Children’s School to have memorable, musical summer

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
Violinist Rachel Gallegos and violist Katelyn Hoag demonstrate their instruments to young audience at the Children’s School Friday. The school’s “Instrument of the Week” series is meant to introduce children to the world of music.

“I’ve got that Children’s School enthusiasm,” sings the room of five-year-olds. “Down in my heart! Where? Up in my head! Where?” A violin melody, provided by members of the Music School Festival Orchestra, plays along with them.

Last Friday, the Children’s School ended its opening days with the “Instrument of the Week,” a way of bringing the sounds of the orchestra to their color-coated classrooms. Violinist Rachel Gallegos and violist Katelyn Hoag, members of the MSFO, performed as the kids’ eyes widened with curiosity and heads shook off-rhythm. 

Hoag, who has worked in child music education before, is still enthralled with one of her favorite audiences.

“Kids are amazing,” she said, “because they show enthusiasm for many things that we take for granted.”

Amanda Mainguy | Staff Photographer
A young girl at the Children’s School holds music for a violinist at Friday’s “Instrument of the Week” series.

One thing often taken for granted, said Pie Kasbar, instructor at the Children’s School, is a solid music education unrestricted to a specific classroom. Often, she said, music is labeled solely an extracurricular activity — a single period where children are found with recorders in their mouths, blowing away “Hot Cross Buns.”

“[Music] shouldn’t be something special,” she said, “but something part of everyday life.”

And music seems to be part of everything at the Children’s School. 

The theme song is recited by kids every morning as they move up Pratt on a bus. The 3s (the group of three- year-olds) march along singing and dancing with music teacher Gretchen Hathaway in the red-and-green room, learning call-and-response songs and “fingerplays.” And, in addition to weekly visits from MSFO instrumentalists, students will be introduced to the unique sound of opera singing later this month.

In preparation for their grand Fourth of July celebration, students have been practicing parade tunes, marching with imaginary instruments and rehearsing patriotic songs. But the reason for the all the sound-making isn’t just for entertainment.

“It helps them do math,” said Children’s School
curriculum coordinator Gretchen Parker.

It’s also a linguistic tool, Parker said, a way to increase children’s language skills — the reason music is included so much in preschool education is because it teaches “by nature.” It is an intuitive way for kids to learn cleanup tasks, new species of animals or how to extend the slide of a trombone. The reason everyone still remembers the melody to “Itsy-Bitsy Spider,” she said, has a lot to do with the tune itself. This is true especially before double digits.

Children aged 3 to 5 “have brains that are just picking up so much — more than children aged 12 to 15.” This is why, Parker said, “music is so important in the lives of children.”

Hathaway, who’s spent most of her week marching the 3s around in a Sousa-like formation, knows that all the stomping around the room isn’t just for the grand parade.

“[Music] is really important developmentally,” she said. “It helps children develop motor skills and coordination. And also, singing and dancing is just so much fun.”

Kasbar agrees. Although not a musician herself — she can strum a few chords on the ukulele — Kasbar recognizes the psychological truth that music affects certain parts of the brain that language alone cannot impact. It can aid kids, she said, with everything from remembering important names to recalling the letters of the alphabet. If anything, Kasbar hopes that a musical education flourishes outside the classroom.

“If you have kids, sing to them,” she said.

Parker agreed.

“Sneak in learning moments … [children] remember more of the music,” she said. “And singing is a way to encourage them.”

All this encouragement seems to be packed into the Children’s School theme song. The song, composed by former director Joan Smith, has been promoting cheer since it was written more than four decades ago. Kit Trapasso, the current director of the school, has been singing it since.

“It’s like our own pledge of allegiance,” he said.

If music aids memory, then the anthem of the Children’s school help its students remember the Chautauqua spirit and encourages them to carry on its tradition of enthusiasm. This summer, it will help students create new memories, one note at a time.

*Correction (July 2): This story originally referred to Gretchen Parker as her maiden name, “Gretchen Jervah.” Corrections have been made with her correct last name.