Climbing Mount Music

Ideas for Making a Musical Life


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Album of the Week – Juno Award Winner Diana Panton’s Children’s Album

I Believe in Little Things

Hurrah for this beautiful and creative album of Diana Panton’s!  I was so thrilled when I found out her album “I Believe in Little Things” had won Best Children’s Album of the Year at the 2017 Juno’s.   This is an album you will love to listen to even without your kids around.  Believe it or not I have already put this on, poured myself a glass of wine and done some Sunday evening cooking for the week after Evan went to bed!

I suppose it should be no surprise to me that this artist created such a winner.  Parents can be assured that behind the music is a winner of a person too.  I collaborated with Diana for a Jazz concert a couple of years ago at Hamilton Place and was struck by her approachable, kind and open spirit.  Interesting fact about Diana; she has what is called synesthesia which is when one sense is stimulated by another sense.  In Diana’s case she sees colours when she hears music depending on the key and the pitches.  There is a connection in her brain between the part that processes colour and the part that processes what she’s hearing.  Very few people have this – pretty cool!  Here’s an article on the phenomenon.

Things I love about this album aside from Diana’s sweet, addictive voice.

  1. The production. You feel like you are in a room with her, the band and yourself.  Crystal, clear and pure sounding.  It matches the quality of her voice so well.  Love it.
  2. The conversations you can have with your child that it creates. Some lyrics are in French, there are instrument solos you can point out “that’s a cello” “that’s a guitar”, some of the songs are from movies you can watch together (The Muppet Movie), so many jumping off points.
  3. These are jazzy versions of songs you may already have listened to with your child and if you haven’t you can add them to your playlists to open up the idea that there are so many ways to interpret the same piece of music. Kind of like when someone has a different accent or speaks a different language.


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Mom Success – Interview with a mom who Climbed Mount Music

Mom Success Pic

What does Mom success sound like?  I interviewed a mom who has two kids in university and has successfully “climbed mount music”!  I wanted to share with you some of what she had to say about the values she found and challenges she had when she made learning an instrument a priority for her children’s lives.

Chantal is a Senior Project Manager in the FinTech industry and immigrated to Canada from France with her husband and two daughters more than 20 years ago.

What is your musical background?

I do not have a Musical background, besides listening to pop music and classical music from time to time.  I would have liked to learn guitar but it was never my parent’s priority.  I think I am tone deaf and was not even able to sing children’s songs with the proper tune!

What is your husband’s musical background?

[He] loves music, especially rock ’n roll.  He listens to a lot of genres, does not play any instrument himself and is able to recognise all 70’s songs on the first note.  He has a good musical ear.

What music education did your children have?  How long did they play? Do they still play?

My 22 year old girl, Camille, started piano when she was 8 years old and followed the Royal Conservatory of Music program all the way to grade 10, and did the harmony level I and II as part of the program she followed with her piano teacher.  She was so into it that she even took music history one summer at the University of Toronto.  When she left to pursue her university degree in France, she asked us to buy her a keyboard for her 20th birthday, and we did and brought one to her.  She continues playing when she has time available (but this is not too much since she is studying medicine in France)  Her boyfriend plays guitar with her. She is still playing piano.

My 19th year old daughter, Julie, started to play guitar (she asked for it as well) when she was 7.  The practice hurt her fingers and she did not want to continue; we proposed to her to play piano and it was much better after that.  She still practices today though not as much.  However, she learned guitar on her own and today plays simple songs she composed (I’ve posted some on YouTube).  She plays guitar more than piano now and this helps her release stress from university .

When did you decide that you wanted your children to learn an instrument?

Camille was the one who asked to have piano lessons.  So we borrow a keyboard from a friend and started with our piano teacher (right around the corner on our street) and once we realized she was taking music seriously we purchased an upright piano.  Julie followed her sister and was the one who asked to play guitar as well; she then switched to piano.

Why did you decide to make it happen?

