September 11, 2000
Volume 53, No. 3
Dancing to the music
By Eric Rangus
Depending on one's perspective, a jam-packed room containing 10 toddlers banging sticks on the floor can be: A racket remedied only by a barrelful of aspirin or . . . an energetic, rollicking good time.
Room 400 in the Glenn Church School on Wednesdays, just after lunch, is a prime example of the latter. That's when Ethel Childress' "Music for Babies" class meets. The class is an offering of the Children's Music Development Center, a holistic program that teaches music appreciation and encourages in the inclusion of music as an integral part of a child's development.
The Emory-based center offers five classes for children through age 7. Each is gradually more advanced than the one before, adding more exercises and features (age-appropriate instruments, for instance, even reading music). In January, recorder and keyboard classes for second and third graders will be available for the first time. The center last fall added a music class titled Sound Design and Exploration, which focuses on percussion and is open to a wide range of children (third through eighth graders).
In Wednesday afternoon's Music for Babies class, nine moms, one dad and a collection of children ranging in age from 6 months to 16 months gets together for 45 minutes of dancing and singing nursery rhymes. More than props, but not yet full participants, the babies' main responsibility is to enjoy themselves.
Their eyes wander about the room, occasionally stopping when they see another small person who looks like them, but most often they gaze at mom or dad. And mom or dad for those 45 minutes is a whirlwind of activity, singing songs, serving as a dance partner and using the accompanying equipment (a shaker, colorful scarf and the aforementioned wooden cylindrical sticks) to add to the experience.
The babies take part primarily with the eyes and their smiles. Banging the sticks, for the majority of the students, consists of them holding the sticks while parent moves their arms to knock them either together or on the floor. The younger participants' muscles haven't learned the movements yet.
While babies may not show a lot of outward signs of musical development, that's exactly what's going on, Childress said.
"It's great for their coordination, to get their arms and legs moving and rocking back and forth," she said. Childress teaches classes in four of the five age groups and is the founder of the Augusta Children's Chorale. She and the center's four other instructors (Karen Banks, Peggy Benkeser, Margaret Goins and Robin Hensley) have more than 80 years' combined experience in teaching music to children.
"Moving to the music helps develop [the babies'] timing," Childress continued. "It enhances their growth both emotionally and socially being with other babies."
"Research basically has proven that music stimulates parts of the brain and actually grows neurons," said Tamara Albrecht, center director. "The creative process in children needs to be nurtured between birth and 7 years. This is the most crucial time for this growth process."
The five classes for the youngest children offer an interesting array of activities and use two curriculums-Kindermusik and Musikgarten-that are focused on gradually introducing music appreciation and instrument ability to children.
The Kindermusik program is 20 years old and well respected; Musikgarten is newer and was co-founded by one of the original Kindermusik creators.
The center is affiliated with the School of Music but maintains a certain amount of independence. Still, its instructors and all staff members are Emory employees. The center has close to 180 students, and about one-third of those are children of Emory faculty or staff. Glenn Church School is one of three classroom locations; the others are at First Baptist Church in Decatur and St. Bede's Episcopal Church near Northlake Mall.
"The kids have fun with it," said Mark Risjord, associate professor of philosophy. His children have been attending classes at the center for five years. His oldest Andrea, 9, has graduated, while 6-year-old Hannah is taking Music for the Young Child. "I think it's a great way to get them ready to take more lessons as they get older. To get them reading music at 5 or 6 is a great way to get started."
"Tighter family bonding results from the program, providing more interaction in the enjoyment of music-making at home," Albrecht said. "For example at the end of each Young Child class [ages 57], parents and siblings join us in class to create a musical composition, all playing instruments and singing, dancing, reenacting a musical story, or sharing in other elements their children have learned in class that week."
"The first year, the parents get more out of it than the kids do," said Risjord, a musician himself who plays string bass and guitar. "The music and games you learn add to the repertoire of things you can do with your children."
"Parents love that they are a part of the learning process so that they can continue the creative music process at home with the entire family," Albrecht said.
Parents are not the only ones escorting children. Many grandparents are involved as well, even the occasional aunt or uncle. Childress said sometimes grandparents will tag along just to watch, sitting on the side and singing along.
The current semester began in late August and runs through December. Tuition, registration and materials costs vary, but Emory parents receive a $10 discount on tuition. A limited numbers of scholarships are available, too. For more information, visit the center's website at www.emory.edu/MUSIC/cmdc.htm.