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 firstname.lastname@example.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 email@example.com and follow her on Twitter @WriteEditRepeat.