As the director of the Northeast Iowa School of Music, David Resnick knows the mission of the organization by heart:
“Northeast Iowa School of Music makes the life-changing benefits of music education and enrichment accessible to all through instruction, performance and outreach.”
Resnick places a particularly strong emphasis on the words “accessible to all.”
“That includes the youngsters,” Resnick said. “We believe that all humans are born with music in them — all children can learn to sing a melody on pitch or keep a rhythm dancing.”
A growing base of research also supports the theory that it is never too early to introduce children to music.
Resnick said that humans can tell when their mother is singing — and recognize her voice — even before birth. In the early years of life, including one’s infancy and toddler years, one can make connections that set a foundation for a life in music.
“Luckily, there are many practitioners of early music out here in the area,” Resnick said.
An early start
Callie Mescher is at the forefront of local efforts to introduce young children to music.
She offers Music Together, a 10-week program that exposes children 0 to 5 years old to interactive music experiences. The program allows students to sing, dance and make music with instruments.
The gatherings are intended to be fun. But Mescher, a board-certified music therapist specialized in neurologic music therapy, emphasized that purposeful work and important lessons are woven into the activities.
“As we all know, brain development in children is most crucial in the first couple years of life,” Mescher explained. “This is no exception with music development either.”
Mescher believes it is critical to develop musical aptitude in children before the age of 5. If a child reaches nine years old without being exposed to music, it is unlikely they will develop basic musical competencies later in life.
Moreover, early exposure to music can enhance a child’s cognitive growth in other areas.
“This opens the doors to not only musical opportunities later in life but also supports communication and general cognition skills,” Mescher said. “Musical students are more successful throughout school years and may be able to appreciate cultural experiences from a different perspective into adulthood.”
Reading and singing
Danielle Day, youth services manager at Carnegie-Stout Public Library in Dubuque, also sees the benefits in early childhood musical exposure.
The library offers multiple programs to meet that specific goal, including two geared toward its youngest patrons: Baby Rhyme Time caters to kids 0 to 18 months, while Toddler Time is designed for children 18 months to 3 years.
Both offerings focus on multiple educational areas, including the development of early literacy skills. Day, however, said music always is incorporated and plays a critical role.
Children have the opportunity to listen to songs and, when they are old enough, sing along. They also have the chance to move along with the music.
For younger kids, this often involves fingerplay — such as mimicking the movements in “The Itsy Bitsy Spider.” For others, they can begin to dance for the first time.
Day emphasized that these musical moments are more than just a fun break.
“It is part of our regular story times,” she said. “(Music) is part of actually learning to read and developing that phonological awareness. It is an important part of how kids learn.”
Mescher sees things in a similar light. She noted that music is primary to things like speech, coordination and movement development.
“Because rhythm plays such an important role in all aspects of life — reading, speaking and walking, for example — this basic building block is interwoven into interactive music experiences,” she said.
‘A human right’
Whether one enrolls in a formal program or not, there are myriad ways to introduce kids to music.
Mescher said it is important to engage kids through “active music making.” This could mean singing, dancing or “creative instrumentation.” The latter can be accomplished by letting a child bang around on the kitchen pots and pans.
Resnick said that getting children singing and dancing can engage them in a variety of ways.
“They are being totally involved,” he said. “It is their right brain and left brain — however you think about it. When you are signing and dancing, when you are involved with music, it involves your whole person.”
Musical experts say that kids will take their cues from their parents, which is why it’s so important for adults to check their insecurities at the door.
A willingness to sing or dance — or even an enthusiastic smile — can convey the joy of music to youngsters.
“Even if you’ve chosen to label yourself as tone deaf, which you most likely are not, the more vulnerability you can demonstrate to your child, the more courage they will feel to try new things,” Mescher said.
Resnick believes there is no greater gift that one can pass along to a child.
“There is something about music — it is almost a human right,” Resnick said. “It is in there inside of us all and it reaches deep into humans, and studies show it reaches us at the deepest level of all the arts.”