An accomplished pianist, composer, and piano teacher, Kim boasts, “Most of my students who performed at Carnegie Hall started out in Music Together.”
Raise the curtain! Light the lights! The scene opens with Moms and Dads and children sitting in a circle singing what sounds like a tribal Indian chant. While the parents harmonize, smile, and clap, their offspring are prone to losing focus. Benji prepares for the quarter-mile in a non-stop sprint back and forth across the room; Ben mistakes the xylophone stick for a lollipop, and Penelope’s lyrics are a bit muffled by her pacifier. While vocals might not be her strong suit yet, she shows promise as a budding dancer, reacting to the music in a sort of jumping jack routine without the arms. Other kids follow her lead; they’ve developed their own dance. They call it -what else- the Penelope.
Miss Kim breaks out a box of small instruments. It’s like a kid magnet. They fly to it, each employing his or her preferred mode of transportation: walking, running, or crawling. It’s their first gig as a group: “The Toddlers” featuring Lucy on the drum, Jude on the maraca, Lola and her brother Bodhi on the tambourine. Maybe the Stone Pony can book them for the summer of 2038. By then Ben should have his somersault down.
While Benji contemplates how to open the gate, the class winds down with a snuggle time to the tune of “This Little Light of Mine”. It’s a tender moment that will no doubt become a continuing ritual of their family life.
Mountains of research have explored the long-range effects of the formative years. How many adolescent social and behavioral problems could have been preempted by an involved, loving childhood? How many hours of Facebook, X-Box, and Texting time would be better spent developing a musical aptitude? Of course, there’s no magic bullet to a healthy productive life but the musicianship skills that germinate in Music Together can definitely begin the beguine.
Originally published in the Asbury Park Press on Nov. 9, 2018