Lessons, what music lessons?

Families play together in innovative music program coming to SW

Little Liam Schaper, 2 1/2, is a music lover. Liam has been attending Music Together classes with his mother, Nora Schaper, of Kingfield, since he was six months old. Long after class-time, he's still singing, running around the house clapping "Hey, Diddle, Diddle," or playing his triangle -- correctly.

While Nora, who also brings her four-month-old, Owen, to the classes, attributes much of Liam's ability to grasp a triangle by the string and hit it just right with the silver striker to the fact that she, of course, has "two genius children," she also thinks the Music Together classes might have something to do with his musical proclivities.

The Schapers attend the Music Together class at Our Lady of Peace in Nokomis. This April, however, the program will begin at a Southwest site, Temple Israel at 2324 Emerson Ave. S.

"Classes are geared toward having fun, not so much on skills," says Jessica Lee, who teaches the South Minneapolis classes. They sound more like jam sessions, combining traditional tunes and nursery rhymes with instruments, finger exercises and lots of movement. "It's really expressive," said Schaper. "They use scarves for dances and pretend they're choo-choo trains."

Rather than the "sit and sing" sessions of days of yore, Music Together classes are more like a playgroup -- one that includes and focuses on other wee ones, babies through kindergarteners, but is also open to the whole family. Older siblings often hold babies in their laps. According to program director Tom Lee, parent-child and community relationships are an important part of the classes -- from rocking activities to circle dances where younger ones sit in the middle.

During class the young and young at heart play egg-shakers (mini-maracas), bang tambourines and drums, rub rhythm sticks -- bright wooden rods with a bumpy and a smooth side -- on the floor, or play tone blocks that mimic horse clops.

Underneath the symphony of bangs, clicks and clangs, is a consistent structure. Schaper's sister lives in California where she and her son, also 2 1/2, attend local classes of this international program. When visiting, the families attend their local Music Together class together. Since the programs use the same music, Liam and his cousin can play songs together. Plus, adds Schaper, there is no extra charge for bringing more family members.

Sessions run seven to 10 weeks and focus on a broad range of music, from Broadway tunes to more traditional themes, but the classes always begin with a hello song to welcome everyone by name, include a jam session and end with the goodbye song.

Things don't end there. There's plenty of take-home materials in the Schaper residence: CDs from each session, homework assignments and plenty of rhythm sticks and, of course, a triangle. There's also drums, which are more interesting, says Schaper, since her boy geniuses like to hit each other with the drumsticks.

Monday classes, 9:30-10:30 a.m., begin at Temple Israel April 7. Sessions run seven to 10 weeks and cost approximately $130. Classes include six to 12 children and accompanying adults. For more information call 825-5942 or go to www.ensemblemusic.net.