Music for Minors showcases song as science and craft

Eliza Ridgeway/Town Crier
First-graders rattle and tap in a Music for Minors class last week in Cupertino.

First-grade teacher Kenzie Brand shepherded her troupe of 20 students into a Cupertino elementary school’s portable music room last week to the bopping rhythms of samba music. Music for Minors’ docent Daphna Rahmil hefted a guitar to lead them through the familiar words of “their” hello song – “I’m in the mood for singing, hey! How about you?”

Singing included much more than following her lead – students practiced vocalizing not piano, and not forte, but at just the right volume, and worked on learning the lyrics without Rahmil’s help. To “John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt,” they practiced clapping the la-la-las, striking hands to anticipate the eight-fold percussives.

The nonprofit organization, founded in Los Altos, brings song and sound to schools across the Bay Area that lack music programming. Sometimes, parent groups muster together to find and train volunteers for the program. In other areas, school communities need even more assistance, and Music for Minors, with help from donors, sends in a professional music teacher to bring music to a school for the first time.

Supporters such as the Town Crier Holiday Fund help provide materials and a 50-hour training class for the primarily volunteer-led teaching project, which reaches approximately 18,000 students in the community each week.

A Music for Minors class loops the whole body into the process as young people learn to handle and silence instruments, and bob heads and swing hips to illustrate songs.

Brand’s class didn’t just learn a new song about thankfulness last week, they also picked up the sign language to narrate along with the tune. One student stayed after class as his peers careened off to recess, to ask Rahmil whether she knows music from everywhere. He was wondering whether they could sing the Indian national song sometime.

“The emotional, the social – the connection – should never be undervalued,” said Rahmil, a seven-year volunteer with Music for Minors. Her students learn standards-based musical skills such as singing on pitch, how to read rhythm notation and how to follow a tune. But they also take turns leading demonstrations and doing solo work, working together to make their sounds.

Brand described some of her students’ irresistible desire to move their bodies throughout the school day, and stressed how hard it can be to fit that kind of energy into a traditional classroom space.

“Here, I don’t have to limit that as much,” she said, noting how even though the class allows for physical expression, it also showcases students’ ability to channel their enthusiasm into following thoughtful directions.

Unless Brand plans a specific craft for her classroom, this one hour of music is their only arts class during the week.

“When you’re young, these things get ingrained in you,” Rahmil said of early musical exposure.

She described Music for Minors as opening a door for local young people to become creators of music, not just consumers.

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