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Born to sing (and play)

Lisa Foley and daughter Brynnley experienced playing instruments together at “Making Music, Praying Twice,” a new music program for the very young, held at St. Henry's School. Marie Nitke/FOCUS1 / 2
Ann Dardis shows toddler Alex Hill how to shake his egg shakers to the beat of a song. Marie Nitke/FOCUS2 / 2

According to Ann Dardis, “We’re all born with the abilities of a future concert symphony player.”

Most of us lose that inborn ability as we get older, but the odds of maintaining it go way up, Dardis says, if it’s nurtured from a young age. For the same reasons that young children are easily able to pick up a second language if they’re raised in a bi-lingual household, they’re able to learn the language of music if it’s a regular part of their lives from an early age.

Research shows that young children are natural learners, who don’t need teachers so much as strong role models and learning environments. Information shared by Dardis states that a child’s brain synapses actually grow to allow them to access and master presented material. This happens through the age of eight, and at a greater pace before the age of three, but the ability slows over time.

That’s why, Dardis says, “the earlier, the better when it comes to musical ability.”

And that’s why Dardis has started a new music program for very young children, ages 0 to 5. Called “Making Music, Praying Twice,” the program is being offered on Wednesday afternoons and evenings, at St. Henry’s School gymnasium.

If last Wednesday afternoon’s class was any indication, the program is a bonafide hit, with kids and parents alike.

The kids’ enthusiasm reared up again and again throughout the class, with the little ones squealing, cheering and clapping with delight whenever their ‘just my size’ instruments were brought out, or when Dardis would start singing a funny song they recognized, or when the colorful play parachute was unfolded.

Sure, the toddlers liked to put the instruments in their mouths. And sure, the older kids had some pent-up energy that only running around in circles could seem to release.

But amid the inevitable chaos that comes with this age group, there was also plenty of evidence of learning going on. The kids, even the toddlers, were picking out beats here and there, clapping along to songs. And during sing-alongs, the older kids recognized when high notes were coming and would try to adjust their voices to stay on pitch.

The kids were also obviously having fun, and were sharing that fun with their moms, who couldn’t help but smile and laugh through the whole 45-minute class.

“My kids really enjoy it,” said Lisa Foley, whose three young ones – Breckin, Brevan and Brynnley – are all in the music program. “When we play the CD (of music from the class) at home, Breckin (the oldest) knows all the words, so they’re obviously learning something.”

While CDs come with the program materials and a few songs are played in class, Dardis said the emphasis is on music made purely with the kids’ own voices and clapping, “so the kids don’t think they need to have an instrument or recording of some sort to make music.”

With kids this young, Dardis said, the learning emphasis is mainly on watching and listening, with the adults in the room “modeling” an appreciation of music, which the kids can and do pick up on. That said, the kids actively partake in singing, dancing, clapping and chanting. They’re exposed to concepts like rhythm, tonality, pitch and meters. The focus is not on the terminology of these things, but rather on getting the kids to get a sense or feeling about music, to start thinking musically.

Clapping or playing an instrument along with a song, for example, familiarizes kids with the concept of rhythm, and singing gets them thinking about pitch.

The babies, Dardis explained, will get held and swayed to the beat of a song by their parents, and they’ll watch the activity in the room. Once the kids get a little older, they start trying to match rhythm and pitch on their own. In the final stage of the class, the 4- and 5-year-olds start to put physical and musical things together at the same time, such as singing and dancing.

Dardis took a two-day training course in Madison, Wis., to become certified in the “Making Music, Praying Twice,” program, which has been around for several years in other parts of the nation, but is new to Perham. Dardis just started teaching the class at St. Henry’s School this past fall. The class incorporates some prayer and spiritual music, but is open to families of all faiths.

Dardis has a masters of education degree in music therapy, and works as the music coordinator at St. Henry’s.

“I’ve always had a love of doing different education and music-related things,” she said.

She added that she’s always wanted to offer something for kids, especially once she became a parent of her own, to 3-year-old daughter, Joanna.

Dardis brought the idea for this class to the church deacon, Randy Altstadt, and Father Matthew Kuhn, who were both supportive.

While working with the little ones is new for Dardis, she said she really likes it. The challenge is to keep them focused, she said; structuring the class to be fast-paced and switching gears often helps keep the kids’ attention and interest levels up.

Dardis will be leading a Christmas Music Day for parents and their little ones on Saturday, Dec. 14 at 10 a.m., 4:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. in the St. Henry’s School Gym. This fun, low-pressure activity day will give parents and their babies and kids up to 5 years old a chance to sing, dance and play instruments together to celebrate the spirit of Christmas. The class is being offered at no charge, but freewill offerings will be accepted.

Regular winter classes are held select Wednesdays at 3:30 p.m. and 7 p.m. Classes last about 45 minutes to an hour. There is a tuition cost of $50 per family, which includes eight classes, two CDs and illustrated songbooks.

To pre-register for the Christmas Music Day, or for more information about the music program in general, contact Ann Dardis at 346-3429 or

Marie Johnson

Marie Johnson joined the Perham Focus more than five years ago, and has since worn many hats as writer, editor and page designer. She lives in rural Frazee with her husband, Dan, their one-year-old son, Simon, and their yellow lab, Louisa. 

(218) 346-5900 x222