Because I always wanted to play myself and never took the time to do it seriously and since they both asked to play, the teacher was right around the corner and walking distance, so it was the perfect opportunity.

Talk about some of the challenges you had to keep it going in your house and what kept you going.

It is one thing to go to a weekly hour lesson with a piano teacher, it is another thing to practice at home.  So we had to negotiate practice time.  We’d suggest they play 3 times each piece, or say we will give up Sunday practice if you practice a little more Saturday.

Camille got pleasure out of mastering a piece and she practiced quite a lot without us asking too much but we had to, from time to time, not allow her to go out with friends unless the piano practice was done. Sometimes it was a quick practice but it was still better than nothing in our mind.

Julie, who got the basics quite quickly, was always playing around by rearranging the piece, so we had to ask her to play at least 2 times each piece then the 3rd or 4th time she could rearrange the melody or tempo or whatever would please her.

For both of them, the teacher would propose little pieces for Christmas to practice and sing with the family and it helped in adding some fun in the practice. The piano teacher organized duets for the sisters to practice together for the year end events, it was original and they enjoyed it. Even though we followed the Royal Conservatory of Music program, the teacher was quite open to learning other pieces, which kept their interest (Coeur de Pirate, Amelie, Sarah Bareilles, the Beatles, The Corpse Bride…).  It kept their interest as they could play music they listen to on a regular basis and heard on YouTube.

In addition I learned the piano myself at the same time as my girls so we could practice together until they were way better than me. But sometimes, we would play together.  I would comment on their progress and my husband and I would sit listening to them explaining how the music they were playing was touching us, how the music transported us.  I would also ask the teacher a lot questions about their lessons.

We had CD of “the Maestro Family”, who were singing songs for kids based on classical pieces.  The lyrics are adapted to kids so that we could listen to them all day. And we were singing with them explaining where these pieces were coming from.

Besides giving them one extra credit for university, I found that it linked them with friends who were playing instruments as well, so they could play with them at birthday parties. It also opened their minds to composers they did not know (classic or modern Canadian or not).

What advice would you give parents related to children, music and learning an instrument?

Never give up! And find what works for their children to continue practicing (positive reinforcement) or little perks here and there.  Open their minds with new composers and styles.  The Maestro Family already mentioned above but also not classical.  Singers that incorporate classic pieces in their songs, for example, Serge Gainsbourg uses an intro by Chopin in one of his songs.

Let them play the music they like from time to time so it’s more fun than a classical piece (even if a piece is considered a masterpiece, it may not resonate with children).

Add fun wherever you can; Christmas carols etc.

Show them which classical pieces they play are in movies.  Like for older kids “The Pianist” or “Amadeus” or “Immortal Beloved”.

The most important for me is sharing with them.  We would go to a musical with them or even a concert at the local church.

Do you think your children are more likely to buy tickets to musical events because of their musical education?

Definitely for Camille my oldest.  But I go with her too so we can discuss about the show afterward, about what we liked or not.  I think it opened her mind and she appreciates the show more because of her musical background, she realized the hours of practice to come up to the perfect interpretation and became sensitive to the emotion transferred through music.

What is your fondest/funniest/most impactful memory(s) related to the music learning in your family?

For me it is more on the emotional side.  Each time Camille is playing “Moonlight Sonata” from Chopin (which is played in the movie “The Pianist’) it brings tears in my eyes.  For Julie it is when she decided to play a song from the “Amelie” soundtrack for one of her recitals and she was lost in the piece. I could see the joy of playing in her.

Another one was when both the girls were paying “Carmen” theme together on the piano. I have the video ….


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Don’t Let Your Kids Say These Things!

“I’m not talented at music”, “I don’t know anything about music”, “I’m tone deaf”.  These are all things I hear so much from adults including parents of my students.  I can predict that many of my posts are going to start with this similar theme.  To all parents I say “everyone can learn”.  I am 100% sure of this.  The reason you might be saying these things is because you don’t know (or your parent’s didn’t know) how simple the formula is to be able to sing, play an instrument, dance and not feel intimidated by any aspect of music making or listening.  Give your kids a chance – don’t let them also end up saying these things.

