Beyond Baby Mozart : Kid's Music Programs
Scientific research—and common sense—say that music classes are good for children. With our guide, finding the best program for your kids has never been easier.
For years we’ve been pumping sonatas into nurseries, hoping to produce a new generation of wunderkinder. Although the Mozart Effect on children’s intellectual development renewed excitement about classical music, it turns out that such an effect is real only when children learn how to actually play music. Listening to classical music does aid concentration, but recent studies show that to raise your IQ, you have to sing or play an instrument, not a CD.
Now more than ever, and despite cutbacks to school music programs, Diabloland kids have opportunities to grow up learning music. In fact, our region is enjoying a resurgence in music instruction. Arts foundations, funded and sometimes run by parents, are bringing music back into the schools; infant and toddler music programs are sprouting up faster than you can sing “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star;” recital halls fill with proud parents listening to their award-winning kids play jazz and classical music; organizations like the California Symphony are introducing musical instruments to kids through a program called the “instrument petting zoo” (June 3 at Acalanes High). We even have a mayor,H. Abram Wilson of San Ramon, who’s won an award for promoting music in schools.
Meanwhile, research pointing to the benefits of learning music continues to emerge. The information shows a correlation between music study and school success in language and math. Music touches all areas of a child’s brain, transforming neurons and making the brain work more efficiently. The sooner a child begins, the better, but the effects of music study are cumulative at any age. Even adult beginners benefit from picking up an instrument or learning how to sing.
Infants through Kindergarten
And regardless of higher IQ or SAT points, music is just a good thing. It’s one of the great joys of life. Making music helps kids express complex feelings. It teaches teamwork and discipline, and often becomes a lifelong companion. With all of this in mind, we consulted our area’s musical experts and created a kids’ music guide that includes programs for all ages, from toddlers to teens and beyond. It’s never been easier or more rewarding to have your kid pick up a clarinet, a viola, or even, heaven forbid, a tuba.
Andrea’s Musical Adventures,
Walnut Creek, Lafayette, Orinda
“I work a lot in bringing music from different cultures,” says Andrea Gaspari,of Andrea’s Musical Adventures. “Forexample, Turkish music has a seven count versus our standard eight count. When music has different rhythm signatures, the kids feel it differently.”
Music Together, Walnut Creek, Danville, San Ramon, Pleasanton, and Livermore (925) 551-7722
Music Together emphasizes mixed-age participation and families making music part of everyday life.
Where Music Begins, Pleasanton
Where Music Begins offers Kindermusik programs as well as “Simply Music” piano lessons for kids with special needs. “Our focus is on understanding how each child learns and working with that,” says director Cathy Hirata. “We teach through their
H. Abram Wilson, Mayor of San Ramon
“Anytime I got a chance to encourage or support music through the city or the schools, I would do it,” says H. Abram Wilson, mayor of San Ramon. Wilson started an afterschool music program for all elementary schools; he received an award from the California Music Educators Association for that and his other music-promotion programs. San Ramon’s public library boasts the region’s largest jazz collection and offers live performances every fall. “The library’s acoustics are amazing,” says the mayor.
Programs That Go Through High School
The following programs may start playfully when dealing with the youngest kids, but they also offer years of concentrated study, music theory, and even preparation for advanced placement music classes.
Public performance is often an important part of the curriculum. Private and group lessons are often taken in combination so kids can hone their individual skills and learn how to play and sing with other musicians. “Group class and private class are like two legs on a body,” says Goran Berg, director of the Suzuki Strings Academy in Livermore. “If you’re missing one, you’re limping.”
Academy of Language and Music Arts, Orinda
Ages three through adult
In addition to teaching all musical instruments and ability levels, the academy offers language classes. You might find some of the instructors teaching Spanish as well
as piano. Both private and group lessons
Anderson-Siprashvili Music Academy, Pleasanton
Ages six months through adult
Anderson-Siprashvili offers a variety of programs for different ages and instruments. In addition, high school students can get a leg up on the advanced placement test in music theory.
Cofounders Mark Anderson and Tamriko Siprashvili bring techniques learned in music conservatories in London and Moscow—as well as experience performing for audiences around the world—to Anderson’s hometown of Pleasanton.
“Studying music brings a deeper emotional understanding of the self,” Anderson says. “You are being exposed to great works of art that are soul enriching.”
Contra Costa Children’s Chorus,
Ages seven through 17
This award-winning chorus has an
excellent reputation and performs all over the world. The program comprises 10 choirs, each at a different level. The higher the level, the farther students travel.
Lamorinda Academy of Music and Arts, Lafayette
Ages three through adult
The academy prepares and encourages young musicians to perform not only in recitals but also in music competitions. Students can begin private keyboard lessons as early as age five, learning styles from classical to jazz.
Piedmont Choirs, Piedmont
Ages five through 18
This highly respected organization’s choirs collaborate with professional music organizations such as the San Francisco Symphony, and the international touring chorus has won numerous awards in European competitions.
Pleasanton Community Concert Band, Pleasanton
Ages 13 through adult
Open to all with at least moderate ability. Drop in to see if you enjoy it.
Singingwood (at Mt. Diablo Unitarian Universalist Church), Walnut Creek
Private lessons from age four and a half, workshops from age seven
In addition to offering private lessons to young children, instructor John Blasquez invites musicians of all ages to enjoy the “social side of music” through his workshops on jamming with others and learning practical music theory. Folk, bluegrass, Celtic, and international music are among the styles that are explored. The program is open to fiddlers, mandolinists, guitarists, banjo players, and bassists.
Suzuki Strings Academy, Livermore
Ages three through 18
The Suzuki method treats music as another language, one a child learns by listening and re-creating. “It’s amazing to hear five-year-
Improvise … Instantly!
