Music for the Young and Young at Heart: Intergenerational Program Provides More Than Just Music

(Reprinted with permission from Renaissance Magazine, February-March 2012)

“I think I should have no other mortal wants, if I could always have plenty of music. It seems to infuse strength into my limbs and ideas into my brain. Life seems to go on without effort, when I am filled with music.” George Eliot

The Music for the Very Young: Music, Movement and Literacy (MVY) program has been provided in preschool classes across Trenton since 2000. It was developed by the Trenton Community Music School (TCMS) in partnership with the Trenton Public Schools and Music Together, LLC (based in Hopewell). The program is an extension of TCMS, where music lessons and classes are available to anyone regardless of experience level, age, income, or background. Each year they serve about 25 community preschool classes with the MVY program. CDs and songbooks go home with each child to involve whole families in the music making.

The TCMS’s Music for the Very Young (MVY) program has expanded to include “Music for the Young at Heart”, an Intergenerational music class involving local seniors. The pilot program started last year at the South Ward Senior Center.  On a weekly basis, children who are enrolled in the Mercer County CYO Preschool in Trenton join the seniors of the South Ward Senior Center for intergenerational music and movement classes. 

The classes are run by the TCMS in partnership with the Mercer County CYO Preschool, Trenton Board of Education’s Office of Early Childhood, and the City of Trenton’s Office on Aging.  TCMS Program Director, Ronnie Ragen, notes “When I discovered that the senior center was just half a block from the CYO preschool, I knew I’d found the perfect setting to start an Intergenerational version of our program.” 

The MVY program uses a curriculum developed by the Center for Music and Young Children, originators of the Music Together program. It includes a songbook and CD, and a specially trained instructor who comes to visit the preschool once a week to perform the songs with the kids and the preschool teacher. During the class they use scarves, instruments and gestures that go along with the songs. The program is designed to not only provide music education to the preschool children, but to also influence the children’s movement and literacy development. Throughout the different songs the children are learning words and also learning to work together as a group. They are also learning about things like tempo and beat while dancing and having fun. The instructor uses different instruments as well, such as a tambourine and shakers. This is fun not only for the children, but also for the newly involved seniors.

The seniors look forward to the weekly visits from the children, so much so that if they see the preschool staff on the street, they tell them that they can’t wait until class day. Likewise, the students at the preschool often ask their teachers if it is the day to go to the senior center. Many of the children took to calling the seniors “grandmom” or “pop-pop,” which they did not mind. One senior, John Jacobs, told me he felt the children were a blessing. The children come in and participate in their music class, in a circle on the floor and the seniors sit in chairs behind them and are included in all the singing, dancing and instrument playing.

Another senior, John Cameron, told me he played the tambourine with the kids, and that he thought that the children really appreciated the interactions. He told me a story about a day when the children were lining up to leave, that one young man got out of line to come over and shake his hand as he sat watching them leave. This spontaneous moment struck Ronnie Ragen so much that she made them recreate the scene so she could get a photo of it. Mr. Jacobs and Mr. Cameron were so fond of the children that they went to the graduation ceremony at the preschool. Both men are part of the regular crowd at the South Ward Senior Center and visit almost every day. Mr. Jacobs is an artist and much of his work is displayed at the center. In anticipation of the new students coming for music classes, he made a collage to welcome them.

“Every Senior Center should have a program like this. It wakes up the senses, gives us energy from the children and the music,” said Mr. Jacobs. And his opinion was shared by the staff at the preschool. Keisha Owens-Coleman, the teacher who was involved with the pilot program at the senior center, also told me she thought the program should be expanded. “It gives so much to both the children and the seniors,” Ms. Owens-Coleman commented. She found that the children made the seniors happy, helped with feelings of depression, and that it was great for the children to be exposed to another generation. Preschool director, Donna Zolnierzak told me that some of the children do not have grandparents nearby, and Music for the Young at Heart is a great way for the children to interact with a grandparent figure.

Music can provide so many benefits to us in our lives. In this instance it is bringing together children and older adults, showing each what the other has to offer.