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This article by Bart Jackson was prepared for the March 26, 2003 edition of U.S. 1 Newspaper. All rights reserved.
Uncorking that Joyful Noise
The fire flickers high and everybody knows the tune.
Those who forget the words clap and "la la la" to the rhythm.
A little boy, without fear, stands and proudly sings the next chorus
loudly. Music as it should be. This is God’s gift to absolutely everyone,
since we first heard that waltz rhythm pulsating warmly from our mother’s
I was that little boy, and I have spied him since around scores of
campfires. Yet I don’t see him much in America anymore. His chorus
has been replaced. "Now sit down, be quiet and don’t move, kid,
and you’ll learn to appreciate some really good music up on that stage."
Professional performers produce, and we stoically absorb. The aggressive
capitalism of the music industry has successfully jammed recorded
tunes into every corner of our lives. Music has become a passive activity
in America. And no one walks down the street whistling a tune anymore.
Ken Guilmartin has labored diligently and very skillfully to reverse
this tragedy for the past 15 years. His widely lauded network of 850
Music Together schools and its curriculum development arm, the Center
for Music and Young Children (CMYC), celebrating its 15th anniversary
this month, are placing the gifts of song and music back where they
belong — in the home, on our lips, and out of the pockets of performers.
"Every human has musical intelligence," says Guilmartin. "Four
short months into gestation, we can hear sounds. A few weeks later,
we can differentiate tones. Imagine the joy at birth when we can actually
produce sound for ourselves. No wonder kids never stop experimenting
The scientific community and a huge body of research agree: the musical
infant is the norm. Sandra Trehub’s experiments at the University
of Toronto have shown that eight-month-old infants not only differentiate
rhythm and tone, they can remember melodies. (They seem to prefer
Mozart over more dissonant tunes.) By age five, a full musical understanding
and brain development are already in place. Arlene Walker-Andrews,
psychologist of infant development at Rutgers University, warns parents
that all nature’s gifts, particularly music, come within a broad time
range and the date of arrival in no way foretells the extent of ability.
In Music Together’s 10 Princeton area labs, these findings are confirmed
daily. At 66 Witherspoon Street, up on the second floor, Janet Campbell-Drexler
dumps an enticing assortment of bells, wood block drums, rattles,
and tambourines before the circle of toddlers and parents. As she
sings and strums a strongly rhythmic tune, both adults and children
join in, playing their instruments in time. One little blonde terror,
Alex, navigates the circle at a dead run, rattling his tambourine
and jumping in time to the music. Madeline, swaying in her grandmother’s
arms, sings her own rendition. All additions to this gleeful cacophony
are delightfully encouraged.
So, all God’s children got rhythm. It won’t mean a thing, insists
Guilmartin, if the adults don’t do that swing. He has adopted the
learning theories of scientists Lilian Katz and Edwin Gordon, stating
that a child’s dispositions toward all learning, especially music,
depend on continued examples displayed by the surrounding adults.
Guilmartin’s own and much needed contribution is carrying these facts
beyond the lab and guiding them into people’s homes. His Music Together
credo asserts that music must be fostered in a playful, non-performance
atmosphere, and nurtured by the child’s primary caregivers. In this
mix he includes the spontaneous singing and sways of not only parents,
but teachers, relatives, and day care workers.
Out on the studio floor, parents hoist their youngsters
aloft and weave rhythmically in a circle to a recording, a Guilmartin
creation. Amidst this odd flow of joyful humanity, the teacher stands
waving unabashedly like a windswept tree. The room is cleansed of
all adult performance inhibitions; anxieties these children will probably
"Now remember folks," says Drexler-Campbell, "when you
are bathing your children, sing and rub the washcloth to a definite
beat. It’s fun." While Music Together insists it is not a school
(parents seeking to mold a diaper-clad concert violinist, best look
elsewhere), a definite training program does get passed along to the
parents. Using such practical techniques as the washtub rhythms, parents
are learning to instill music in their own homes and lives.
Like any clever invention, all these Guilmartin techniques appear
remarkably simple. Bounce your child on your knee as you as you sing
a la-la-la song to help reinforce the beat. Anyone knows that. But
each song and technique has been slowly created, then honed in the
Guilmartin-led Center for Music and Young Children workshop, before
going out to the 10 Princeton-area laboratory schools where it is
held up to the light and criticized by teachers. If successful, the
song then becomes available to the 850 Music Together schools across
nine different countries.
