Early Music Lessons Benefits

Last month the New York Times published an article, “Early Music Lessons Have Longtime Benefits” by Perri Klass, M.D.

Dr. Klass is a pediatrician and writer, and is well known for her writing about children and literacy. She also happens to be the Medical Director of Reach Out and Read, a national childhood literacy program that works through doctors and nurses to encourage parents to read aloud to young children, and to give them the books they need to do it.

The article was especially interesting for me at this point of my journey as a mother, because as I wonder about the millions of options out there for my daughters in terms of extra-curricular activities, I can’t help but think about what would be most beneficial to them, short-term and long-term.  Fun is always my first priority when choosing an activity for my girls, but I do want there to be some kind of educational benefit as well. Since they haven’t had any formal musical training yet, I have been able to introduce them to music through various apps on the iPad. My girls have quickly become fans of Jazzy 123, Jazzy ABC and A Jazzy Day apps. What I love most about these apps is that they combine music and education. So while the girls get to learn their numbers and the alphabet, the added bonus is that they are also listening to musical instruments and learning the names of various musical instruments at the same time!


In the New York Times article, a Northwestern University study showed that children who studied music, not only improved their auditory skills, but the benefits lasted beyond their lessons. “To learn to read, you need to have good working memory, the ability to disambiguate speech sounds, make sound-to-meaning connections,” said Professor Nina Kraus, director of the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University. “Each one of these things really seems to be strengthened with active engagement in playing a musical instrument.”

I strongly believe that music lessons can only help a child, whether it is in attention building or even learning to focus on something, it can help them later on with their academics. “If you get a kid who is maybe 3 or 4 years old and you’re teaching them to attend, they’re not only working on their auditory skills but also working on their attention skills and their memory skills — which can translate into scholastic learning,” she said. (Alexandra Parbery-Clark, a doctoral candidate in Dr. Kraus’s lab and one of the authors of a paper published this year on auditory working memory and music.) The article also mentions that if a child continues with musical instruments, the long term affects are greater because they can preserve brain function.


So having read this, I began to think about my girls. Both have been attending music classes since they were babies. As I mentioned earlier, they have never had formal musical instrument training, however, they have been exposed to various instruments, such as the guitar and piano. In our home, my husband happens to be a musician, playing both the piano and guitar. We have an upright piano in our home and my daughters have enjoyed sitting with my husband listening, playing and singing since they were born. Now as my older daughter approaches 5 years old, I am considering piano lessons for her next year.


Maya and Shayna and their Dad, David playing the piano at home.

Finally, I loved the last part of the article where Dr. Parbery Clark says, “We want music to be recognized for what it can be in a person’s life, not necessarily, ‘Oh, we want you to have better cognitive skills, so we’re going to put you in music. Music is great, music is fantastic, music is social — let them enjoy it for what it really is.” Having read that, if they enjoy their musical lessons, that to me is most important.


And on a completely other note (no pun intended), I wanted to take a moment and acknowledge the recent Hurricane Sandy that affected so many thousands of people on the East Coast. We are sending prayers for a speedy clean-up and restoration of electricity and power.  Living in upper Manhattan we were lucky not to lose power, except for no internet access and no land line. Other than that, we were safe and sound, and as a little ray of sunshine in the midst of the storm, we celebrated my daughter Shayna’s 3rd birthday on October 30th.  She is very excited to be “big” now.

So from our family to yours, we wish you a safe and happy Halloween and for those still dealing with the aftermath of the hurricane, we send prayers and support for life to get back to normal as soon as possbible.

Here are the some of our favorite costumes from over the past few years….

Wishing you all a safe and happy, candy-filled Halloween and if you want to read more about the benefits of music lessons, click on the link to the New York Times article. http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/09/10/early-music-lessons-have-longtime-benefits/

Sharon Marcus is a Graduate Student at Hunter College, where she is getting her Masters degree in Early Childhood Education. She and her husband David live in New York City with their two adorable daughters, Maya and Shayna.

A Week of Firsts

Meet my daughters. Maya is 4 years old and Shayna is 2 years old.

We had a very exciting week as it was a week of firsts! Maya began her last year of preschool and Shayna began her first year of preschool.

