Editor’s Note: This story was written by and republished with the permission of Ithaca Week, a weekly magazine produced by the students of the Advanced Multimedia Journalism class at the Roy H. Park School of Communications, Ithaca College.
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Eight children and their caretakers gather in a circle, singing the tune of the instructor, “put the rhythm in your hands and go clap, clap, clap.” A young, black-haired girl, dressed in a red dress with blue and white striped knee socks, steps to the clapped beat in the middle of the circle.
The group is part of Music Together, a national program designed to introduce children from infancy to age four at the earliest stages of development to music in local communities.
“It is the [caretaker’s] job, just like with language, to mirror action back with the child,” Lorna Bradshaw, a certified music instructor, said. “It’s about modeling, and the children find [the rhythm] on their own.”
Music Together’s philosophy stresses parents and caretakers alike need to accompany the children during instruction because this creates a bond between them and eases the learning process.
Neuroscientific research going as far back as 1960 confirms the role music plays creating new neurological pathways in the brains of children during early development.
A 2011 study published by Aalborg University in Denmark found the importance of music and it’s effect on adolescents interpersonal relationships as they developed into young childhood.
“The importance and significance of including these types of programs in schools have become apparent, as they facilitate interpersonal relationships,…identity development, and ultimately the taste and motivation to learn and use music as a tool of expression,” the research concluded.
Nearly a hundred families and caretakers in the Ithaca area attend the classes of Music Together according to the owner of Ithaca’s chapter of Music Together, Linda Chen.
Chen, who is also currently a part-time music instructor at the Elizabeth Anne Clune Montessori School of Ithaca, took ownership of the Ithaca branch in January.
“In the beginning, I was a bit hesitant because I didn’t know if I had the leadership skills to take over [Music Together], but I decided to go for it,” Chen said. “Music is my passion and I thought it would be a great opportunity to share music with the Ithaca community”
A Music Together class runs for 10 weeks and the classes are hosted at three different locations in Ithaca: The First Congregational Church, Jillian’s Drawers, and Bridges Cornell Heights.
Shannon O’Leary, a caretaker who attended the class, said Music Together has sparked the interest in music for both her and Nevaz, the child she cares for.
“I am learning music now for [Nevaz]. I bought a guitar. The class has inspired me to learn music, but Nevaz has just taken off. She asks ‘what’s next’ for the class regularly,” O’Leary said.
One mother named Laura attends the class with her one-year old son Ashlin and discussed the development of her son at the class.
“You can tell the younger kids absorb a lot inside the classes,” Laura said. “Ashlin does a lot more music at home than he does in front of the class.”