April 23, 2002

Keep A Little Art in Your Post-High School Life

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:38 pm

Ten-year-old Orindan Adrianna Sung loves music, dance, art, math and singing — especially singing. Next month she will be making her debut with the San Francisco Opera in Georges Bizet’s “Carmen.” She will be playing a street urchin, along with nine other young talents from the San Francisco Girls Chorus.

Adrianna has been making history at the Girls Chorus since she was allowed to audition for their program at the age of six, a year earlier than most girls are invited to try out. At age nine, she was the youngest girl in the history of the chorus to make the highest level of instruction, Level 4, in the chorus school.

Adrianna’s parents say they can’t remember when their daughter didn’t have a song bursting forth from her soul. With the Girl’s Chorus, she has already performed in Davies Hall, and was part of the ceremony for the emotional “Day of Remembrance” following September 11. When music isn’t coming out of her mouth, it is tickling her feet as a dancer for Contra Costa Ballet.

Adrianna is a young member of our community with extraordinary talent. But when I asked her what she likes best about singing and dancing, she simply answered, “It’s really fun to make people feel happy inside.”

Every now and again I meet a artist, dancer, musician or singer in Lamorinda who has an astounding resume at a very young age. Their parents or teachers, even a family friend, will call me because they are so proud of what the child has accomplished. I’m very fortunate to get to meet these kids and for the brief time I’m interviewing them, I get rejuvenated by the purity of their artistic spirit. Whether I’m speaking to a child who has just won a national art contest, or someone whose art has been posted on the school bulletin board, I ask the question, “What’s your favorite part about (singing/acting/dancing/composing)?” They invariably answer, “It’s fun.”

I haven’t done any formal research on the topic, but in my four years of covering the Lamorinda arts scene, I have noticed that “It’s fun” tends to be the answer given by folks through high school age. When artists reach college age and older, the reasons for pursuing art often come attached to the financial feasibility of it, or some deep philosophical rationale. I know that deep down, they must have begun their artistic pursuits because it was fun. But “It’s fun,” which can sound like a trite answer, doesn’t bubble to the surface when asked why they do what they do.

I’m not worried about adult professional, semi-professional and recreational artists. Whatever drives them, at least art is a part of their lives. I do get a knot is my stomach, however, when I talk to a high school senior in the arts about his or her future plans. In Lamorinda, almost all of them say they are going to college. Many of them already believe they’ll be pre-med or pre-law or business majors. Some of them are excited to talk to me regarding the concert or art show or dance recital about which they are being interviewed because, “It’s my last one.” I will ask, “Are you going to play piano/sing/write music/do art/act in college?” They almost invariably respond, “I don’t think I’ll have time.”

Anthony Ruiz, the owner of FastFrame of Lafayette, tells a similar tale. He often frames a high school senior’s final project or big competition entry. In chatting with a young client, he will talk about the artwork and ask if the artist is going to take an art class in college. Ruiz says the chilling answer he most often hears is “probably not.”

I’m not exaggerating. The Sun is a newspaper, which means our stories have to be newsy in some way. I write stories about seniors from Lamorinda who win arts scholarships, or are planning a career in the arts, or are delaying college to study art, because that endeavor is so unusual, it is actually news in this community. I love to trumpet that news, but I would rather be scrounging for stories because “Ho-hum, Lamorinda churned out another artist.”

Encouraging kids to do art while they are in our school system and living under our roofs is important. But somehow, the burning drive of the artistic spirit exemplified by Adrianna Sung is extinguished in young adulthood. I know sometimes the flame is just turned down, and we think we’ll add fuel when we retire. But the reality is, not all of us will live until retirement. To live every day to the fullest, whether you’re given the gift of 20 years or 120 years, then every day must be filled with a little art.

Graduation is approaching quickly. If you live with a young person who seems to find an iota of enjoyment from the arts, please make sure they don’t leave that joy hanging on the bedpost in their room at home when they pack their bags to move into the real world.

March 28, 2002

There’s More to Tot Music Classes than Meets the Ears

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:12 pm

Let’s play a game. Chant along with me.