Both girls had been talking about the first day of school since before the summer had even begun, so you might imagine this day was BIG. My girls love all things related to school—school supplies, books, and writing. They are so eager and curious about everything, I sometimes think of them as “sponges”, ready to absorb and soak in anything new. Our week of firsts went great! Maya was so happy to see all of her friends return to school and begin their “senior” year of preschool, while Shayna did so much better than I expected. She only cried for a few minutes when I left her in school and then after I arrived a few minutes early to pick her up and spy on her through the tiny window on the door, I was so pleasantly surprised to see her laughing, and chatting away. I was so proud of my little koala bear.

Aside from first days of school this past week, we also discovered some great new apps for the iPad!

But before I get into that, here’s a little background on us; We are a very musical family. My husband, David is a pianist and singer, and he can play practically any instrument. He plays everything from classical to pop music. My children are constantly surrounded by music, whether it’s listening to their dad play the piano at home (which they love), to listening to the radio, and now to their latest obsession, listening to the soundtrack of Annie the musical. This summer during our drive to Cape Cod, guess what we listened to the entire time? Yes, the soundtrack to Annie for SIX hours played over and over and over again….

My girls also have another obsession; the iPad. If you were to open my iPad you would find over 50 downloaded apps for my kids. They range from lots of cooking apps, to puzzles, to the alphabet, and of course music. Recently, I was lucky enough to discover the www.TheMelodybook.com and I downloaded the “A Jazzy Day”, “Jazzy 123” and the “Jazzy ABC” apps. They absolutely love both.

That’s Shayna with the iPad playing with a “A Jazzy Day”, while Maya eats her breakfast.

Maya, my older daughter really enjoys the games, while Shayna (2 years old) loves repeating all the names of the instruments. Today she learned the word “oboe” and then said it out loud, pointed to her elbow and said “Mommy, my oboe”. I guess “oboe” and “elbow” do sound very similar! Maya also loves touching the animals in the story portion of “A Jazzy Day” and listening to them speak or play their instruments. She comments on the bright colors and asks questions, making it a really interactive experience for patents and children—and I happen to love this aspect of these apps. Another wonderful aspect of these apps is that you can change the languages! My daughters changed the language from English to Hebrew and to French and would repeat the words in other languages. Even for me, as the parent it was great to learn how to say the instruments in other languages. But one of our favorite things about all the “Jazzy” apps is that when you touch on the instruments, they make their unique sound, so for instance, I had never heard a lute before, but when I touched it, it made the most beautiful sound. I think it might be my new favorite instrument! It just goes to show you that these apps not only teach children, but us parents can learn a thing or two as well.

Finally, while I think the iPad is such a great tool and has wonderful educational benefits, I am definitely more drawn to the apps that promote communication between a child and their parent/caregiver/sibling. Both a “A Jazzy Day”, “Jazzy 123”, and “Jazzy ABC” do that. It’s not just about touching the screen and moving images, there are stories, and sounds, and interaction, which make it a true educational experience.

Both girls did get very excited when they saw the piano on the screen because we have one at home, and it’s so familiar to them. When I asked them each what their favorite instrument was, Maya said flute and Shayna said guitar. Both answers were unexpected since I had never heard them say those instruments before having used the Melody Book apps. But they had retained the information, without me having to do a thing!

So as we now head into the second week of school, I am so excited to see what other “firsts” lay ahead for my little girls! I know one thing for sure—music and education will continue to be a huge part of our lives. The possibilities are endless and I am loving every minute of this journey.

Sharon Marcus is a Graduate Student at Hunter College, where she is getting her Masters degree in Early Childhood Education. She and her husband David live in New York City with their two adorable daughters, Maya and Shayna.

How Music Apps Can Help Special Needs Children

A few weeks ago, I was having lunch with my friend Pam and her son Theo, who is five years old. Theo had been feeling agitated and was running back and forth on the outdoor patio of the restaurant, trying to burn off some nervous energy while we were waiting for our food to be served. I thought he might be interested in one of the Jazzy Day apps, so I asked Pam if it was OK with her, and then pulled out my iPhone and showed Jazzy ABC to him. He came right over, no doubt feeling curious about the illustrations of the kittens and alphabet letters. As he started interacting with the game a sense of calm seemed to overtake him. He transformed from distractedly running up and down, flapping and clapping his hands to being really focused on the task of naming the various instruments correctly.

My friend was amazed: “I had no idea that he knows what a vibraphone is!” Theo’s intelligence shone through as he became involved with the game, quickly answering the questions—no guessing here. You could argue this speaks well of Theo’s education, that he’s clearly a budding musician, or that he already knows his ABCs, but it was heartwarming to see his face light up when the voiceover in “Jazzy ABC” praised him for getting the right answer.

