Classes let tots, parents share tune time

Music school strikes chord with sessions for ages 1 to 5

August 15, 2002|By Tricia Bishop | Tricia Bishop,SUN STAFF

Some studies have suggested that music exposure might improve intellectual development. And just in case they're right, 18-month-old Mason Buswell has been getting the saturation treatment since before he was born.

His dad used to put headphones on his mom's belly when Mason was in utero - playing everything from New Age jazz to Led Zeppelin - and now the toddler is enrolled in a weekly music class in Clarksville.

Scott Buswell, Mason's father, says that while he doesn't know if it's having any effect, it sure is fun.

"He's been dancing since he was able to stand," Buswell said, "and he loves these classes."

Buswell was one of nine parents and guardians at the River Hill community center yesterday morning, each with a kid ages 1 to 3 in tow, letting loose in a way that certainly looked like lunacy.

All of them sang greetings, croaked like frogs, twirled in circles (while waving neon scarves) and banged away on lollipop-shaped drums.

But the exercise, said instructor Olenka Bren, was not madness, but controlled - and educational - chaos.

"We sing and dance and play a lot, but the idea is for the kids to discover music through rhythm and sound," said Bren, who lives in Elkridge.

"For them, it's like learning a language, and the best way to learn a language is to speak it, or experience it, when you're very young," she said.

That is the philosophy behind "Music Together," an introductory program for children ages 1 to 5 that started in New Jersey 15 years ago and has spread around the world - including to Olenka's School of Music in Howard County.

Kids are taught through experience, movement and general exposure. During the class, they learn songs and gestures to accompany them, experiment with various instruments and listen to music from cultures around the world.

"Miriam sings all the time now," said the 2-year-old's grandmother, Marilynn Sheetz. "I'm amazed by how much she's picked up."

Bren discovered the program while researching ways to teach children music. A classically trained pianist, she emigrated from Ukraine in 1990 and started her music school after moving to Maryland in 1993.

This year, she increased the teaching staff to 20 and closed her original location on Main Street in Ellicott City to open two bigger centers: one on Corporate Court in Ellicott City and another in Columbia. She also gives classes at the River Hill Village Center.

The school also offers courses for serious teen-age and adult musicians and singers, but the "Music Together" programs are its most popular offerings, drawing about a third of the 320 people enrolled.

"Originally, I was thinking I wouldn't teach anybody younger than 16," Bren said, but she found a demand for kids' classes.

"It's been very rewarding," she said. "It's just a joy to see how children start each semester very shy in the beginning and by the end they're completely different children."

Gabby Eng, 21 months, has been taking the classes since she was 1.

"It's the only class that keeps her attention for 45 minutes," said her mother, Kerri Eng. "It's a great creative outlet for children, and it's different every time."

This is Gabby's third session, but Eng said it does not get old because the curriculum and instructors change.

Bren said the school has nine separate "Music Together" programs.

"I attended one as a trial first and wasn't sure about it," said Buswell, whose wife usually brings Mason to the class. "But after seeing [Mason's] reaction to it, I'm all for it."

The grand opening - with games, prizes and demonstrations - of the new Olenka's School of Music branch in Ellicott City will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Saturday at 3220 Corporate Court, Suite A. The Columbia grand opening will be held from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. Aug. 24 at 10015 Old Columbia Road, Suite G. Information about programs: 410-309-0770 or www.olenkaschoolof

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