July 4, 2013

Music Together: For Parents

By Mark MacNamara

Among the better known opportunities for small children to come into the world of music in general, and classical music,in particular, is Music Together, which has more than half a dozen studios in the Bay Area and has been around for many years. It’s a holistic program directed at children under the age of seven, and involves a “mixed-age, family style” approach.

The program, which costs around $200, includes 10 weeks of classes and a songbook that’s key to the course. Each class is 45 minutes.

Julia McCloud, a former teacher at Music Together, notes this about the program: “Many parents come to these classes just to make contact and have an activity for their children. And certainly a child can have fun on that level. But other parents really get into it and I would say those get their money’s worth. But you have to understand the goals and be willing to use the materials at home.”

‘The material’ includes 25 to 30 songs; some are old standards, some were written exclusively for Music Together.

“It’s all developmentally appropriate,” adds McCloud, “and the idea is to acquire both rhythmic and tonal competence. Children begin just by being exposed to the music and in the very beginning you never know how children are going to react. But gradually they come to it and learn to move to a beat and then clap to a steady beat. The idea is to let children come to music on their own terms and develop their own sense of confidence. There’s a lot of singing, because the idea is that until you master your voice you cannot manipulate another instrument. Parents are expected to sing along and they don’t have to possess any special musical talent, themselves.”

“I think that for those children that keep coming semester after semester it does breed confidence and while some children may initially feel challenged and nervous about singing in a group, with a good teacher they’ll get over that…”

The Music Together approach is based on the work of, among others, Howard Gardner, best known for his theory of “Multiple Intelligence” and Dr. Lillian Katz, who once wrote on the subject of self-esteem, “Children are more likely to enhance their sense of self-confidence and self-worth when the learning environment provides a wide variety of activities and tasks, when they have opportunities to make meaningful decisions and choices, and when optimum challenge, rather than quick and easy success, is available.

But the real foundation may be in the work of Edward Gordon, a renowned professor and researcher in the field of children and music. In his 1990 book, A Music Learning Theory for Newborn and Young Children (Chicago: GIA Publications) he wrote,

“Music is unique to humans. Like the other arts, music is as basic as language to human development and existence. Through music a child gains insights into herself, into others, and into life itself. Perhaps most important, she is better able to develop and sustain her imagination. Without music, life would be bleak. Because a day does not pass without a child’s hearing or participating in some music, it is to a child’s advantage to understand music as thoroughly as she can. As a result, as she becomes older she will learn to appreciate, to listen to, and to partake in music that she herself believes to be good. Because of such cultural awareness, her life will have more meaning for her.”


Here are the Bay Area Music Together locations:

East Bay Music Together (16 locations)
Alameda/El Cerrito/Albany/Berkeley/Montclair/Oakland/Lafayette/Rockridge, (510) 848-7464, www.eastbaymusictogether.com, Director: Danni Cauley

Music Together of San Francisco (Six locations)
(415) 596-0299, www.musictogethersf.com, Director: Paul Godwin

San Francisco Music Together
San Francisco, (415) 553-8120, www.sfmusictogether.com, Director: Ana Lubliner

Music Together of Marin
Mill Valley/San Anselmo/San Rafael/Ross/Corte Madera/ Tiburon/Terra Linda, (415) 456-6630, www.musictogetherofmarin.com, Director: Beth Crespan

Peninsula Music Together
Burlingame/San Mateo/Millbrae (415) 308-4432, www.Peninsulamusictogether.com, Director: Pam Donkin

Early Start Music (nine locations)
San Leandro/ Castro Valley/ Fremont, (510) 431-2044, www.earlystartmusic.com,

Music for Families, Inc. (eight locations)
Palo Alto/San Jose/Sunnyvale/Menlo Park/Mountain View/ Los Altos/Atherton, (650) 917-2354, www.music4families.net, Director: Kristine Dunn

Music Together Tri-Valley (seven locations)
Walnut Creek/Pleasanton/Danville/San Ramon/ Livermore (925) 551-7722, http://www.musictogether.net, Director: Rowena Morgan

Mark MacNamara (macnamband.com) is a journalist in San Francisco who has written for such publications as Salon.com, Vanity Fair, and The Stanford Social Innovation Review. He also wrote a recent piece for Nautilus, a science magazine, about Edward Elgar’s penchant for ciphers and riddles.