“Would you like some warm Spring pie? Then, take a cup of clear blue sky. Stir in buzzes from a bee, Add the laughter of a tree.”
– Paul F. Kortepeter
Autism Acceptance Day
This Thursday, April 2, you may see the Mid-Hudson Bridge and other landmarks lit up in blue in honor of World Autism Awareness Day. I’d like to invite you to reframe this campaign as Autism Acceptance, which emphasizes connection over a cure, and to encourage donations to social services and caregiver support for individuals on the spectrum instead of forwarding the questionable agenda of the research promoted on this day, essentially intended to eradicate something that is not a disease. For more information about autism and how to make a difference supporting local families, visit www.facebook.com/autismsociety.hudsonvalley.
Meet Music Discovery’s Callie Hershey
With the return of birdsong to my mornings, I was inspired to talk to local musician and teacher Callie Hershey, creator of Music Discovery classes for babies, toddlers and their caregivers, about the role of music in today’s families.
When and why did you start making music?
My Mom always sang to me, and I started picking out tunes on the piano around 3 (so I’ve been told), and began lessons at 5. My Dad played a tiny bit of piano when he was a kid. Music has been my creative focus, my intellectual stimulation, my emotional expression, out-and-out good time, as well as solace, my whole life. I started singing in the church choir at about 6, and have continued to sing in formal and informal settings ever since. I now sing with the awesome a cappella group Kairos, which does the most challenging and beautiful music. I love working that hard to make something so beautiful.
What are your fondest musical memories?
I love to perform. Whenever my band, Fuzzy Lollipop, plays for a crowd of happy kids and families, I’m in Heaven. And I get so much joy when children are performing music. When my piano students (ages 4 to 10) play well, especially for their recital, in front of their families, I’m the proud teacher-lady in the back, beaming and weeping with pride and love and joy for what they’ve accomplished!
What do you like best about working with kids?
Children are up for anything. They want to participate, to explore, to try, to experiment. I am fortunate to have discovered what I was put on this Earth to do very early on, and I was born to teach. I love everything about working with children. Least? Getting the grownups to allow themselves to be more childlike!
How did you go about creating the Music Discovery program?
It is modeled after Music Together, which is a wonderful program. My program takes music from many genres – folk, blues, jazz, world, classical, even some rock ‘n’ roll – and uses them in playful ways to teach musical skills. I worked hard to ensure that the songs I use are balanced across genres, styles and even deep music-theory stuff like modalities and meter! I considered hundreds of songs and poems, and I’m really excited about the collection I have for this first ten-week class. Each semester will use a different collection, so families can keep coming back to affordable music classes and get great new songs, poems and activities.
Tell me about your teaching style.
Young children learn through play. Although the program is carefully structured, it is all playful, with fingerplays, movement activities, songs that use rhythm instruments and props and free dance and playalong. Children are free to participate in their own ways. Some children are observers and seem to be “doing” nothing. That’s perfectly fine. Others are full of physical energy and seem “off-task,” and that’s fine too, because each is absorbing, processing and participating in the ways that are most comfortable and appropriate for their own development. I understand that and incorporate it into the way the class works.
Which instruments do you play?
I just play the piano! Isn’t that weird? Most musicians I know seem to be multi-instrumentalists, but I’ve never taken up another instrument. I was a classically trained musician, and I thought that music was something you only did in front of people when your playing was perfect, and they were there for your concert! Learning to free myself and play along with a band for fun, or play along with recordings, has been a totally new musical endeavor, so it’s like learning a new kind of piano. It changed my life. But the musical skills that I had learned, the theory that I didn’t even realize I knew, made it a very fast and rewarding process. Now I am working on getting better at blues piano techniques.
What famous musicians have you learned from?
Besides all the composers I love – especially Ravel, Debussy, Rachmaninoff – I also study through the wonderful YouTube School of Learning Anything You Want, learning techniques that Elton John, Billy Joel and blues player Marcia Ball have perfected for their styles. I’d give anything to have John Medeski give me an hour of his time, though!
How has your teaching changed over the years?
I use the children’s activities and behavior to drive the class more than I used to. If a child is making a new sound that I hadn’t planned, like tongue-clicking when we are all singing “la la la,” I can use it immediately and have the whole class carry on with tongue-clicking for a while! It honors the child’s interests while seamlessly moving skills in the right direction.
What two or three things are most important to you in your job?
I am totally passionate about bringing music to young children and helping them develop their natural-born skills. It’s something that is in every child, but if no one at home is singing to their babies and toddlers, those musical skills won’t develop as well as they could. I want to help all kids be able to make music competently by the time they enter kindergarten. I also want parents and teachers to realize the importance of making music (not playing CDs) with children, so we all are helping nurture the natural music abilities in all children.
Anything else we should know?
Music is far more than an “extra.” Singing is one of the most important things children can do. It creates brain development in unique ways, builds pathways for cognition in fascinating patterns, stimulates language development and fills out the emotional life. Singing to your child from birth onward makes brains grow in ways that nothing else does. It also makes you happier! I hope more people will discover that!
Music Discovery is open to babies, toddlers and their caregivers and takes place on Thursdays at 10 a.m. beginning April 9 at the Unison Arts Center, located at 68 Mountain Rest Road in New Paltz. Tuition costs $150 for the ten-week series. To register or for more information, call (845) 255-1559 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.