Achieving this kind of interactivity and connection with children is at the heart of The Melody Book’s work. We are on a mission to help kids everywhere learn about music and instruments in a fun and colorful way.

Charly James, a divorced mother with two special needs children reached out to The Melody Book recently on Twitter, praising A Jazzy Day. Both of her children Ian and Gretchen have really connected with our app. Gretchen just turned five in March, while Ian will be seven in December. Charly says the family starts their morning with A Jazzy Day (AJD), and they end their night with it:

Gretchen loves AJD. She wants to keep it forever. She’s very much into jazz, blues, classical, even opera. She loves all kinds of music, and likes to listen to the Big Band, she absolutely adores it. I have to put Billie Holliday on every day, or Dizzy Gillespie. Ian really likes classical music. Ian works for rewards, and really likes the game at the end of AJD when you can pick out the instruments; he’s really good at that. The fact that AJD is so interactive is great. If you tap one of the kittens, then tap the other one, they talk  over one another, and Gretchen thinks that’s hilarious: “That’s just like me and Ian!”



Charly wanted to share her story with us in order to help other families with special needs children. Both of her children are very smart and Ian is considered twice-exceptional in math and science. Charly says:

People have the wrong impression about children on the spectrum. They go by what they see on TV [or what is] portrayed by the media. There are two [options]: you’re either a savant in music or math, or you’re on the lower end and you’re non-verbal and unable to function. They know absolutely nothing about all the variances between them—from the non-verbal child that is studious and loving with yes, melts down if something throws his sensory [capacities] into overdrive, or the middle-of-the-roaders, or the ones higher up that spectrum that are verbal and witty at times and CAN you look you in the eye.

Ian had open-heart surgery when he was one month old. There were some complications, and as a result Ian is on the autism spectrum. Ian has not been diagnosed as having Asperger’s syndrome, but he is considered high functioning. Due to Ian’s ongoing medical issues, Charly left a longstanding career in global online training to become a stay-at-home mom. A couple of years ago she returned to work part-time but when Ian experienced setbacks, she stopped again.

Ian gets private therapy year-round, including during the school year. He gets occupational therapy (OT), speech and language pathology (SLP) and applied behavioral analysis therapy (ABA), all to help him with his social skills. This summer Ian is taking swimming lessons for the first time. He might like to try football next. Ian loves Power Rangers, and used to really like Pokemon, but his mainstays are dinosaurs and space. He says he is going to be a doctor in space one day.

Gretchen suffers from social anxiety. She takes dance lessons all year long, but has recently been having more severe sensory issues with sound. She finds the large number of kids in the classes overwhelming, and so many kids try to talk to her that it makes her want to change activities. Gretchen tried cheerleading camp last year and decided it was not for her (when they moved inside the noise became very loud.) She is thinking about switching to soccer and piano lessons.

The family goes to the pool almost daily for Ian’s swim lessons—it’s calming for him. When it starts getting crowded it can be hard on Gretchen, but she can overcome her urge to go and the water is soothing for both kids.

Charly and the kids visit parks, go roller skating and to movies sometimes or have movie night at home. A typical day could include any number of activities for the kids:

Gretchen loves to do rhymes about anything and sings them like she is an aspiring rap-artist and Ian gets frustrated because he does not understand the concept of the brain. If we have to leave to go somewhere (which I prepare him for days in advance if possible to make sure he gets there is a change in routine) and he is watching something—say Power Rangers—he gets upset and says he wishes he could cut himself in half and be at two places at once! Then he says he will figure that out.

Charly feels very fortunate to have won a free iPad this past New Year’s Eve from A4, Apps for Children with Special Needs. A4 was featured on 60 minutes in December 2011. Charly found the community online, made a comment and won, much to her surprise. The iPad has made a huge difference by facilitating Ian’s school work and speech therapy.

Gretchen and Ian are very excited about Jazzy ABC and our new upcoming release, Jazzy 123, which will be available on the iTunes store August 10.



Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Master Educator Series: Leonard Bernstein

Becoming a musician incorporates many facets, from learning how to play an instrument to learning how to understand and appreciate music.

One of the best series in the history of music appreciation is Leonard Bernstein‘s Young People’s Concerts. Below are videos in four parts of the show “What Does Music Mean” which aired on CBS in 1958.