Beat the drum. Rum-pum-pum. Beating the drum is lots of fun.

Now follow this rhythm.

Beat the drum, Rum- (pause) pum-pum. (pause, pause) Beating the (pause) drum is (pause) lots of (pause, pause) fun.

And now, this rhythm.


The proceeding theme and variations has been brought to you by a percussionist under the age of two in Andrea Gaspari’s “Musical Adventures” class at the Lafayette Community Center on Monday mornings. For 10 weeks, five toddlers and their moms have spent Monday mornings learning about rhythm, tone, melody, dance and avant-garde musical expression, all in the guise of fun and games.

Andrea is a licensed Kindermusik and Musikgarten instructor about whom I wrote a story three or four years ago, long before I had a child. While researching that story, I read about early childhood education, studies on the impact of music on intellectual development, the relationship between classical music and brain stimulation, blah blah blah. All really important stuff, and if it’s new to you, please go do a little Web surfing and catch yourself up. (Just between you and me, with all publicity the research gets on television news because it makes for cute visuals of kids playing music, I’m increasingly stunned that fewer parents don’t make music a daily, heck, a minutely, part of their children’s lives.)

But what I remember most about that story is the pure joy on the children’s faces when I visited a class one day. And the moms looked like they were having fun too. Those were older kids, four and five-year-olds, I think. I told my husband that when we had kids, I wanted to do Kindermusik with them as soon as they were old enough.

What luck! Our Community Center winter class schedule came last November and there was a listing for “Andrea’s Musical Adventures,” coming to Lafayette for the first time in January. One class was listed for 12-months-to-two-and-a-half-year-olds, and my son turned one in December. Perfect!

My son LOVES music. He has been singing, dancing and experimenting with instruments for months, NOT because he’s brilliant (which he is, but that’s not the topic of this column) but because this is something kids NATURALLY like to do. Again, go do some Web surfing to read the research. My husband and I ultimately decided to sign him up for Andrea’s class not so that he’ll do better in math, or be an early reader, or be able to disassemble and reassemble a clock with his finely-tuned motor skills. Music is fun, he enjoys music, therefore we encourage him to do what he loves.

We gathered with our small group of five kids and five moms on that first class day in January, and one thing that was immediately apparent was that the little girl who was just over two and had been doing Andrea’s class for a few months was an absolute genius. This poppet was singing, dancing, playing accurate rhythms, and looked like she could go knock on the door of Juilliard tomorrow.

I’m a believer in music, the Kindermusik and Musikgarten curriculums, and Andrea, but at that first class, it seemed hopeless.

Maybe it was too early to try something this structured with a one-year-old. After all, he barely had an attention span, didn’t follow directions, everything went in his mouth, and he couldn’t talk, let alone sing lyrics. But he did sway to the music, turn around in circles to dance, and intently investigate each instrument that was handed to him, even if he didn’t try playing it. Andrea encouraged all of us newbies to let our children experience the music in their own way, while continuing to role model whatever activity the class was working on.

The first few weeks were tough and chaotic and still seemingly hopeless. Some kids would cry, some would leave the circle, mine couldn’t sit still. The music skills seemed stalled out, but all the kids latched onto the structure of the class. We do the same games every week. Andrea puts out a bag of bells, or shakers or sticks and will say “Get two for you, and two for Mommy or Daddy.” By golly, they did that. At the end of the activity, Andrea would sing “Bells away, bells away, time to put the bells away,” and THEY DID THAT TOO! You must try this at home. It works.

A couple of weeks ago, some of the kids started to understand the cause and effect relationship of the “Beat the drum. Rum-pum-pum” game. When they play, we sing. When they stop, we stop. When they play fast we sing fast and when they play softly we sing softly.

Andrea is always raising the bar so she thought it was time to put together a band. One toddler on drums, one on shakers, one on xylophone, one on sticks and one on bells. An early lesson in teamwork and collaboration. They’re all geniuses!

