`Happy Birthday’ Connection

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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

own heart.

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

with noise."

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

never know.

"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

area centers.

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

and cuddles.

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.

Center for Music and Young Children (the educational division)

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,

ext. 334.

Spring Sample Classes

Music Together, Kingston. Sample class for newborn to

age four. Free with preregistration. Wednesday, April 2, 9:30 a.m.

Music Together, Pennington. Sample classes for newborn

to age four. Free with preregistration. Wednesday, April 2, 9:30

and 10:30 a.m.

Music Together, East Windsor. Sample classes for newborn

to age four. Free with preregistration. Friday, April 4, 9:30 and

10:30 a.m.

Music Together, Princeton Shopping Center. Sample classes

for newborn to age four. Free with preregistration. Friday, April

4, 9:30 and 10:30 a.m.

Top Of Page
`Happy Birthday’ Connection

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

The Sengstack Foundation, Box 707, Princeton 08542.

David K. Sengstack, chairman. 609-419-0081.

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