The first part explains that many meanings can be ascribed to the same piece of music, and that music in and of itself is not about anything in particular:

Leonard Bernstein: Young People’s Concerts | What Does Music Mean (Part 1 of 4)


In the second part, Bernstein conducts while announcing various parts of a story he made up which coincide with music the New York Philharmonic is playing live. (It turns out the music is from Don Quixote.) Bernstein goes on to state that no matter what backstory is assigned to it, music can be exciting based on its own merit. Later, Bernstein plays Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony No. 6, remarking on the sentence at the beginning of the score “Awakening of cheerful feelings on arriving in the country.” Bernstein explains that the music is peaceful, calm and happy but it could just as easily have been written about swinging in a hammock or being happy that your stomach no longer aches!

Leonard Bernstein: Young People’s Concerts | What Does Music Mean (Part 2 of 4)


In the third part, Bernstein goes beyond music that tries to tell a story and delves into music that tries to paint a picture. As an example, Bernstein talks about how Moussorgsky was inspired to write “Pictures at an Exhibition” after viewing art paintings of children playing, baby chicks picking and eating, and the stately stone gate at the entrance of the Russian city of Kiev. Later, Bernstein talks about music that describes emotions and feelings, using Tchaikovsky’s Fourth and Fifth Symphonies to illustrate. Bernstein concludes:

Now we can really understand what the meaning of music is. It’s the way it makes you feel when you hear it. Finally we’ve taken that giant step and we’re there, we know what music means now.

Leonard Bernstein: Young People’s Concerts | What Does Music Mean (Part 3 of 4)


In the final part, Berstein has the orchestra play a piece by composer Webern, stating that young people might understand it better than older people. (Bernstein surprisingly introduces Webern’s music as “modern” and “crazy,” and I was expecting a very dissonant piece, but it’s actually delicate and beautiful music.) Later, Bernstein plays the same notes with an ominous tone, then a light and carefree tone, stating:

The meaning of music is in music. It’s in the melodies and the rhythms, and the harmonies, and the way it’s orchestrated. And most important of all, in the way it develops itself.

The orchestra then plays Ravel’s “La Valse,” which Bernstein introduces as “fun to listen to.” Watching Bernstein enjoy himself so gracefully while conducting is a treat.

Leonard Bernstein: Young People’s Concerts | What Does Music Mean (Part 4 of 4)


Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts series include a variety of topics, such as “What is Melody;” Folk music; American music; Latin American music; humor in music; and composers such as Gustav Mahler and Dmitri Shostakovich.

What do you think about the Bernstein series? What are your favorite music appreciation pieces or videos?


Photo courtesy of CBS, The International Review of Music


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Fun outdoor family events and summer concerts in New York City

Memorial Day weekend marks the beginning of summer and outdoor fun activities. Rainy days and vacations notwithstanding, there are myriad ways to entertain children and find wonderful (and often free) outdoor family events all over New York city. We’ve listed some ideas below. Let us know if you plan to attend any in the comments section, and be sure to add in your own suggestions too!

Outdoor Events and Park programs

It’s not difficult to find several options at Central Park; the challenge might be more about choosing whether to visit the zoo; Belvedere Castle (to learn about the park’s flora and fauna); boat rides on the lake; storytelling near the Hans Christian Anderson statue; swimming in Lasker pool; fishing at the Meer; attending a marionette theatre performance; or model boat sailing. Choosing one activity a week takes you almost to Labor Day!

Prospect Park has its very own Audubon Center in their historic boathouse, a zoo and several nature trails and playgrounds.

The Children’s Museum of the Arts brings several free hands-on art workshops to several of New York City’s parks, including Hudson River Park, Highline Park Museum Morning, River to River Festival, and Governor’s Island

In addition, Madison Square Park Conservancy has a division called  Mad. Sq. Kids, a free program for children that includes several activities including Art in the Park

If you’ve been to Bryant Park, you must have noticed the beautiful vintage merry-go-round, Le Carrousel near 41st Street, but did you know that beyond going for a ride, kids can enjoy events there as well?

Beyond the block parties that may be happening in your neighborhood, the 10th Annual Big Apple Barbecue Block Party will take place in Madison Square Park on Saturday and Sunday, June 9- 10 from 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM.

If you can find a good viewing spot along the East River, the Macy’s annual Fourth of July fireworks create an exciting and gorgeous spectacle (even if you end up watching it on TV instead of braving the crowds!)