There’s also plenty of dancing in this class for the high-energy Mozarts. For you sports fans out there, remember dancing is a physical, athletic SPORT, that also happens to be an art. I heard of a mother thinking about doing the Community Center’s toddler hiking class instead of the music class. I have no problem with the hiking class — my son and I will be enrolling ourselves. But please don’t write off a music class because you don’t think there is physical activity involved. My son conks in the car every week before we even pull out of the parking lot, he is so exhausted by music class.

Here’s the part of this story I’ve been debating whether or not to share with you. For the good of mankind, I think I must. The five Mom-and-Tot sets in the Monday morning class are minimum enrollment for the class. Andrea can take more, and although we five cherish our semi-private lessons every week, I can’t bear to think that a toddler and his or her parent may be sitting at home on Monday mornings rather than joining the party with Andrea. The spring session starts this Monday. The Community Center number is 925-284-2232. Do the right thing.

February 5, 2002

Broadcast Your Artist Vibe to Kids

Filed under: Art and About Kids — admin @ 2:45 pm

Every morning my 13-month-old greets me from his crib with a wide grin and an expectant look in his eye which seems to query, “What are you going to show me today, Mom?”

Strewing his toys about the living room, emptying the linen closet and strolling through a hibernating garden are only alluring for so long before he starts tugging on his diaper bag, ready to go, go, go.
I’m fortunate because I have a job where I get to go to art galleries, play rehearsals and concerts all the time. Most of the time, my toddling side-kick goes with me.

He has run through the halls of the Orinda Library Gallery just to press his nose against the lighted display cases and study Tom White’s sculptures and smile at Liz Piatt’s art quilts. The lowest shelves are just his size.

We’ve gone to a jazzy jam session with trombonist Steve Turre and the young musicians at Stanley Middle School. Last week, we sat by the tympani during the Mayor’s Concert at Stanley for a first-hand look at the busy percussion section. Without a quick e-mail from Stanley music director Bob Athayde, we would have missed Trombonanza at Papillon in December with half a dozen A-level Bay Area trombonists doing their brassy version of holiday caroling.

A visit to Susan’s Studio not only gave us a chance to practice our brush strokes with invisible paint on an empty canvas, but co-owner Susan List didn’t mind small fingers exploring the texture of the dried oil paint comprising her creations around the room.

One Monday we made friends with the residents of Lafayette Elder Care when we joined them for their sing-along with guitarist Michael Kistner. Kistner even tailored the musical gathering by singing some favorites enjoyed by the young and young-at-heart.

There are fantastic animal paintings at Pacific Wildlife Gallery in Lafayette for a youngster just learning about the natural world. And a trip to any of our Lamorinda libraries includes a stop by the walls exhibiting the work of local artists as we make our way to the children’s section.

Granted, my job affords us some opportunities not everyone has. While I watch the singing and dancing on stage at Town Hall Theatre during a rehearsal for “We’ll Take Manhattan,” my son seriously investigates why the theater seats pop up every time he stops pushing down on them. But I know not every kid has the luxury of exploring an empty theater on a Monday afternoon.

However, most of what we do, and everything I’ve mentioned above, are free activities open to anyone. Certain paintings are absolutely captivating. Music activities are always a winner. And small eyes can get pretty big when a voice projects dialogue from the stage. For me, it’s just a matter of keeping my eyes and ears open to the daily arts events within minutes from our house, and informing the powers that be that I’ll be bringing a young one. No one has asked me not to bring him yet.

In fact, last month my whole family went to The Waybacks concert at the Orinda Library Auditorium as part of the Neighborhood Energy Company’s Community Concert Series. I had heard how wonderful the community concerts were for adults and kids alike and decided it was time for me to see for myself. This is not a free event, mind you, but not a bad deal at $18 for an intimate concert with dynamite performers.

Before the concert began, my husband and son took a tour of the sound system set up on the floor in front of the stage and got a good look at the drum set and myriad string instruments waiting for the band to bring them to life. Several people stopped to chat with the little boy who was so obviously soaking in the atmosphere of his first professional concert. Before a single note was played, they were sharing the communal experience of folks brought together by music.

I hope the message my son is receiving through all these outings is that the world of the arts is a welcoming place, no matter your size, level of experience…or attention span.