By Cathleen Leitch
Instructors at Westminster have started teaching a younger crowd — a much younger crowd.
Westminster Conservatory, Rider’s community music school, now gives instruction to children as young as 2 months.
The program started last October in an effort to bring music into the lives of small children ranging from infants to preschoolers. The Early Childhood Outreach Grant program includes approximately 170 children.
“I saw it as an opportunity to bring music to children who may or may not be getting it as part of their daily experience,” said LuAnn Longenecker, head of Early Childhood Development at the Conservatory.
The Early Childhood Outreach Grant strives to bring music into the world of kids who may not have been introduced to it in their homes. The program is provided mostly to children from low-income homes and those under Division of Youth and Family Services (DYFS) care.
Longenecker teaches the children basic musical knowledge and gives them a chance to express themselves through music. The classes take place once each week at two separate sites: the Millhill Child and Family Development Center in Trenton and the YMCA Child Care Center in Princeton.
“One goal of the program is to empower the teachers to make music with the children during the time between sessions with the early childhood music teacher,” said Longenecker in a recent presentation to the Westminster faculty about the program.
That goal has been met. According to day care providers, children have been heard singing songs they learned from Longenecker during the week and even creating some music of their own.
The children learn how to keep steady beats and differentiate between high and low pitches, and they are introduced to new types of music. Each week the class learns a new letter and listens to music by artists whose names begin with that letter. Last week the children learned about the letter M, so Longenecker played Mozart for them.
“Movement is very important and being able to respond to different types of music,” Longenecker said.
“Active participation in music, introducing a variety of repertoire and introducing jazz and contemporary” are included in the learning process.
For the children who are around 2 months of age, class is a little different. The infants are sung and read to so that they can hear music and understand the sounds.
“We tap the beat on their bodies so they can feel the beat, the rhythm in their bodies,” Longenecker said. “We’re taking the world they’re in now and expanding that world.”
The premise of the program is to help children learn music and grow socially together. The centers open in the morning and close around 6 p.m. so the children have the opportunity to learn throughout the day.
Feedback from family members has shown that the program has affected these kids in more than just a musical way.
“These kinds of things are so valuable, the change that we see in the children beyond the musical aspect,” Longenecker said.
One grandmother had asked a day care worker to thank Longenecker for the changes she saw in her grandson.
“That has been the most striking, just to see the boy evolve in class,” Longenecker said. “He used to just sit in the corner and observe. He has gone from being in another part of the classroom to running over as soon as I enter the door.”
The grant for this outreach program is provided by the PNC Foundation. The idea to apply for the grant was suggested to Longenecker by Doreen Blanc, director of Corporate and Foundation Relations for Rider.
Submitting an application was a good idea; the program received a one-year grant from the foundation for $14,000. The money is used to provide instruments and equipment to the day care centers where Longenecker teaches.
Although the program only started four months ago, Scott Hoerl, the Conservatory executive director, and other staff have been incredibly supportive, Longenecker said. The Conservatory has encouraged her to apply for a continuation of the grant.