For the Francophile in you, the annual Bastille Day on 60th Street takes place on Sunday July 15 in New York City between Fifth and Lexington Avenues from 12:00 to 5:00 p.m.

If your family loves tennis, the U.S. Open’s Arthur Ashe Kids Day takes place at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center Grounds located in the Flushing Meadow Corona Park on Saturday, August 25. (Tickets go on sale June 11.) Activities are usually planned for a full day of fun, including a stadium show.


Concerts for kids

City Parks Foundation’s SummerStage calendar lists an impressive, extensive list of performances. (You can refine results by clicking on the Kids and Families categories on left hand side of the web page.)

Madison Square Park also offers a Mad. Sq. Kids Summer Concert Series featuring performers like The Deedle Deedle Dees, Moona Luna, and Father Goose.



On Fridays at Pier 46, the Hudson River Park River Flicks are all for kids, including Kung Fu Panda, Superman and the Smurfs (July 13 to August 24)

The Film Festival in Bryant Park features some family-friendly movies, like The Wizard of Oz and Raiders of the Lost Ark. (Mondays, June 18 to August 20)

The Intrepid summer movie series is decidedly focused on family fare, like Spiderman, The Muppets and Jurassic Park. You can bring lawn chairs, picnic baskets, blankets, food, snacks and non-alcoholic beverages. (Doors open at 7:30PM, and films begin at sunset, weather permitting. Space is limited and seating is on a first come first serve basis.)

The movies scheduled at Brooklyn Bridge Park’s Syfy Movies With A View are mostly geared to families and kids, like E.T, To Kill a Mockingbird and the final movie will be chosen based on a public vote! (Thursdays July 5 to August 30)


What are your favorite summer family activities? Please chime in below!


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Image credits: edenpictures, spaceamoeba, vastateparksstaff, dpape

Music Education: Then and Now

A hundred years ago, music education in U.S. public schools was evolving to include school orchestras and bands. The popularity of concert bands and professional orchestras in the early 20th century helped to fuel this trend. Prior to that, music instruction had generally centered on choral singing, as an outgrowth of church choirs. Group instruction of string ensembles, bands and orchestras began as after-school programs, but were quickly added as subjects to many schools’ curriculum in the early parts of the 20th century. In the latter part of the 19th century, the invention of the phonograph and later, radio allowed greater accessibility to music in people’s homes. Learning how to listen to music, or music appreciation, along with music history and theory also evolved from extracurricular to finding a place as curricular subjects.

Music education also received a boost after World War I, when many of the Army band leaders became available to teach music in schools, and government funding was available to support music and arts education in schools.

During the Great Depression, tensions arose between industry and the educational system. Business leaders and politicians considered music programs and the arts superfluous to an increasingly industrial society. This viewpoint continued well after World War II.

Music education received an unexpected boost in the late 1950s after the Russians launched  their Sputnik I satellite into outer space before the U.S. launched their Explorer satellite. The National Defense Education Act (NDEA) provided funding for the hard sciences and foreign languages, eliciting concern for the dwindling role of music in an increasingly technological society. The Ford Foundation responded by establishing grants to place young composers in schools as composers-in-residence, and to train  music teachers to understand contemporary composition. The Juilliard Repertory Project emerged from the 1963 Yale Seminar on Music Education, providing a library of music for children from kindergarten to the sixth grade. Perhaps most importantly, the Tanglewood Declaration provided valuable recommendations for music education by music educators themselves. Other noteworthy contributions include the Manhattanville Music Curriculum Program, structured to include performing and analyzing music, as well as composing and evaluating music.

By the 1980s, support for the arts was cut drastically due to a flailing economy and budget cuts.

Today, an academic education is a given, with music as an added bonus as long as funding is available. The popular TV show Glee illustrates how a high school choral program is in constant danger of being cut. Mister B, a.k.a Gregg Breinberg, choral director of Staten Island’s PS22 Chorus is a triumphant example of elementary school music education thriving despite the tough economic times.

In Australia, The Bonkers Beat Singing Kindy Music Kindergarten Preschool Kinder Program, bases all teaching on music and singing. Children learn about rhythm, and how to say “hello” in various languages. Parents feel the school helps their children be more confident, and how to be part of a group by having to rely on each other.

The lack of funding and government support has given way to programs like the O’Connor method, a program for beginning string musicians. Mark O’Connor is a world famous classical violinist who also loves American music and folk songs. After attending one of his method camps all around the U.S., children can branch out to classical or jazz music depending on their inclinations. O’Connor has been described as “revolutionizing string pedagogy” by String Magazine, and compared favorably with the Suzuki method. On her blog Violinist, Laurie Niles writes that the Suzuki and O’Connor methods can work together very well.

