Music and Community

Mahady Makrianes, a parent in Chester, Connecticut, who has been attending classes for two sessions now, says that exposure to Music Together® opened her eyes to a part of life in Connecticut she barely even knew existed-but one which she was thrilled to discover and now calls her community.

Recently, when she took her children to a folk music concert, she found herself responding as never before. "For the first time, I felt very viscerally the power of music to unite people and to motivate people and to affect change," she said, explaining that she has never considered herself musical. "Physically, my feet were tapping. The way I felt when I was there was, 'Oh my God! The way I want the world to be is possible! There are other people out there who believe in communities and who sing and move together.' And I don't think I would have been so taken with it before Music Together, because music to me was too scary."

In her case, Makrianes said, the classes have done more than introduce her sixteen-month-old son and five-year-old daughter to the basic building blocks of music competence. They are teaching them "not to be afraid of music" and are consequently opening them up to a wider community which shares her family's values.

If early exposure to a community of music-makers can expand and enrich a child's environment, the musical community itself is enhanced when more children and their parents join it. It might sound obvious, but the more people making music informally, the more opportunities there are for non-professional, non-performance-oriented music-making. And that is "more than just an unintended side benefit of the program," explains Kenneth K. Guilmartin, Music Together's founder and director,"it is one of the primary goals."

"In America in the 21st century," he said, "there are very few venues or opportunities to make music in an informal, participatory way. When people come together to belt out 'Happy Birthday,' for example, nobody particularly cares whether it's sung terribly out of tune or beautifully in harmony-everybody just sings."

Music Together, however, creates lots of these opportunities. First, there are all the class times. Then, there's the music-making at home. And as a growing number of families go through the Music Together program, a broader musical community is forming, one which shares in common not only the Music Together songs but also the ways to break into singing and musical activity taught at Music Together. This can generate spontaneous Music Together moments-in the elevator, on the food store line, in the playground.

Guilmartin says that over and over again, he hears anecdotes about how Music Together unites people into a community. For instance, there are the cousins who live thousands of miles apart but who keep close by both taking Music Together classes. Old high school friends reconnect after twenty years when one parent sees the other's name in the Music Together newsletter.

As Normal, Illinois, center director Annelise McVoy puts it, "The main reason I teach Music Together is to foster community growth. I view the music classes and the materials as the basis from which to nurture a large 'family' in my area. Music Together provides exactly the right vehicle for me to do that. Improvisation, humor, playfulness, and fun are built right into the program."

Jessica Nevins, a Music Together center director in Chester, Connecticut, said that in her experience, parents are just as likely to join her class for the first time because they are searching for a community of people going through the same things as they are, both as parents and as individuals. An interest in exposing their young children to music is sometimes the by-product of a search for an appealing group of people sharing a worthwhile activity.

That was certainly true for her six years ago when, as a new mother, she first enrolled in a class in Brooklyn, New York. "I wanted to know people who were having babies at the same time as I was. I wanted to know the people whom my kids were going to grow up with. I had an unflinching desire to know every family around," she said. "The joke was that I was trying to make Brooklyn feel like a small town."

If the search for community draws parents through the door, it is Music Together's ability to "show them that all children are musical and that musical growth is something we can watch and nurture" that keeps them coming back, said Nevins, who had worked as a professional singer before beginning her new life as a parent.

The community-building aspect of Music Together has also helped Judy Woodson of Newport Beach, California, to orchestrate her own successful life-change. A globe-trotting hotel entertainer for the last ten years, Woodson was tiring of her peripatetic lifestyle. She was beginning to envy her sister Sally Woodson, director of West Side Music Together of Manhattan, for the community she had created through involvement in her neighborhood, her church, and her classes. "The word that came to my mind representing what she had that I wanted was 'community.'"

So two years ago, when Judy decided to settle down, she took the Music Together teacher training and opened a center in her West Coast home town. "I don't have kids, but this has allowed me to feel as if I am part of the community here," she said. Perhaps even more importantly, Judy's decision also brought her closer to her sister than she had been since their childhood, when the two of them were first developing their passions and talents for music-making.

Young children learn by watching and doing what their community of caregivers do. Once they have the skills, knowledge, and disposition to make music, they then need the opportunity to put their learning into practice. That's what Music Together does, Guilmartin explained. "By creating informal musical communities, we generate a lot of musical 'doing'- and lots of fun!"

Copyright 2001 MusicTogether LLC, Production Editor: Catherine Judd Hirsch, Website Production Editor: Richard Young,
Editorial Assistant/Writer: Cleve Kersh, Feature Article: Deborah Gesensway,Columns: Lynne Ransom, Photos: Karin Naimark.
Music Together, CMYC and Center for Music and Young Children are registered trademarks of Music Together, LLC,
Princeton, New Jersey, Music Together logo art Copyright 1992 Music Together LLC.

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