Oct. 31, 2013 07:41 PM

It might seem like playtime, but Music Together is serious fun with lifelong benefits for kids.

It might seem like playtime, but Music Together is serious fun with lifelong benefits for kids. By Walter Pierce | Photos by Robin May

Friday, Nov. 1, 2013


The parents and their small children, toddlers mostly, are warming up in the yoga-slash-music studio for their weekly Music Together class, intoning the first note of "The Hello Song," the customary class opener. And a baby boy, not yet walking, coos in key.

It's moments like this that reinforce for instructor Lissadell Greene that children, babies even, are naturally musical. "Babies will respond to music through cooing," says Greene, who grew up in Belfast, Northern Ireland. She studied at the Belfast School of Music before moving to Lafayette as a kid and studying flute with Dr. Andrea Loewy at UL Lafayette, earning a degree in music media. "Sometimes, parents think that a baby is trying to talk to them when they hear them cooing, so the parent will respond back through speaking, but then talking to the child cuts off the interactive music. So when you are playing around with a baby, and they are cooing, it's good if a parent sings and plays music with them."

Music Together, the program Greene teaches, is new to Lafayette. The franchise is an internationally recognized early childhood program that began in 1987 and has spread to more than 2,000 communities in two dozen countries. Greene discovered it while living in Austin when her husband - in-demand bassist and music educator Dr. Josef Butts - was earning his Ph.D. in music at the University of Texas; she began attending with her then 18-month-old daughter Emma.

"A friend here in Lafayette had actually mentioned that she had this great kids CD that she got from the library, and I remembered the name, Music Together," Greene recalls. "There were at least three or four Music Together centers in Austin and so just I chose the one that was closest to me."


Lissadell Greene will conduct demonstration classes throughout December for the winter semester that begins Jan. 9, 2014.

Music Together tuition is $180 for the first child, $140 for additional siblings. A $15 registration fee is applied for first-time families.

Fees include two CDs and a songbook. Classes include parent education and a DVD, "Music Together® At Home: Helping Your Child Grow Musically."

  Call (337) 255-4630 or log on to MusicTogetherLafayette.com for more information.

With her musical training and background, Greene was soon approached by the center's director about teaching classes herself. When she moved back to Louisiana with her family, which has grown to three daughters, two cats, a dog and some chickens, she began a franchise that is currently enrolling families for the next semester beginning in January.

"One of the most important benefits that children will get from being part of a Music Together class is the ability to audiate," Greene explains. "Audiation is what we call musical thinking - the ability to speak the language of music, which means the children will be able to sing in tune and move with accurate rhythm by age 3 or 4 - and, this isn't just because they are talented; musical ability, if given the right conditions, can flourish just like the ability to speak."

So the concept is simple: Everyone is musical, and cultivating musicality in children literally gives them a gift that keeps on giving - a lifetime of music.

"Also, music is just good for us," Greene adds. "There was an article just out this summer about how singing together like in a choir makes people happier. I can understand that."

One of the first to enroll at the new Lafayette MT center is Aren Chaisson, a local actor and stay-at-home dad who heard about it when he and Greene performed in a theatrical production together. He and his daughter, 17-month-old Penelope, have been attending classes with Greene.
"Penelope has always danced to music but now she is dancing and singing - in tune and on pitch," Chaisson says. "She will often finish songs and anticipate the next verse during the instrumental part. She's talking a lot more and her words are easier to understand."

OK, so here's a rather lengthy tangent from our happy story about Music Together, and it's well worth it: MT actually has a surprising and fascinating genesis, tracing its genealogy back to "Happy Birth to You." Yes, that ubiquitous, throwaway song bellowed off-key at every birthday party ever.

Turns out a guy named John Sengstack, an accountant and amateur violinist, bought a small educational music publishing company in the mid 20th century that owned the publishing rights to the tune attributed to sisters Patty and Mildred Hill. (The Guiness Book of Records folks say "Happy Birthday to You" is the most-recognized song in the English language, and there's a reason why we don't often hear it sung on television and why the wait staff in casual dining chains like Applebee's and TGI Friday's have their own unique birthday songs for customers: "Happy Birthday to You" is subject to publishing and copyright law, and performing it commercially - on the radio, TV, in any for-profit way, requires the performer(s) to pay royalties!)

  Parent Aren Chaisson and his daughter Penelope (18 months old) join
instructor Lissadell Greene and her three daughters, Neave (4), Emma (8)
and Josefine (21 months) in some music making.

Long story short: Sengstack was the grandfather of Music Together co-founder Ken Guilmartin, and royalty payments from "Happy Birthday to You" helped Guilmartin establish the Center for Music and Young Children in suburban Philadelphia in 1985; Music Together, based on research into early-childhood learning and music, was born two years later.

"The Music Together curriculum centers on the belief that every child is an individual and they all learn in their own way; and we as adults should respect that and not try to impose our way of learning on them," says Greene. "And we do that by allowing the children to be free to do what they need to do in class. If that means, they are standing and moving around while we are sitting then that is just fine. I have one little girl who stands almost the entire class in the middle of the circle."  

"The most enjoyable thing about Music Together for me is being in that room with all those other parents and watching them fully participate," notes Chaisson, the current semester's lone dad (grandparents often sit in on classes). "We sing, we dance, we twirl around with scarves and sometimes our children aren't with us. But, they are always watching and listening. That's something that has become increasingly evident through taking this class. Music Together class is one of the best ways to begin your morning, and at the end of class none of us wants to leave. Lissadell creates this safe and warm environment where no one judges each other. We can all be as silly as we want and not feel too embarrassed."

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