MusicTogetherPic.jpegSo, with this in mind I suggest as a step one – get involved in an early education music class, do what the instructor tells you to do and stick with it.  There are so many options for early childhood music classes.  I’m working on a post that will compare the major ones but until my research is complete I thought I would review the one we are enrolled in now, Music Together.  It will be hard to find an easier or more impactful way to go than this method.

Each week we go to the class on Sunday morning and I genuinely look forward to it.  Evan also loves it.  I’m pretty sure he likes the music but he for sure loves the running around!  Each location is different but ours in held in a karate studio so there is a big squishy floor space for the kids to run around before and after and sometimes during the class.

The Premise

This is for babies and up but mostly for kids younger than school age.  Home listening CD’s and uploads are included in the fees.  You are expected to listen to the songs outside class then come each week and participate in the class where the instructor leads.  Each song is accompanied with props that aid in engagement, cognitive learning and the development of rhythm and pitch.

What’s Good

The songs are mostly unique to Music Together but the listening does include traditional children’s songs.  I like that the songs are inspired by a mix of cultural backgrounds (for example, eastern and western influenced scale patterns and keys), they have interactive breaks where the listener is expected to copy what they hear and I really love that they have a strong lean toward the rhythmic development side.

I also like that the class is not super age specific so you can bring siblings and there’s no problem.  For parents of multiple children it is hard to find an activity where everyone is welcome.  Adding to that, both parents can participate.  There is no restriction of a one parent to one child ratio that I have seen elsewhere.

The Up’s and Down’s

I love that Music Together has reading books that line up with the music.  What a great concept!  I actually forgot about this though and realized that a little more pushing or promotion from the instructor would actually be a welcome thing.  We all need reminders hear and there.

This brings me to the fact that, as with any education, the amazingness of your class is dependent on your teacher.  But with Music Together it is also reliant on parent participation.  The Suzuki Method (a method of learning an instrument that starts with the child playing by ear) has the same requirement of home listening and because I’m a Suzuki teacher I know the importance of this.  A child cannot learn to play by ear without hearing the music a lot first.  The same applies to Music Together or learning to enjoy anything in life, for that matter.  For most things you have to hear or do something many times before you like it.  In this class the child is learning the songs but the parents are learning the songs too.  These songs are new to everyone so if the listening is not happening at home, the parents don’t sing therefore the kids don’t sing and the only person left singing is the teacher.  I have not divulged to anyone in the class that I am a professional musician but maybe it’s obvious since many times it’s just me and the instructor singing alone – or if my friend is there (wife of a professional musician, it’s the three of us!).  Is it any wonder that Evan is one of the youngest but is starting to sing along?  It’s not rocket science, he’s simply listening more than the other kids.  When we are listening in the car I am singing along.  During the copy-cat sections I am coping what I am hearing.  As I am trained to think, learning music is the same as learning a language.  You (parent) and your child have to hear something many, many times before you can speak it or sing it or play it.

As Suzuki teachers we are constantly, lightly mentioning the importance of the listening to the parents of our students.  I find myself wishing our very lovely teacher would emphasize the importance of the home listening more (and perhaps a reminder that there are cool products like story books to make the listening even more fun!).  I think it’s fair to assume that all the parents of the kids in this age group are strung out!  Perhaps the teacher is not wanting to turn them off.  But the goal here is to get the children immersed in a musical environment and developing their brains.  I think a subtle reflection on this and soft suggestions each week would go a long way – for our class anyway.  I’d like a little more vocal company – I don’t have that great a singing voice!

The good news is if you start with this, you are on your way!

