CASSELBERRY – Reflecting back on her childhood, Marla Stevenson says she still has warm and fuzzy memories of the activities that brought her family together around the holidays.
“At Christmas, we would all sit around the piano and sing the Christmas carols together,” she said. “I really believe it’s a family affair, and we loved that.”
It isn’t just the fact that Christmas is now three weeks away that puts Stevenson into the spirit of the season. Those Christmas memories actually mean so much more to her, she said, because they also reflect the remarkable way that music serves as the perfect tool to bring families together.
“And I’m trying to bring that back,” she said. “What I’d love is to bring music back to the homes. “
She hopes to do just that – and long past the holidays this month. A key date will be Wednesday, Dec. 14, when she’s inviting the public to come out to the Arthur Murray Ballroom Dance Studio at 1271 State Road 436 in Casselberry from 10 a.m. to noon to celebrate the grand opening of Seminole County Music Together, in what is expected to be a gathering of business professionals and families to see how they can support one another through music.
“It’s going to be a blast,” Stevenson said.
Stevenson is the director of Seminole County Music Together, which was founded through the Center for Music and Young Children. The concept is simple: that children can achieve basic music competence if they’re put in an environment where they can learn about music, tap to the beat, and be creative. It’s also a place where children can learn from adults, including their parents and family members, and form closer bonds by uniting around something everyone loves: music.
“I’ve always loved music,” Stevenson said. “I played the clarinet in school, and I would perform at Christian camps when I was young. Before that, I would lead children’s praise and worship in church. That was what I really liked to do.”
Stevenson used to operate an in-home day care that focused on playing music, which led to Music Together.
“I’ve always incorporated music into my own children,” she said. “I have three daughters, and they all love music.”
Stevenson began her “Music Together with Marla” program in 2001 in Maryland, where she established seven center locations. She recently relocated to Seminole County, with the aim of helping families with babies, toddlers, and preschool children to reap the benefits of music. Her Music Together program now has locations at the Arthur Murray Dance Studio in Casselberry, University Performing Arts Center in Oviedo, Dance Trance Fitness in College Park, and Turning Point Dance Studio in Longwood.
“Children can learn to have confidence by participating in music,” Stevenson said. “I think 85 percent of children when they enter kindergarten can’t carry a beat and are at a disadvantage. Here they can learn to keep a steady beat and participate in music with confidence, and join the chorus. Children learn to walk and talk by imitating those they are closest around.”
The classes aim to develop within these kids a love for music – something likely to happen to them anyway as they grow older, she said.
“In class, it’s not formal,” she said. “We don’t sit the children down and make them do what we tell them to do. We’re creating a musical community and musical environment. We’re tapping to the beat. The children want to do it, too, and they become a part of that. It’s really a cool process. I do a lot of parent education and they bring their kids here, and I’m really teaching their parents how to raise their children musically. I actually work out of four studios. We spread out, and they can choose which location and what day and what time, and then they register online.”
The classes cost $190 for 10 weeks.
“They come in once a week for 45 minutes with a child, and it’s a class of 12 children or less,” Stevenson said. “That’s the max. We want to keep it small and intimate. Each family receives a DVD and a book on how to make the most of their music together. The parents get a growth chart, to see how their child develops musically, and then you can watch the progress. The classes are mixed ages, from birth to 5 years old.”
After the 10 weeks are over, the students can keep learning if they want to.
“We have nine song collections in Music Together, so we run in semesters,” she said. “We strongly encourage adult participation. The typical class would include the mothers and fathers and primary caregivers with the children. Through Music Together, they have their own training process.”
The grand opening of Seminole County Music Together will be hosted by the Central Florida Women’s Chamber. Guests will be able to enjoy live music by Michael Grier of Sparks Family Enrichment Center.
Brandyn Seiferth of the National Processing Company and the president of Central Florida Women’s Chamber, and Pastor Todd Lamphere of First Baptist Church Altamonte Springs, will be the guest speakers.
There will also be a business card raffle, and the winning business will win donation recognition to the Children’s Home Society in Casselberry.
To learn more, log on to www.seminolemusictogether.com or www.musictogether.com, or call 407-844-4414.
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