We are continuing our series highlighting the knowledge and advice of children’s music industry professionals and participants. Below is an actual account provided by a children’s music studio teacher, but also the parent of a two year old child. This is part 1 of a 2 part series.
Rebecca Simonfalvi Cauthron is a certified Musikgarten teacher providing instruction at East Dallas Children’s Music. She has been teaching the Musikgarten curriculum for twenty-two years, becoming trained and certified in every level of instruction in the program. As a result, Rebecca has been honored with the coveted Musikgarten Achievement Award. She has a Bachelor’s in Flute Performance from the University of Texas and a Masters in the Art of Teaching with a focus in Early Childhood Music and Flute from Texas Woman’s University. She is adjunct flute professor at Mountain View College and has taught flute for 25 years. She is also the mother of a two-year-old son.
My family was quarantined for a week with HFM, but I wanted my son to have the experience of attending his music class, so we tried a virtual approach. It didn’t fail, but I had to work very hard to make it engaging, fun, productive, and positive for my two year old. So many things happened that required my twenty years of knowledge and study in the early childhood field, that I strongly believe that parents without that background could end up unintentionally negatively affecting their child’s experience upon their return to music class, especially after several weeks in a row.
Is it better than nothing for one week or even a few weeks?
The parents would be better off watching the class and then engaging their child with the activities spread throughout the week to “keep them up-to-pace” with the class. A virtual music class is not a replacement temporarily or permanently for the what the original intention of Musikgarten was founded upon. We are not just educating the child in music, we are growing a child with roots cemented in engagement, comfort, love, the bravery of separation, the joy in the return, and surrounding them with feeling of the tambour of a room full of voices singing together. You cannot feel all of that through a screen; those feelings create our musical experiences that engage, nurture, and grow the child.
Social connectivity is the essence of musical bonding; without it, we lose the togetherness, which is too often overlooked for the sake of learning. The idealism of a parent’s virtual experience is a fanciful rendering of an adult who might remember how Mr. Roger’s captured their heart every week as they learned and felt they were a part of his community. Expectations viewed through this idealistic filter will have negative effects on the outcome of a virtual music class.
The reality is that early childhood music teachers are engaging, effective, and revered by the children because we value eye contact, personalized directional singing, visiting different parts of the room with our friends, moving away from the grown-up to put away instruments or hug the helper doll, etc.
Without the teacher and other students present in the room, the virtual music experience becomes a time for the parent to be distracted by one idea: To keep the child actively participating while looking at a class on a screen.
Speaking from experience, it is stressful and not nearly as engaging for the young child as it is for the adult. A parent might argue that their child watches hour long movies with no problem, surely a thirty minute class that they have experienced would be appealing and easy; but it is not and here is why:
You can’t have a camera in the corner of your class and have it feel immersive. Scene changes, jump cuts, etc. provide a narrative by cutting to only scenes that matter to aid the story. Most people don’t understand how much work goes into composing an engaging and meaningful scene. You can’t edit a live feed. The only way a virtual class can work is if it composed to be a virtual class, meaning playing to the camera as if it were the child and having every movement planned with appropriate camera angles, cuts, and viewpoint changes. The audio feed should also be considered, as many times audio from live streaming are not able to isolate the sounds that are important to replicating a face-to-face experience. If you have one locale for the microphone, but your voice is coming from many different parts of the room and music is being played from a speaker elsewhere, there are dynamic inconsistencies that are exacerbated by the noise cancelling feature on many devices as well as the reality that most recordings are done with multiple microphones that amplify each individual source and then are edited together to give an accurate representation of a live environment. (Thank you David Cauthron, CTO, sound and lighting engineer for your expertise!)
The reason why Mr. Rogers was so effective at enchanting the child for an hour with a nowadays relatively slow program pace, was not only the camera and audio detailing, but:
Key to the success of Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, was Roger’s iron insistence upon meeting the highest standards without qualification. Former producer Margaret Whitmer observes, “Our show wasn’t a director’s dream. Fred had a lot of rules about showing the whole body, not just hands. When actors or puppets were reading something, Fred wanted the kids to see the words, even if viewers literally couldn’t read them. The camera moves left to right, because you read left to right. All those little tiny details were really important to Fred.”
-The Good Neighbor, The Life and Works of Fred Rogers by Maxwell King (2018)
Most teachers are not equipped with the technology, equipment, personnel, and know-how to create what we imagine in our heads and want our virtual class to be. Many of us have extremely high standards for the “production” of our live classroom which, for all of the reasons listed above, is impossible to replicate on a stream.
Editor’s Note: With the internet and Wi-fi devices so prevalent in today’s society, it seems logical that many programs that were conducted in person would be just as effective being provided online. But as the experience above explains, this is not always the case with virtual music classes. Childhood music curriculum is often based on social connectivity and personal interaction, both with the teacher as well as other students. Even with the best technology and the most attentive and well prepared parent, physical group interaction simply makes the in-person music class much more immersive. Whether it is eye contact and facial expressions, the resonance of singing with others, or the fun of collaborative movement, the physical children’s music classroom experience is extremely hard to replicate online.
Stay tuned for the next installment to hear a step by step recap of the experience!