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Rachel Lewis reflects on one year of Music Together

Local demand for the family-oriented music program has steadily increased

One year into her tenure as centre director of Music Together Whistler, Rachel Lewis has plenty to feel good about. 

All three of her inaugural semester classes last July filled up quickly, totalling 42 students. Enrolment held steady in the months that followed, with numerous newcomers dropping by on recommendation from their friends or family members. There’s a clear local demand for the Music Together curriculum: an early childhood-oriented program that since 1987 has been recognized internationally. 

Many Sea to Sky kids strap on a snowboard or a pair of skis at two, three or four years old. Why, asks Lewis, should there not be a similar option for artsy youngsters? 

“I've heard from a lot of parents in town that it's really nice to have an arts option,” Lewis says. “While skiing and biking are very much part of Whistler culture … I've been a musician in town for 17 years and I'm really deep into that community. I think in general, most adults wish that they were more musical. When they see a program that nurtures the musicality in their kids from as early as birth, it really gets them excited.” 

‘Your child’s greatest role model’

Music Together distinguishes itself from other musical programs in a few ways, chief among them an emphasis on adult involvement. While trained teachers lead students in a variety of songs and dances, intentional parental engagement is a must. 

“You are your child's greatest role model during the ages of zero to five, and they're looking to you to figure out what's most important in each moment,” Lewis says. “Not only that, but your voice—whether you want to believe it or not—is your child's favourite voice. If you're chatting to your friend, they're going to be hearing that. If you're singing along, they're going to hear that and recognize making music is important.” 

Fortunately, parents won’t have to sit through countless renditions of “Hot Cross Buns” and the nursery rhymes that feature prominently at libraries and daycares. Instead, Music Together (headquartered in Hopewell, N.J.) disseminates an ever-changing array of 12 syllabi that keep things fresh. Certain educational milestones are always included, with each semester featuring a given amount of instrumentals, minor-key content and songs in odd time signatures. 

Research indicates preschoolers tend to learn effectively in a mixed-age setting. Therefore, Music Together offers a mixed-age format that includes infants and toddlers up to five years old. Afterwards, graduates and their folks may choose to continue into Rhythm Kids which is aimed at pupils aged four to eight. Given the fact children aren’t typically ready for private voice lessons until they start elementary school, Rhythm Kids serves an important and heretofore-unfilled niche. 

Different kinds of learning

Lewis ensures her students feel at home in each class, regardless of their personality or needs.

Some youngsters are active and kinesthetic—they need to move in order to effectively retain concepts. Others are much more visual, literally watching and learning. Still others pay close attention to what they hear, even when they’re across the room from their teacher. 

“A lot of parents will think, ‘oh, my kid's not really feeling it because he just sits there and watches,’ but that's actually a very typical response for some kids,” says Lewis. “The observers are really taking it all in. They're still processing the different time signatures, modes of key and tonalities [in each song]. Then, some kids are instantly up and dancing around. It's different kinds of learning, but it's all learning.” 

Going forward, Lewis hopes more and more Whistlerites come to appreciate what Music Together has to offer. She would love to see demand explode, to the point where people are setting reminders on their phones to register for classes before they fill. 

“I have really enjoyed connecting with new families and strengthening my bond with families that I’m already friends with,” remarks the longtime singer-songwriter.

“You’d be surprised at how many adults can’t sing on key and hold a steady beat, so the goal is to raise children who will become musical adults.” 

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