Like many creative communities, The Highlands is home to an untold number of amateur musicians – some as young as babies. Seeking to explore the joyous abandon of music-making and movement, Heartland Music Together offers classes right here in our neighborhood for children – in the company of the adults who love them.
“All children have the capacity to make music,” says Miriam Klein, director of the program, which offers classes to kids from infancy to kindergarten. “That capacity just has to be nurtured.”
Music Together was established in New Jersey in 1987 by a composer and an early childhood researcher, and Heartland Music Together, with five locations in Louisville, is one of two thousand licensed centers worldwide. The Highlands classes, held at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church on Woodbourne Avenue, make up more than half of Heartland’s enrollment, making it a perfect fit for the area, serving a variety of income ranges and living styles.
“Parents are so dedicated to their children and enrichment opportunities,” says Klein, who became the program’s director in 2004. Klein and her team – professional singer Karen Hild and new instructor Lorna Dries – lead classes throughout the week, with four sessions per year. Without fail, each session attracts more interested families than the year before.
So what’s the appeal? “We make our classes as much fun for the adults in the room as their children,” Klein explains. “Adults tend to doubt their musical skills, even when they recognize how much their children love being musical. We make it easy for adults to share music with their children.”
Klein didn’t always find music an easy pursuit. She took up the cello at the age of 37 and, soon after, decided to become a certified Suzuki cello teacher. “It was a life-changing event,” she says. But getting the courage to pick up her bow took a long time. “As a child, I remember my mother singing, and I remember singing myself to sleep and making up melodies.” But at age seven, she stopped singing out of fear of criticism – a fear not entirely without basis. “My teachers told me very bad things when I was young, so I had these musical inhibitions. I didn’t sing again in public until my own son was born.”
Sharing the joy of singing and play with son Adam inspired Klein, now 50, to bring the Music Together experience to the masses. She explains that she was able to do this because of her childhood music exposure. “You already have the language within you, if you’ve been exposed as a child,” Klein explains. “It’s like planting seeds. I couldn’t have become a cellist if I hadn’t had an early music experience. If children don’t get music practice in childhood, they’ll lose their aptitude.”
Despite talk of aptitude and learning, the Music Together environment stresses fun and free-range childhood activities. Klein often tells parents, “There is no wrong here.” Instructors strive not just to create a musical environment for children, but also a safe musical environment for adults – whether they’ve had a negative experience with their own musical pursuits or a dearth of musical education as arts funding for schools has dwindled. “I no longer take for granted that the parents know many of the songs in our culture,” she says.
American culture isn’t the only one represented in the classes; the curriculum includes folk songs from around the world. Klein delights in one song from ancient Greece that has an unusual rhythm. “It’s still danced today!” she says, excitedly. “It’s very different from typical American music. We can sing it and dance to it and the children can absorb that. I never came across that in other music programs.”
Klein says that the Music Together experience engages children and makes a difference in how they learn overall. To this end, she hopes to make the program available to preschools in the near future, and to offer babies-only classes to give new parents extra support.
The success of the Highlands Heartland Music Together program speaks for itself, literally. “About half of the families in the classes come to me through word of mouth,” Klein says, adding that it’s not unusual for families to stick around for multiple sessions or even years.
“We’re creating a fun and developmentally appropriate environment where parents can participate with children. If we’re having a joke in class, the children want to know what’s going on. It draws them in,” she says. “Children are gaining lifelong music skills. And we’re having fun, too.”
For more information about Heartland Music Together, visit www.heartlandmusictogether.com. The fall session begins the week of September 14.