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Fostering a love of music in your family

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse  May 10, 2010 06:31 AM

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The benefits of music education are well known: Playing an instrument can help the development of areas of the brain devoted to language and reasoning, reading music can help children understand fractions and proportional math and boost their abilities in science and technology, practicing music underscores the rewards of dedication and hard work, and performing in front of a crowd helps kids learn how to evaluate risk and handle anxiety. And that's just the tip of the iceberg, really.

In spite of this, music and arts education continues to be one of the first things on the chopping block as cash-strapped schools try to trim their budgets. What can parents do to bridge the gap at home?

From the Top is a Boston based non-profit organization that celebrates the performances and stories of the nation’s best young classical musicians. The experts there have plenty of information and advice about how parents can help foster a love of music within their kids, as well as profiles of some pretty inspirational young people. This is the first of a series of guest posts that From the Top will offer Boston.com/Moms about music and children; it was written by the organization's co-founder and co-CEO Jennifer Hurley-Wales.

Musicians Don’t Grow on Trees: Fostering a Love of Music in Your Family

By Jennifer Hurley-Wales

As the co-founder and executive producer of From the Top, a show on National Public Radio and a PBS television series, people often ask me, “Where do you find those kids?” And they are always surprised to hear me say that there are a tremendous number of kids in this country who play music at a very high level -- more than we can fit on our weekly radio show and TV series.

Often someone will refer to the From the Top kids as “prodigies,” as if they are freaks of nature. Without a doubt, From the Top showcases exciting and talented young musicians -- but very few are prodigies. They come from all sorts of backgrounds. Many of them tell us that their parents do not play an instrument but most do say that their families value the arts in some way. Most importantly, they all say that their parents encouraged them to appreciate music, recognized their passion, and helped them follow it.

I’m convinced that kids need to discover the joys of music and dancing before they are asked to learn an instrument and take lessons. With my own daughter, we often danced wildly after dinner, running through the house, even jumping on furniture, blasting Tchaikovsky symphonies or great chamber music. My husband and daughter would invent all sorts of acrobatic ballerina games where she would dance, run, leap across the room into his arms ending with a big “Taa-dahhh!” The Sabre Dance was always a popular one for this routine.

When my daughter was 3 we enrolled her in a fabulous Eurhythmics class at New England Conservatory. Eurhythmics is an approach to music education that was devised by Émile Jaques-Dalcroze. This method utilizes physical movement and musical rhythms to teach and reinforce musical concepts. It is a great introduction to music and provides a nice foundation for learning an instrument later on.

In June, From the Top will highlight an 18-year-old violist from Des Moines, Iowa, on one of our concert-style radio tapings. Caroline Weeks did not begin playing an instrument until grade school, but her love of music was instilled almost from birth. She says her parents always played music in the house, from Brazilian jazz to rock to classical. She told us one of her favorite memories was when her grandfather took her to a local library to hear a string quartet perform. She was 4 at the time, and she said she had never imagined that instruments could make such wonderful and exciting sounds. It changed her life!

Musical kids sprout out of carefully tended roots that are seeded at home. I encourage you to bring music of all kinds into your house and to offer your children opportunities to discover the joy that music making and listening can bring.

If you want to start right now, show your kids this inspiring short video, and make some time to play and dance.

From the Top can be heard in Boston on 99.5 FM on Saturdays at 11 a.m. and Sundays at 5 p.m; you can catch episodes of the TV series, From the Top at Carnegie Hall, on WGBH Channel 2, check the schedule for airtimes. For more information, or to ask a question or send feedback, email enewsletter@fromthetop.org.

Lylah M. Alphonse is a Globe staff member and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day and blogs at Write. Edit. Repeat. E-mail her at lalphonse@globe.com  and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.

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2 comments so far...
  1. I grew up in a musical home - my father played trumpet, French Horn and bugle. I played clarinet and piano.

    My son is an opera singer and composer.

    Both of us, though, had families who fostered those talents, especially my son's.

    Now, our daughter has grown up on a diet of classical, punk rock, and ages old children's songs. I will sing to her, the same song over and over, on our commute. We make up silly songs for everything we do, from bathing to cooking to just going for a walk.

    I won't spend money on Eurythmics classes or anything else of the sort though. Encouraging her to sing at home and to make music with her "marching band" (a metal pail with different sticks to bang on it' a plastic container full of nails and screws, a paint can lid for a cymbal), her toy guitar and her beginner piano has accomplished so much when it comes to letting her imagination and creativity run wild, it seems a simple waste of money at her age.

    As she grows older and shows a preference for a particular type/form, we will encourage her to pursue it and open those roads.

    Posted by Phe May 11, 10 08:33 AM
  1. Well, a love for music was definitely instilled in our son Benno from before his birth. Music is at the center of our family life and my professional life. When I was pregnant, I was working at Concert Artists Guild. Sometimes I had to turn pages for the pianist in one of our trios during their performances- and he would kick and roll in-utero throughout the entire performance - until the music stopped - at that point, he would settle down. As an infant, he would instantly stop crying in the car if we played Italian arias. A little later, car favorites included Steve Reich's "Different Trains" and Ella Fitzgerald. And of course, music was always being played at home - live and on our stereo. Finally, when I started grant writing for From the Top, during its very early start-up years, he followed everything that was going on with the show - and loved to attend live tapings when possible. At the young age of three he attended his first taping of From the Top at Tanglewood - and he could not believe that such beautiful music was being played by kids! That really left a deep impression. Today, he is a 14 year old music lover and plays clarinet, sax and piano - and even though he is totally a science nerd (in the best sense of the word) music is a big part of his life - and our family life. On Fridays, after school (Stuyvesant HS in NYC) he trucks on over to The Jazz Gallery, my place of employment and his second home, and hears great music, live. Oh, and one more thing - our motto, when people ask us what kind of music we like, is "good music!" It's important not to segregate music stylistically - and in today's world, it's easy to encourage broad tastes - kids can load up their ipods creatively - avant-garde jazz , next to Bach, next to hip hop. That's a wonderful thing!

    Posted by Deborah Steinglass May 21, 10 01:26 PM
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about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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