In the 1920s and 1930s, jazz was enjoying enormous popularity. Many of the songs from this era and beyond are part of the Great American Songbook, and include the jazz standards taught in school today. In this video, Michael Buble talks about how his love for the American Songbook, instilled by his grandfather was a way of rebelling against pop music and claiming his individuality.

While rebellion was a large part of Buble’s motivation to study and learn American Songbook classics, musicians like Grammy-award winning Esperanza Spaulding have spoken about how a rigorous training program helped them hone their chops. In the video below, Esperanza talks about being “scared into becoming serious about music” by the seasoned jazz musicians who were her teachers at Cultural Recreation Band.

Esperanza Spalding | Interview from Concord Music Group on Vimeo.

An extraordinarily successful program based on an intensive immersion in music education was started by Dr. Jose Antonio Abreu in Venezuela in 1975, called El Sistema.

El Sistema has enjoyed robust government funding and support, unlike the arts and music education here in the U.S. El Sistema is a social system for kids from the poorest slums, or barrios of Caracas, Venezuela. This rigorous classical music training functions as a vehicle for social change by taking children out of the dangerous and barren world of the barrio and keeping them in school for 12 hours a day, six days a week. Children start their music education as young as 2 years old, learning rhythm and the language of music. By age 4, they learn how to play instruments, and by age 6 or 7, they play in orchestras. This training instills confidence and self-esteem in children who could easily have been left behind, facing a life of extreme poverty. One of the most famous pupils to emerge from El Sistema is Gustavo Dudamel, currently filling the role of Music Director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic, the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra of Venezuela. Not all of El Sistema’s students end up playing in a professional orchestra; many go on to other professions like law or medicine, or learn how to craft and build musical instruments.

El Sistema has inspired programs in the U.S. and all over the world. Nevertheless, some dispute El Sistema’s uniqueness. In a recent NPR interview, Richard Kessler, executive director of New York City’s Center for Arts Education said:

Our government does not fund the arts on that kind of level, on that sort of basis. So what happens is El Sistema has to be translated into something that’s American and I think in the translation, generally speaking, it doesn’t look very different than many very good youth orchestra programs.

In other words, in the U.S., parents’ budgets and private support have filled the gap when public funding falls short.

In the 21st century, iPad technology and apps provide exciting new tools for music educators and students. Some students are even writing and performing pop music with iPads:


How do you think music education has changed in the last 100 years?


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Additional source: Labuta, Joseph A. Music Education: Historical Contexts and Perspectives. Prentice Hall, Inc. 1997.

Photo credits: Nathan RussellHunter-Desportes


YouTube Pint-sized Stars: the Singers

Whether it’s because they are naturally photogenic, talented, or a combination of both, child stars and musical prodigies have always held our interest.

Shirley Temple captured the nation’s hearts with her bouncy curls and enthusiastic dancing and singing. Under the auspices of driven stage mothers and the studio system during Hollywood’s Golden Age, children attained a type of hard-won stardom.


Old movies of both Temple and Mickey Rooney fascinate us as much as today’s videos of any winsome child who displays prodigious talent at an early age.

Take for example Jackie Evancho‘s inspirational story. Discovered on America’s Got Talent at the tender age of ten, she looks like an angel with her blue eyes, blonde hair and sweet smile. She also has the voice of an operatic soprano, and her version of Giacomo Puccini’s “O Mio Babbino Caro” has over 11.5 million views on YouTube:

Jackie’s 2010 Christmas album “O Holy Night” reached  the top spot on the Billboard Classical Chart and second place on the Billboard Holiday chart.


America’s Got Talent has fostered many other children’s singing careers by giving them unprecedented exposure, whether they get beyond the semi-finalist stage or not.  Kaitlyn Maher is the youngest person ever to make it as a Top 10 Finalist on “America’s Got Talent.” The video below is of adorable sounding four-year old Kaitlyn with over 22 million views on YouTube:

Now seven years old, Kaitlyn has had a busy schedule in the last three years, including singing at the White House and at numerous professional sporting events, appearing in major motion pictures and national television shows.


For children who aren’t competing on nationally televised talent shows like “Talent,” YouTube makes it easier than ever to attain Andy Warhol’s predicted 15 minutes of fame (and beyond). Young kids are posting a plethora of videos of themselves performing covers of popular songs, from Adele to rap to Lady Gaga on the popular website.

