As the father of a 3-year-old I’m always combing Tampa Bay for things to do with my son. I don’t see nearly enough of him during the workweek, and my gut instinct is to try and make up for my absence by packing in as much fun as possible on the weekends. My last two Saturdays were spent pretending to drive a fire truck at Great Explorations, darting through a sprinkler at Dell Home Park splash park, and riding a train around Tyrone Square Mall, while chatting with another father desperately looking for more things to do with his child.
Henry enjoyed all of these entertainment pit stops, but I sometimes feel I’m forcing the fun — as if the kid would have been just as happy throwing rocks at a wall in our backyard. Yeah, we’ve done that, too.
I really hit the father-son bonding jackpot this weekend with a Music & Me class at Shorecrest Elementary School in St. Petersburg. The concept is pretty simple: parents and children in a circle, singing songs and dancing around as led by an instructor. Henry’s a fairly musical kid — he “plays” the drums and daddy’s guitar (while daddy looks on with deep concern for the instrument). His musical tastes are as influenced by Katy Perry (I blame his mother) as they are Phish (I blame me). Much to my delight, the class kept him captivated for a full 50 minutes, a minor miracle I would not have believed had I not seen it.
Instructor Colleen McGrath laid out the ground rules before the class started: follow her lead and let Henry experience it in whatever way comes naturally to him. This filled me with some trepidation, since Henry’s natural state exists somewhere between Dennis the Menace and the Tasmanian Devil. I figured she asked for it.
Henry and I took our spot in the circle as class began. Colleen picked up a guitar and led the group through a series of children’s songs composed or adapted by Music & Me curriculum provider Music Together. For some songs we sat, for others we stood and danced around. With each new tune I could see Henry getting increasingly excited. By the time Colleen broke out a bag of percussion instruments my kid seemed ready to explode — but in a positive, focused way.
Henry grabbed a drum and matching drumsticks, quite an accomplishment considering the kiddie free-for-all that descended on the pile of drums, tambourines and maracas as they fell from the bag. Colleen handed the parents eggs filled with sand for shaking, and we all made music together as a group. For a brief moment the wall between the children and the adults came down, and we all shared in the musical moment. OK, maybe not as equals (there’s not much beat-keeping at age 3), but at least as co-participants. The wall went back up around the time Colleen collected the instruments into two bags, one for the dry and one for the drool-soaked.
As I looked around I realized that most of the kids were as into the class as my child, and all the parents had the same silly grin on their faces, including myself. This is a tribute to Colleen, who made a seemingly impossible task — enthralling a group of 15 or so pre-kindergarteners and their exhausted, harried parents — appear effortless. A trained opera singer, Colleen has a crystalline voice. She holds degrees in musical performance and opera from Carnegie Mellon and Boston Conservatory and has performed worldwide as a coloratura soprano. I would have paid to hear her sing the phonebook.
Music & Me offers an assortment of summer programs starting in June at locations across Pinellas County. I’m sure we’ll be signing Henry up. In my never-ending quest to find things to do, these classes will surely have us making beautiful noise all summer long.
Find out much more about Music & Me at youandmeandmt.yourvirtuoso.com.