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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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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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!