Maria Aragon is one such child, who began posting videos of herself singing covers on YouTube at the age of seven. In the video below (her 72nd!), Maria Aragon covers Lady Gaga’s “Born this Way,” singing and accompanying herself on a keyboard. The video led her to perform two concerts in Toronto with Lady Gaga in March 2011, and has garnered over 48 million views on YouTube:


On the international front, Caroline Costa,  a French native, sounds like a pop star decades older than her 15 years. Her biography reveals an early inclination towards music and singing, nurtured by her parents and family. This video of her singing three years ago when she was only twelve has garnered over 18 million views on YouTube.


The trio Vasquez Sounds is made up of siblings: Ángela (10 years old), Gustavo (13) and Abelardo(15) Vázquez Espinoza. Their father Abelardo has worked with Reik, Nikki Clan and Camila, as well as producing the trio’s highly professional looking videos. Vasquez Sounds’ cover of Adele’s Rolling in the Deep reached #1 on YouTube in Mexico and has nearly 40 million total views:


RealityChangers is the YouTube moniker of law student, photographer, writer and visual artist Jorge Narvaez who also plays guitar and has a great singing voice. The video below, a cover of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” features Narvaez performing with his expressive daughter Alexa. It’s hard to say how viral or popular the video would have been with only the father singing, or with only the child singing, but together, this video has garnered over 17 million views.


Sophia Grace Brownlee and cousin Rosie are two British girls who enjoy performing covers of popular rap tunes. They have made repeat appearances recently on The Ellen DeGeneres Show. Here is their hugely popular version of “Turn My Swag On” by Keri Hilson which has gotten 7 million views on YouTube:

Ellen DeGeneres asked them to cover the Grammys, and offered them new costumes and tiaras to wear, which the little girls were only too thrilled to accept.

On a subsequent episode of Ellen, to their unbridled delight, Sophia who is eight years old and Rosie, who is only five, both got to meet Nicki Minaj. Minaj was extraordinarily supportive and urged them to stay in school while continuing their musical endeavors.

The Melody Book encourages all children to express themselves and share their talents with the YouTube “nation.” You never know, your dreams could come true!

Stay tuned for our next post in our series of YouTube pint-sized stars.

Do you have a favorite video of a young singer performing a cover of a popular song? Please share your favorites in the comments below!


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+



A Jazzy Day

Have you heard about The Mozart Effect?

Although this particular study was shown to be exaggerated by the media, other research studies show the positive effects of music education on wellness, brain power and academic performance. The effects are especially beneficial when children are exposed to music education at an early age.

For example, the journal Neurological Research has reported that

Students who were exposed to music-based lessons scored a full 100 percent higher on fractions tests than those who learned in the conventional manner.

Learning how to play an instrument can boost a child’s confidence, too. A McGill University study found that students given piano instruction over a three-year period experienced improved self-esteem.

In our efforts to continue developing educational apps for all musicians, we were inspired by the potential of combining app technology with music for younger audiences. In this current economic climate, the arts and music education are continually at risk of being cut. What better way to supplement your child’s existing musical education than with a fun, accessible app? For example, do your children know what a piano sounds like or what a trumpet looks like?

Our newest release, A Jazzy Day, is an educational tool that showcases music instruments using jazz music, including how sections work together in a jazz ensemble. It’s a great way to help kids learn about music and musical instruments. Hand drawn characters and instruments, along with recordings of live music are animated to help children recognize musical instruments both by sight and by how they sound.

Our goal is to encourage children’s interest in music, and to inspire them to pick up a music instrument and play!


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+


Interview with Yaron Herman

Yaron Herman is a charismatic and passionate pianist and composer whose youth belies amazing talent and experience. He has performed more than 100 concerts in 30 different countries at venues including the Théâtre des Champs Elysées in Paris and the Sumida Triphony Hall in Tokyo, not to mention jazz festivals at Monterey, Montréal and San Francisco. Herman was also the first Jazz pianist to play in the Forbidden City in Beijing.

Herman has garnered many honors, including best new instrumentalist of the year at the 2008 Victoires du Jazz, the Sunside New Talents Trophy and the 2007 Adami Jazz Talent award. Herman’s Variations album won the Disque d’émoi award from Jazz Magazine.