Like any achievement, it results from a blend of science, art, and
in Guilmartin’s case long family tradition. In the 1930s the simple
but surprisingly profitable tune, "Happy Birthday To You,"
fell into the hands of music publisher John F. Sengstack — Guilmartin’s
grandfather. This little song, written by Kentucky kindergarten teachers
Patty and Mildred Hill in 1893, grew wildly popular and became the
business show piece for Sengstack’s firm (see story below). The firm,
the Birch Tree Group, passed on to Guilmartin’s uncle, David Sengstack,
who used some of the "Happy Birthday" profits to finance his
nephew’s musicology studies.
Guilmartin launched into his career as a truly wandering minstrel
with a scientific bent. After graduating from Swarthmore in l967,
he hit the Big Apple where he played jazz cafes, teaming up with B.B.
King, and other music greats.
"It was a fabulous time in New York," he recalls. "Everybody
was there — playing and experimenting." He composed for the
New York Shakespeare Festival, wrote and launched several off-Broadway
musicals, and even tried a stint as music director for a singing telegram
Yet accompanying all this exciting play came the strong notes of serious
study. At Westminster Choir College and the Juilliard School Guilmartin
practiced his own skills and kept up with music learning theory. Moving
on to the Manhattan School of Music and the Manhattan Dalcroze Institute,
he absorbed more and began to develop his own theories.
But it was in l985 that the Guilmartin theories coalesced into practice.
Guilmartin’s daughter, Lauren, had entered the Montclair Cooperative
School. At the same time, his grandmother had suffered a stroke that
impaired her speech. Taking his turn at the co-op school’s parent
teaching days, Guilmartin would try to involve the children actively
in music. Then he would visit his grandmother. "What amazed me,"
he remembers, "was that the most successful techniques I tried
for each were exactly the same. My grandmother could not speak, but
interestingly she could sing. In the end, I had her directing the
kids’ music with a baton in her good arm. And she kept perfect time."
The Entrepreneurial Snowball
In 1987 Guilmartin took the step that has made thousands
of teachers envious. Out there among the schools and clubs hide a
multitude of people who give little workshops or lectures for free
or a tiny honorarium. At night, they dream of making this into a full
time business that would release them from the grind of the day job.
A few even fantasize about branching out into franchises. Then usually,
they start to doze, getting a good night’s rest for the next day’s
But Guilmartin was more dedicated. He had the invention: a new music
learning program. Two years prior he had founded the Center for Music
in Young Children. Through this agency, and with the aid of co-author
Dr. Lili Levinowitz, he had developed a solid body of songs and specific
techniques. (Dr. Levinowitz, currently professor of children’s music
development at Rowan University, still collaborates for the CMYC publications.)
Guilmartin also had the energy, business talent, and in addition,
he had that small, oh-so-necessary start-up funding from Birch Tree
Group and its Happy Birthday cash cow.
In l987 he stepped across the river and rented a room in Pennsylvania
and opened his Music Together program to the public. "It was mostly
family referrals for the first year," Guilmartin says. But the
firm had answered a need and parents flooded the school with toddlers
in tow. Within a year, Music Together moved into Princeton, first
renting space in the Westminster Conservatory, then in a Nassau Street
ballet school, and finally in 266 Witherspoon and the nine other Princeton
Expansion came more from natural interest than aggressive planning.
"I definitely see myself as an entrepreneur," says Guilmartin,
"along with publisher, composer, teacher, and several other hats.
But our real growth has come from outside people wanting to learn
our method and take it back to their home areas."
Franchise — with its implication of high buy-in cost — is
a dirty word around Music Together and is also not entirely accurate.
Janet Campbell-Drexler, after being assessed, qualified for Music
Together’s $350 three-day intensive immersion training course. In
addition to teaching at the Princeton school, she runs her own shop
in Flemington using all the CMYC techniques and publications. An initial
investment of the $50 licensing fee plus about $500 worth of Music
Together supplies can get a teacher going, followed by occasional
refresher courses and new materials.
She proved an ideal Music Together candidate. Trained in oboe and
graduated from the University of Georgia with a music therapy degree,
she worked at the Hunterdon Development Center for two decades. One
day she was asked to entertain at a children’s birthday party. She
fell in love with kids and has never looked back. "Actual music
educators are seldom the best Music Together teachers," smiles
Guilmartin. "They must first shed all their well-taught preconceptions."
Actors typically make excellent M.T. teachers, provided they can remember
they are participating, not performing.