The path is like this:

Listening => Singing => Playing

The child sees:

Listening Parent = Listening Child

Singing Parent = Singing Child

Participating Parent = Participating Child


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Recording of the Week – La Famille Maestro

LaFamilleMaestroPic.jpg

Album: La Famille Maestro Best of Opus 1 and 2

Why it Should Be Part of Your Listening

It’s the most brilliant thing to have playing in your car for your kids! Every song is a children’s tune based on a famous classical piece of music. Educate yourself, your kids and have so much fun with it. Bonus, you get some French language learning in there too since it’s in French. We are not French speakers and I’m playing this album all the time right now.

Extra Effort that’s Worth It

Brownie points and uber award for excellent parenting if you make a playlist with the actual original classical works so you hear the real thing.  Play it also in the car or in the background at home. I’m so excited about this idea that if you contact me saying you are listening to these guys, I’ll send you a CD of the original classics in the mail for $10. One step down from that, take a peak at the CD case or song title occasionally and find out the real name of the piece of music being covered. You’ll sound extra cultured at your next wine and cheese…. or, more realistically, chatting with other parents at the park!

Where to Find the CD and the Artists

Unfortunately they don’t make it very easy to buy their music.  You can request it through their site. (If you find another place please let me know in the comments of this post) or they are on Soundcloud.

Like them or Follow them on Facebook!


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Klezmer Kid

DSC01737.JPG

 

The best thing about living in Toronto is the easy access to food, tradition and, of course, the music of different cultures.  This weekend I took Evan to Free Times Cafe for their Sunday brunch which features live Klezmer and Yiddish bands each week.

When I found out this was going on I decided to skip our Music Together class for the week and check it out.  In my excitement I neglected to realized that although the brunch starts at 11:00, the music does not start until 11:45.  Since the brunch (and music) ends in the early afternoon it might be tricky for some nap times. Anyway, we arrived at 11:00, did a round of the buffet, ate and I felt despair when I realized this only took about 10 minutes.  I found myself trying to kill half an hour in a small restaurant with Evan getting increasingly tired and difficult.  After what felt like eternity the music started and he was thrilled – so was I.  As everyone else sat and enjoyed a fantastic performance by The Horables he rocked out in front of the stage and I sat thinking how life was great and music is amazing – especially at distracting a tired child.

Free Times is small and not that great a space for active toddlers who are waiting for a band to start playing but they are very welcoming of kids.  They have high-chairs and a small area for folded strollers (I was glad I had an umbrella stroller with me and not a full-size).  Free Times has a wonderful clientele of all ages and so with the welcoming of kids there is also the welcoming of the opinionated elderly who have grandchildren that speak in full sentences  by 14 months and like to point out to you what you are doing wrong or right with the food you are offering your child.  I left a huge tip for our waiter who accommodated all the extra spoons and napkins and long periods of leaving the table and moving tables to be closer to the music with complete calm and genuine service.  I was very grateful.

Klezmer music has a special place in my heart not only from the many Jewish weddings I played while I was at Juilliard but from my first introduction to it at New England Conservatory in Boston.  A fellow student, Michael Winograd, decided to break with our western “classical” concert traditions and start performing  traditional Klezmer music.  His energy and enthusiasm, the quality of the performances and how he rallied the students behind this genre always stayed with me and added a fond memory to my love this music.  I want Evan to love it too.  I plan to make this brunch experience part of his life and his memories as he grows up in this city.


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Toddler at the TSO (Toronto Symphony Orchestra)

tso-concert

I decided to break the rules and take my 2 year old to one of the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s Young People’s Concerts.  We had a great time!  At one point Evan leaned over the chair in front and said “this is cool”.  Is there anything more wonderful than watching a child light up to a new experience?  And music is such an easy pleaser for all children.