The Melody Book recently spoke with Yaron Herman:

Q:  How did you meet and decide to work with the newest members of your trio, Chris Tordini (bass) and Tommy Crane (drums)?

A:  It happened quite naturally. I was playing with bass player Matt Brewer, who was a part of my first trio, along with Gerald Cleaver on drums. There were a few tours that Gerald couldn’t attend, and I was looking for another drummer, so Matt recommended Tommy Crane, since they had worked together for several years. The three of us worked well together, and it was a lot of fun, so we decided to do an entire project together one day. Later on I decided to change the lineup, and Tommy recommended Chris Tordini. Chris, Tommy and I toured together and the music was really intense, and we recorded our first album Follow the White Rabbit together and that’s how it all happened.


Q:  How do you choose the pieces you perform? Have you gotten any feedback from the artists you cover, such as Björk, The Police, or Britney Spears?

A:  When it’s my own composition, these are usually ideas that I’ve been working on for a while in my head, or I’m trying to express a certain feeling or mood through sound. The songs we play are an expression of an interior need to get something out. When I write it down it’s coming through me, I don’t really understand how and why, but that’s how it works. When I choose to play a standard or some covers, it’s usually because the songs have a special meaning for me, and they’ve been a part of my musical landscape growing up. Or they are songs that I’ve known and loved for a long time. You always want to play with elements which are close to you, that have an emotional impact, so I try and stay close to that.

Unfortunately, I haven’t gotten any feedback from any of the artists I cover. I would love to have a phone call from Britney saying something like: “It’s Britney, bitch!” but that hasn’t happened yet. It’s possible that Sting heard my version of “Message in a Bottle,” because his guitar player, Dominic Miller, who I know very well, loved the arrangement.


Q:  What are the most significant differences in your experiences performing as a soloist, as opposed to with your trio or guest musicians?

A:  When you’re playing alone, you’re more free to go wherever you want, whenever you want, which is a lot of fun. I don’t have to worry about what will happen if I try something and the others aren’t able to follow, or they don’t go in the same direction. On the other hand, when you’re playing alone, you have less input and you have to come up with everything all the time. You can’t really take a step back and observe the music. You’re so much a part of creating the content, editing the content, and directing all at the same time, you’re doing the job of four people, at least. And this is all in real time when you’re dealing with improvisation, so it can be a rough task. Still, the freedom is incredible, and I love doing solo work.

When you play with others, the advantage is the communication. You exchange ideas, and you get different points of view on your own music. When you share your ideas you can see them transformed while you’re performing. It’s just like in life; sometimes it’s good to be alone, and sometimes it’s good to be friends sharing ideas, thoughts and feelings. I guess you have to have both to have a complete experience of what it means to create music.


Q:  Who are your favorite classical and contemporary musicians? Who inspires and influences you?

A:  That’s a long list of people. From the classical world, I’d say Bach, Brahms, ChopinBartók, and Messiaen. These are the first names that pop up, I’m sure I’m forgetting many other influential and incredible musicians, which I love. From the jazz world, it’s also a long list, from Art Tatum, Bud Powell, Monk, Charlie Parker, Miles Davis, and all the usual suspects. From the pop world, there are the artists everyone likes, like Björk, Radiohead and Blonde Redhead, as well as other bands I’m discovering every day, like Mode Selektor and Deerhoof. I try to keep my ears open every day, because there is so much great music out there, some of it by people you don’t really hear about, so you have to seek it out. There are a lot of young people today creating great music too; I try to keep an open ear for inspiration.


Q: What projects are you working on currently?

A:  Right now I’m composing for a new record which will be released this September. It will be a quartet, but not the traditional kind of quartet. This one will include solo, duo and trio formats. I guess this will be the most personal album I’ve worked on so far in terms of the melodies and compositional development. I’m really looking forward to this one, actually. I’m so bad with names and I don’t have a title for it yet, but I’m thinking about it. I wish I could just release albums without names and still have people buy them! It’s like parents who wait until their baby is born to give them a name. I’m waiting to see what it is before I name it.

I will also be doing some classical music projects and solo piano performances, playing with Michel Portal, but I’m mostly concentrating on my new album, which takes a lot of time and energy.


You can hear Official Bootlegs of Yaron Herman’s music here. For more information on Yaron Herman′s upcoming concerts and performances, check the Concert section on his website.


Giuliana is a writer and social media strategist who lives in Jersey City with her husband and adorable Maltese puppy, Bianca. Connect with Giuliana on Google+