But with a meticulous eye on the right teachers and
the right product, Music Together continues to flourish. Mothers of
newborns right up to kindergarten children bring them into their first
semester of 10 weekly 50-minute classes, which cost $150 for the first
child, $120 for the siblings. Within three weeks, they have pre-registered
for the next session. "I really came at first just to get out
of the house," admits Jennifer, mother of Sammy, who incessantly
helps the teacher strum her guitar. "But Sammy loves it so much,
for his last birthday, I got him a little guitar and now he calls
us all together to sing."
"So good for you Ken, baby," quoth the cynic. "You’ve
managed to make a fortune out of warm fuzzies. Today’s moms and dads,
for whom parenting is a competitive sport, are terrified lest their
darlings miss out on any skill, and you’ve played to their anxieties
beautifully." Guilmartin’s remarkably calm reply: "Consider
the alternative." Music nets homo sapiens a lot more than bonding
Since l975, studies have consistently proven that musical training
has improved reading skills in first graders and raised IQ scores
in all school children. Additionally, music training fosters abstract
cognitive ability and the entire realm of creativity. Skills so vital
to creating society’s necessary items, such as a new guided missile
or wildly profitable video game, depend on musical participation for
their enhancement. "We create everything as artists," explains
Guilmartin. "We begin by playing creatively, which then leads
us to extrapolate into discovery. This is the artistic process. We
use it as children, we depend on it as adults."
Doubtless, music has its charms. Be it Beethoven grandly presented
by the New Jersey Symphony in the magnificent acoustics of the New
Jersey Performing Arts Center, or the simple swing and sway of a mother
walking her child through the park. The simple tunes that always swim
within this writer’s brain have eased the tiring, rhythmic hours of
countless long paddling trips. And it also, apparently, nets some
excellent benefits on personal cognition. But the music we joyously
hold within and frequently release out loud, reaches beyond ear and
mind; it touches the soul.
and Music Together LLC (publisher of materials), 66 Witherspoon
Street, Princeton, 609-924-7801; fax, 609-924-8457. Ken Guilmartin,
founder and CEO. Diane L. Girer, school director. Spring, 2003, class
schedule is at www.musictogether.com To sign up, call 609-924-7801,
Spring Sample Classes
age four. Free with preregistration. Wednesday, April 2, 9:30 a.m.
to age four. Free with preregistration. Wednesday, April 2, 9:30
and 10:30 a.m.
to age four. Free with preregistration. Friday, April 4, 9:30 and
for newborn to age four. Free with preregistration. Friday, April
4, 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.
Happy Birthday is such a ubiquitous tune that it sounds
like it might be folk music, but it has the copyright protection secured
by Ken Guilmartin’s grandfather, John F. Sengstack. First known as
"Good Morning to You," the tune was published in 1893 in a
book for Sunday school teachers, and then people started using the
tune for the "Happy Birthday" words. Sengstack’s Clayton F.
Summy Company found the tune in its portfolio and published a copyrighted
instrumental arrangement, by its employee Preston Ware Orem, in 1935.
John Sengstack passed the business on to his son, David, the brother
of Ken Guilmartin’s mother Joan, a psychiatric social worker. Known
as Summy Birchard and then as the Birch Tree Group, this company published
the innovative Frances Clark piano library, which had been developed
by Clark and Louise Goss at the New School of Music (now located on
Route 27 in Kingston). David Sengstack moved the business from Evanston,
Illinois, to Princeton in 1978. He had also acquired the rights to
all Suzuki materials sold outside of Japan.
In 1990 David Sengstack sold the Birch Tree Group to Warner Brothers,
not for the $25 million that has been reported, but, he says, for
$15 million. "We were the last of the old small companies to be
picked up for a pretty good price," says Sengstack, who suggests
the Happy Birthday tune was worth about $5 million the Suzuki rights
were also worth $5 million.
Sengstack, who has five children plus his nephew Guilmartin, says
he distributed those proceeds to family members and used $1.5 million
to establish a non-profit foundation. With his background in Suzuki
training, he was interested in promoting awareness of the importance
of early childhood development. Yet his 1993 attempt to use his own
and the foundation’s funds to publish an early childhood development
newsletter did not prove viable. Meanwhile his daughter, Lynn Sengstack,
represented the family interests at Warner Brothers for a while and
is now general manager for her cousin’s enterprise, Music Together.
— Barbara Fox
David K. Sengstack, chairman. 609-419-0081.
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