Early Music Thrives

CMS locations get support so that the youngest learners are not left behind.

MSU grad student Whitney Mayo in top left of several screens of kids working on music remotely.
MSU graduate student Whitney Mayo (top left) is one of the MSU students able to conduct remote early music classes with children and their parents.

The MSU Community Music Schools have a history of creating a unique curriculum that supports child development in the very young and prepares children for school. With support from the PNC Foundation and a network of partner organizations, that tradition continues in today’s new normal.

The benefits of early music instruction for children have been scientifically proven, and range from increasing brain connectivity to improving coordination, emotional regulation, and language processing ability. Even famed physicist Albert Einstein – whose name has become synonymous with genius – played violin nearly his entire life and espoused the central importance of music on human development and fulfilment in life.

It is no wonder then, that the Michigan State University Community Music Schools and PNC have teamed up to emphasize this most critical aspect of child development.

Both Community Music School (CMS) locations in East Lansing and Detroit have focused on the proven benefits of music learning guided by research from music educators on the College of Music faculty. While music programs for the very young have thrived in these schools for years, the challenges brought upon educators by COVID-19 have – at least for now – changed the game dramatically. That’s where the partnership with PNC became ever more significant.

“PNC has supported our early childhood programs in Detroit for nearly ten years, and they have been a key partner in helping us offer truly excellent online music learning opportunities for our youngest learners and their caregivers this summer,” said CMS-Detroit Director Jill Woodward. “Our efforts have now been bolstered by new, additional community partners including Oakland Family Services, CARE of Southeastern Michigan, Starfish Family Services, and Development Centers. We are able to reach far more students by offering these classes through childcare and preschool centers and social safety net agencies, and it is completely free to them.”

Plans for the Detroit PNC funding are to offer 30-minute Early Childhood music virtual sessions, free to vulnerable families served by social safety net agencies in Detroit and metro areas. There are 40 sessions taking place this summer and early fall.

MSU grad student Whitney Mayo (top right) is one of three screens in a remotely held class with community agencies that show multiple young students listening intently, all wearing masks.
CMS-D, with support from PNC, has also been able to form partnerships that bring early music education directly into community agencies.

Support in both CMS locations

CMS-East Lansing Director Jaime DeMott explained that in the past their location has normally served only tuition-paying families who come to the CMS building. Not anymore.

“The CMS East Lansing portion of the PNC grant has allowed us to offer ongoing, sequential, play-based music instruction over 20 weeks to 56 children in Early Head Start classroom settings, plus an additional 14 children in community settings,” DeMott said. “We impacted the practices of 21 teachers and teacher assistants, interacted with 13 families who received home services from Early Head Start and Early On, and taught a total of 138 classes. In the process we’ve built relationships with Early Head Start, Impressions 5 Science Center, Capitol Area District Libraries-Lansing South, and Early On. It has been terrific.”

While supporting child development, the PNC Early Music, Early Learning program also gives parents new tools to support their child’s learning outcomes. CMS is hopeful that through these classes, families will increase their skills for musical interactions with their children that establishes a lifetime connection with music making. Parents and caregivers learn how music education can impact a child’s academic achievement as well as social and psychological wellness.

“PNC has a long history of support for CMS through PNC Grow Up Great, a bilingual $500 million, multi-year initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life,” said Ric DeVore, PNC regional president for Detroit and Southeast Michigan.  “Incorporating the arts, including music, into early childhood learning offers active experiences that can increase engagement and positively impact social and academic development.”

MSU grad student Whitney Mayo (top, center) does a virtual fist bump with four screens of happy, smiling young students.
A celebratory, virtual fist-bump ends a class session with happy young music learners who, thanks to CMS-D, PNC and grad students like Whitney Mayo (top, center) are not missing out on the value of music education despite the challenges of the pandemic.

Based on academic expertise

Karen Salvador is an assistant professor of Music Education at the MSU College of Music, where she teaches courses regarding music in early childhood and elementary general music as well as graduate seminars in music education psychology and research. She explained that the structure of these programs is intended to benefit the young learners as well as their caregivers.

“Because quality is a hallmark of all music education programming presented by the college and both CMS locations, class sizes are small, ideally between six and 12 children,” Salvador explained. “They are structured for children, parents and caregivers because research has shown that early childhood music sessions are most beneficial when the child and parent/caregiver both participate and that participation takes place over an extended period of time.”

The program also offers opportunities for MSU Music Education students to gain valuable experience. Undergraduate student Katie Hill, explained Salvador, assisted with the classes at Capitol Area District Library and now has a head start on forming this type of mutually beneficial arrangement with local organizations.

“Our music education undergraduate and graduate students benefit tremendously from the opportunity to teach in community settings, building relationships with children and families from a variety of cultural backgrounds, and working with children ages five and younger,” Salvador said. “Experiencing school-community partnerships with organizations like children's museums and libraries opens the possibility that they will form such partnerships in the settings where they teach after they graduate.”

Ultimately, the PNC Early Music, Early Learning program is about the youngest of students and the hope that the full, proven power of music will benefit them their entire lives.

“Children are inherently musical, and they engage in musical play independent of music instruction. I want to develop each child's inherent musicality through playful musical engagement,” Salvador said. “I want each child, family, caregiver, and teacher to relish the opportunity for joyful community that music classes provide, and to continue making music and playing together throughout their day, week, month, year, and life.”

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