Even babies can cultivate an ear for music, according to teacher Tamara Albrecht (right)

Building a foundation in music: Children’s Music Development Center nurtures a love of the art from toddlers to teenagers

Ten children, all under three feet tall and wearing teddy bear nametags, cluster excitedly around music history professor Tamara Albrecht as she hands out musical instruments from a basket: drums, finger cymbals, bells.

“Let’s show your parents what we’ve been working on,” Albrecht tells them, as moms and dads file into the room. For the next few minutes, Albrecht, who has a mane of dark, curly hair and a lilting, singsong voice, leads the kids in making “loooong” and “short!” notes with their instruments.

Emory is finding new avenues to expose Atlanta youngsters to the arts, from presenting world-class performances by Emory’s Coca-Cola Artists-in-Residence at inner-city schools to establishing the flourishing Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony and the more recent Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra.

The tiniest beneficiaries of these efforts are undoubtedly those in the Children’s Music Development Center of Emory (CMDCE), a project Albrecht founded fifteen years ago, when the Schwartz Center for Performing Arts was little more than a dream.

The program offers foundational music classes for area children from infants to middle-schoolers: Music for Babies, Family Music, and Growing in Music for pre-schoolers; then Musikgarten, keyboard and recorder, and string classes for older kids.

“Being a music educator, I always felt that nurturing children musically at a very young age is an important foundation for their overall development,” says Albrecht, who is married to University Organist Timothy Albrecht and who is an organist herself as well as a professor of music history. “It goes back to the Greek system of education: math, music, and physical education. Studies show music is important to brain development and can help with language, math, critical thinking, reactive thinking. In our schools, the arts programs are always the first to get cut, but if we can get children and families to make music at home, it will nurture them throughout their lives.”

Debbie Yates has been bringing her four-year-old daughter, Stephanie, to music classes through the center since she was a year old.

“It’s just a fantastic program,” Yates says. “Stephanie has learned so much musically and also emotionally. She was very shy before, and this has really brought her out. I hope it will build a good foundation for her so she can take lessons when she’s older.”

Albrecht estimates that, with more than a hundred students each semester, some four thousand children have participated in the Children’s Music Development Center over the last fifteen years. Some of those she taught as babies—including former University President Jim Laney’s granddaughter—are now students at Emory. Two of her string students recently auditioned and were accepted into the Atlanta Youth Wind Symphony, conducted by Scott Stewart, director of instrumental music at Emory. Another plays in the new Emory Youth Symphony Orchestra, led by Richard Prior, director of orchestral studies.

“It’s wonderful—Scott and Richard and I feel we’ve completed a whole cycle with these children,” Albrecht says.—P.P.P.



 © 2006 Emory University