The TSO recommends their Young People’s concerts to kids between the ages of 5 and 12.  I seriously considered this before I decided to take Evan.  I found myself feeling totally indignant about this age suggestion.  Kids start instruments at 3 and 4 and the best way to get them interested in playing is to show them what is possible.  “Five is too old I was thinking” as I brought Evan in the front doors of Roy Thompson Hall last Saturday.  And then he pooped.  Somehow the combination of classical music and poop doesn’t seem likely but add a two year old and you’ve got a problem.  In my excitement, not only did I forget to actually bring any diapers, I realized there would be no change tables!  We managed, but take note parents, Roy Thompson is ill equipped for diaper changes.

What are the biggest fears one might have about bringing a toddler to a concert?

Tantrums

Well, when I bought the tickets (which are amazingly inexpensive to hear a professional orchestra – ours were $18) I reasoned with myself that there was a risk we would have a bad day and we would simply have to leave.  When you realize you can just leave, it makes it seem a lot more possible.  I decided that yes I was willing to pay a small amount for however many minutes we’d last for this experience! I also made sure that Evan was well slept and well fed before we went.

Talking/Yelling at Awkward Moments

Evan was in a state of quiet awe for a lot of the time which was amazing because he normally never shuts up.  There were a couple of outbursts which made me nervous and made the little girl in front of us turn around and say “shhh” to him but then I listened around me and kids were talking all over the place.  We were in good company!

This is a safe space for kids to express themselves about what they are hearing.  It would be even more safe and welcoming if the age restriction was widened a bit TSO!  I see there is a very serious and formal message in the FAQ section on the TSO website for it to be at the parents’ discretion.  This makes complete sense but shouldn’t the message be more on the side of welcoming all children to come and enjoy the city’s highest level of music making?  To parents I say, bring them at all ages!


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Make Practice Fun – Roll for Review

boredgirl

The most important element of Suzuki work is review.  Why?  We use the pieces we know best to develop our technique and add new musical elements like dynamics and phrasing.  When we don’t have to be preoccupied with what notes to play we can concentrate on new things and bring our playing to a new level more easily.

Very young children love repetition so review can be a very enjoyable part of practice.  For older children it’s boring to play songs they already know and when they want to get through the book, playing songs they already know can become a drag.

This idea will be particularly helpful when it is time to get prepared for a book graduation and at all times make review a fun part of daily practice.

needed-for-diceYou’ll Need

In a dream world…

Realistically…

  • Foam Dice or any sort of cube shaped toy from your child’s collection of toys
  • Tape
  • Scissors
  • Songs for Review. Lots of options here***

*** The name of each song scribbled on paper you managed to find (although consider a drawing since perhaps your child can’t read yet let alone decipher your handwriting).

*** An opportunity for a time-killing, yet highly creative, activity of choosing an image together either as you learn each song or when you need this exercise.

*** The image could be in black and white and your child might like to colour it.

Adhere the images to the sides of the dice and have your child roll to find out what piece they should practice. The nice thing about using Velcro is that it re-sticks very easily and is less of a mess.  I recommend putting the hook half (the scratchy half) on the dice.  You’ll need more of the loop half since there are more images than sides of the dice.  I just cut mine up to make enough.

dice-completeHow to Use the Dice

In a Standard Week of Practice:

If your teacher gives you specific review pieces for the week then you should use the images for those pieces every day on the dice.  Interchange the remaining faces of the dice with other review pieces and change them each day.

For Book Graduation Prep:

Change up the faces of the dice every day.  If a song didn’t go very well, leave it on the dice until it is smooth.

Review Traps for Parents

You cannot get sick of a song!  The last thing we want to teach our children is that something can get boring if it’s played too much.  Try and keep that love of repetition going as long as you can by not mentioning that you are sick of listening to a song or playing a song or especially hearing your child play a song.

Don’t let your child play the same mistake over and over again!  It may be a song they learned ages ago and at the time there were no hiccups or strange fingerings but over time something might have cropped up.  Fix the problem in isolation before it is repeated over and over in review.  If there is a problem it should not go on the dice.  It will take double the effort to fix something after it has been in review mode and repeated so don’t wait!