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February 2004 Musings: Music of and by the People

I have very exciting news to report – my Hilltown Music Together pages are up and running! Now you can read all about the program that has taken over my creative life in the past year.

You’ve probably been wondering, if you’ve checked here for Musings at all over the past year, whatever happened to me. If I fell off the face of the earth. No, I just got swallowed up (pleasantly) in learning and teaching Music Together®!

For some time I’ve been feeling a discordance between my belief that music is a natural form of expression that is a birthright of all people, and my life as a professional musician. I’ve been uncomfortable with our cultural attitude of relegating the making of music to professionals. The vast majority of the music we hear around us, on the radio and CD’s, in movies, on television, is made by professionals. It’s polished in studios, using complex arrangements, layers of sound, expensive technology, electronics, to make it flawless – creating a sound that is out of reach of most people. Meanwhile, schools across the country have seen severe cuts in arts programs, which only serves to perpetuate the separation of most people from a personal experience of music.

Those of you who have seen me in concert know that I love my work, I love singing and playing banjo and guitar, and I love sharing my songs with others. I feel a validity in what I share in my concerts, especially in intimate settings. But I have long felt a desire to align myself in some way with my deeper beliefs about music. After all, folk music in particular is meant to be of the people. And then there are my environmental, spiritual, and political beliefs – which are not entirely in alignment with driving all over the countryside burning gas and polluting the atmosphere.

So…. what to do?

Since my own children were young, I’ve been singing for children, and this is a part of my work that I love. Going into elementary schools and singing with the children is rewarding work, and I love it. But recently I’ve found myself wanting to bring this work closer to home, to give something to my own community – and to spend less time away from home and in a car! But I wasn’t sure how to make that shift. Until I found Music Together.

A couple of years ago, Vic Lally, a folksinger and concert promoter I’ve known for years, invited me to observe one of his early childhood music classes. In October of 2002 (notice the coincidence of timing with the last Musings I wrote?) I visited Vic’s Music Together class in Stow, MA. Driving out, I listened to a tape that Vic had sent me ahead of time, and all the way I found myself exclaiming at what I was hearing. The breadth of the music, melodically, harmonically and rhythmically, the traditional base, the rhythm and tonal patterns interspersed with the songs and chants. There was a depth to the music, yet a real simplicity in the acoustic arrangements -it was a very rich and listenable collection of songs. So I was impressed even before witnessing the class.

I was totally awed by Vic’s class, the way the children responded to the combination of music and movement and play. It reminded me of everything I loved about my own children’s Montessori experience. The mixed age classes, one of my favorite things about Montessori, with all children participating in a rich environment at their own level. The younger children learn by observation (Music Together calls this the “stare and study” phase), and the older children serve as role models and teachers for the younger students – the middle children get to do some of both. An added bonus in Music Together, since parents come to class with their children, is that families with more than one preschool child can bring them all to the same Music Together class, and it’s age-appropriate for each one.

All the way home from Stow, I kept thinking about what I’d seen and heard, and by the time I’d gotten home I’d decided I wanted to teach Music Together. I looked on the national website that evening, and discovered that amazingly enough there was to be a training in Northampton, Mass, 1/2 hour from my house (Music Together in based out of Princeton, NJ and gives the trainings sporadically all over the country) in two weeks. And, also amazingly, I had that weekend open. I decided to take the plunge, and the next day I called and reserved my space in the class.

The rest is history. The training was given by Lili Levinowitz, co-founder, along with Ken Guilmartin, of the program. I loved it, learning about the research that went into the program’s creation, about how children learn music. Ways to tap into their natural inclinations, through early immersion in a rich – and playful! – musical environment, to foster optimal musical development. A huge amount of information was given in the three days, completely overwhelming and absolutely fascinating. As a musician, a mom, and a teacher, I was enthralled.

Since that moment, I have lived and breathed Music Together. This may not continue, at least to this degree, in perpetuity, but the initial stages have been daunting. There are songs to learn (about 25 in each collection, I’m teaching my 4th now), lesson plans to write, skills and songs workshops to attend, and on top of that the administrative tasks of running the classes. Whew.

The good news is that I am loving this work. The children are awesome, I have newborn babies in my classes, lots of toddlers, and older preschoolers. The parents are great – what a privilege it is to be able to work with these lovely young families. It’s stretching me musically – yes, children’s music. Amazing, eh? Each semester I challenge myself in some new area. There’s so much to learn. Fortunately, there’s a wonderful support network of teachers and directors, and I’m loving that community aspect of it as well.

Yes, I’m still performing a fair amount, and I’m still loving the concerts and school programs that I’m giving. I don’t expect I’ll ever outgrow that. So I’m scheduling plenty of concerts around my teaching schedule, striving for some kind of sane balance. I trust that the other creative ideas I’ve got cooking on the back burner will eventually come to the forefront. For those of you who’ve asked about recordings, books,… well, they’re coming, they’re just not top priority at the moment. Thanks for your patience!

And please do check out my new Hilltown Music Together web pages! My son Tim helped set them up, with Rose’s capable hand in there too. Thanks to you both! And if you’re in some other part of the country (or world) and interested in finding a Music Together class near you, you can find a complete listing of centers at the national website.

I send you all wishes for joy and abundance and work you love!

Warmly, Lui

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