Music for Minors continues to fill musical void in local schools

Photo By: Eliza Ridgeway/town crier
Photo Eliza Ridgeway/Town CrierMusic for Minors docent Joanna Read leads a classroom at Montclaire Elementary School in Los Altos.

Convened in a circle, two-dozen third-graders brought the rains down upon Los Altos last week. In a cascade of escalating movement and sound, they tapped fingers, clapped hands and stomped feet.

The waves of sound that fell across the room from the raindance at Montclaire Elementary School employed rhythm, timing, collaboration and, above all, volunteer effort. The time, space and tools set aside for music learning aren’t a routine part of the school day, but rather an arduously fostered bonus.

“We have our own classroom with lots of musical instruments – we’re so lucky,” music docent Joanna Read said.

Read led the class at Montclaire that day. The tambourines, drums, triangles and drumsticks arrayed around the room come not from taxpayers through a state or district budget, but rather from Music for Minors. The nonprofit, founded in Los Altos, brings music to schools like Montclaire that lack their own in-house music programs.

The standing and stomping of the raindance wasn’t a fluke – the program’s curriculum keeps children moving.

“It’s called total physical response. It integrates the music into their bodies so that they can feel it,” said Miriam Burnett, education director for the nonprofit.

To be fair, the Montclaire third-graders didn’t consign their city to a wet week exclusively. They also sang “Rain, Rain, Go Away” when they weren’t counting beats and learning to follow a simple musical score. There may be many brain-stretching academic perks to be gained from the curriculum, but Music for Minors’ Executive Director Sonja Palmer said that introducing the children to music in and of itself drives the volunteers and advocates who nurture the program.

“It’s the voice of the community and parents saying, ‘This is valuable,’” Palmer said. “The arts are vital.”

A corps of 70 volunteer docents receives a 50-hour training class before beginning the yearlong commitment to leading a classroom’s weekly music experience. Donations from sources like the Town Crier Holiday Fund support that training. Music for Minors also uses the contributions to fund professional teachers who travel to communities in the greater Bay Area where families yearn for music education but are unable to enlist and train a volunteer pool.

Music education draws students into the arts, where they learn about the culture, history and values that bring people together, Palmer said.

“Beyond that, it is also a way to teach math, sciences and language in new ways and on different levels,” she added.

“There’s an opportunity to draw other academics that are being used in the classroom into music,” Burnett said. “Rhythm, pitch, beat, dynamics – our goal is to make that accessible to all children.”

Since its beginning in Los Altos, Music for Minors has expanded to serve schools from South San Jose to Daly City, reaching 17,000 children this year.

One scheduler administers the master list of 600 classrooms, while leaders like Palmer work to win buy-in from principals to classroom teachers at each new school. And this year, they started an initiative to digitize musical resources for students to access from home.

“We’re trying to extend our service in creative ways because we only get a nominal amount of time with the kids each week, and this could get it into homes as well,” Palmer said.

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