Keep your ears tuned for Orff Schulwerk instruments as evidence that this forgiving and fun music education philosophy is being included in your kid’s school program. The xylophones and glockenspiels play only the notes of a pentatonic scale, an abridged version of a scale that omits all the notes that could sound “off.” Kids are encouraged to improvise, instantly creating sweet-sounding melodies and harmonies in a fun and collaborative environment. The premise of Orff Schulwerk is “Success the first time and every time.”
Bob Athayde has single-handedly transformed the music program at Lafayette’s Stanley Middle School into one of the best in the state. Recognized as a superb bandleader in 2004 by the California Music Educators Association, Athayde’s music classroom has one rule, and it’s posted on the wall: “We all play together.”
For Athayde, music demands and inspires teamwork. “Band is a functioning mini-society,” says Athayde. “For kids to sit in a band, they have to learn to get along with the person next to them and in front of them and behind them. And they have to know that if they make one mistake, the whole band sounds bad. If one person fails, everyone fails.”
Athayde also runs Lafayette Summer Music Workshops. He regularly invites world-renowned guest artists to help him train his award-
winning student musicians, who range from middle-schoolers to college freshmen. For information on the Lafayette Summer Music Workshop, visit www.lafsmw.org.
One of the original members of Tower of Power, trumpeter/trombonist Mic Gillette has recorded more than 1,000 albums and has played live with the Rolling Stones, Elton John, Rod Stewart, and Carlos Santana. Gillette, formerly a resident of Pleasant Hill and Lafayette, does big band and jazz clinics all over the world, as well as in Lafayette middle schools. “I advise people not to practice,” says Gillette. “I say, ‘Don’t ever practice as long as you live. Every time you play it, perform it. Every time you play, play your absolute best—if you’re playing for yourself or for a crowd of 700,000 people.’ ”
Matt Finders grew up in Livermore and played in school band throughout middle and high school. Now you’ll see him every night playing trombone on The Tonight Show with Jay Leno. Finders says that playing in band improves more than musical skills. “It gives kids a group where they belong during the years where it’s really difficult to find a center.”
Maxime Stinnett, now a 10th-grader in Walnut Creek, played saxophone in a jazz group made up of Stanley Middle School students called Groove Merchants, which won Downbeat magazine’s student music award for “Jazz Instrumental Group Outstanding Performance.” In 2004, his group Airtime was selected to play for the International Association for Jazz Educators. “I like telling stories in jazz,” says Stinnett. “It’s almost the same thing as writing a story. You start off simple, it gets complicated, there’s a climax, then it settles down.” olds play concertos by Bach,” says director Berg. Parents are required to periodically take lessons themselves so they can better monitor their children’s progress at home.
Does nagging help a kid to practice?
Experts agree that daily practice may not come easily, but it’s necessary. In the beginning, kids need to be encouraged to practice, just as they need to be reminded to brush their teeth. Don’t feel bad if your kid doesn’t race to unpack her instrument or open her score; it’s rare to find a self-motivated musician in the early years.
Use repetition, not minutes, as a practice marker. Thirty minutes can seem like an eternity, but if a child knows she has to repeat a piece four times, the clock won’t seem to tick so loudly. Chart and reward progress. After 14 days in a row of daily practice, go out for pizza, but if the child misses a day, the counting starts over. Incorporate practice into family life. Don’t send the musician off alone to another room; let your child serenade you while you make dinner.
For teens who are ready to perform live, these programs offer individual instruction and opportunities to create music with others. Harmonizing draws on past lessons, while improvising requires vats of personal courage. “Kids learn to solo and stand out on their own,” says Rob Ewing, youth coordinator at Berkeley’s Jazzschool. “It’s a good challenge for them.”
BandWorks, Concord, Dublin, and Oakland
Ages 8 through adult
In eight weeks, learn how to play in a rock band, then perform live at a local venue. Musicians are grouped together by age and ability. BandWorks also offers one-week summer sessions, and coaching for kids who already have garage bands.
Ages 6 through adult
The standout school for teenage jazz musicians is Berkeley’s Jazzschool. It offers dozens of classes for instrumentalists and vocalists in middle and high school, as well as summer camps for younger kids. The curriculum includes short-term workshops, private instruction, and performance and lecture classes. Some performance ensembles require auditions; other classes have prerequisites. “Advanced High School Jazz Workshop is a premier group,” says Ewing. “They play around, appearing at events like the Monterey Jazz Festival and meetings of the International Association of Jazz Educators. A lot of people call the school looking for performers for their events.”
Livermore-Amador Symphony, Livermore
Ages 18 through adult
The orchestra meets from September through May and plays four classical shows plus a pops concert each season. An audition is required. Or, experienced kids can go out for the annual Competition for Young Musicians. The winner is given a cash prize as well as the opportunity to perform as a soloist during a symphony concert.
Oakland Interfaith Youth Gospel Choir, Oakland
Ages 13 through 18
An impressive performance history includes the San Jose Jazz Festival, the Jewish Music Festival, and the Women’s World Cup Games. Terrance Kelly, founder of the Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, directs the Youth Gospel Choir. An audition is required.
JoAnne Tobias recently took up the cello.
Before moving to Oakland and becoming a freelance writer, she worked in preschool and elementary classrooms.
Chloe Pang played on the Late Show with David Letterman when she was 12 and opened California Symphony’s 2005 season two short years later. “I practice two to three hours a day,” says the Orinda teen. “Playing for the California Symphony was more challenging than playing for Letterman. But I don’t get nervous in front of an audience. We never say the ‘n’ word; we always say ‘excited.’”