One of the first things children are taught to say at Silver Music is "I like chocolate ice cream. " While this may seem like a way to enhance a kid's sweet tooth, it is actually a clever method of teaching one of the primary rhythms of the Suzuki method. "We used to have ice cream parties at the end of the year, " the founder, Ellen Silver, told me. "We didn't want to torture the children by just talking about ice cream all year – but now there are just too many students. "Ellen, a cellist who has worked as a teacher with the internationally recognized "Music Together" program, has always been fascinated by the way very young children approach instruments. Every child is different, but she noticed patterns of learning that she believed would help her better prepare toddlers for music lessons. She started out in 2005 with a class of five students in her Upper West Side apartment and began teaching them the beginning stages of piano, cello and violin. This involved singing, holding a bow, improvisation exercises, and learning how to take directions. "Those children are now fourteen or fifteen, and they still come to Silver Music! " Ellen said proudly. Though Silver Music has since expanded by offering programs for all ages, that beginner's class, called "Ready, Set, Play, " is still a major component of the school. There are at most four kids in the class, generally from two to four years old. "Over time they want to learn how to play an instrument the right way, " Ellen explained to me. "And that means they are ready for lessons. " Though the classes still focus on violin, cello, and piano, she is thinking of possibly adding guitar into the mix. With a strong core of instructors, Silver Music is able to offer lessons to well over one hundred students, as well as another seventy who come specifically for "Ready, Set, Play. ""All of our teachers are amazing performers, but they are passionate about teaching, " Ellen shared. She then went on to tell me that she moved the school to 72nd street in 2014 with the help of her husband, who is an architect. Because of what we do at Manhattan Sideways, it was interesting to hear that the two of them walked the side streets in this neighborhood in order to find the perfect location. When they found their home on 72nd street, they redesigned the space and sound-proofed it. Ellen assured me that the residents of the building love them, especially since many of them are musicians, themselves. In addition to the main center, Silver Music has a one-room location on Tiemann Place in Harlem and does outreach programs at two different preschools. I looked in through the window, grinning from ear to ear, at the young children holding their tiny instruments. Ellen told me that kids can be taught to hold a bow at the age of two. "It's just so amazing to see them develop these skills that you may not have known they could have, " she said, and showed me a video of one of her youngest students sliding a small bow along the strings of a Lilliputian violin. I was pleased to discover that many of their small instruments come from David Segal, whom I had met a few weeks prior. Ellen uses a variety of methods to teach the children. She encourages them to love and respect their instruments (often through song – she sang a snippet of the "I love my cello" song for me), but she also inspires them to explore. She lets them see what new sounds they can make, asking them fun questions like, "How do you make a slippery slide on the cello? " She urges them to discover their own way of playing, and then gently introduces a new way. Ellen also uses elements of the Dalcroze method, an approach to music that incorporates movement. It was fascinating to learn that by showing them to how to explore music with their bodies, Ellen can better teach small children how to read and write music. Using strokes for long beats and connected strokes for short beats, she creates a physical and literary code that children can understand. Each long beat is a stomp, whereas the quick beats are running in place. Children often learn to write this beat notation by the age of four, and some even learn it before they know how to write letters. There is no doubt in my mind that Ellen and her team are having a remarkable impact on many little ones who will inevitably grow up with a deep appreciation for music. Silver Music has taken into consideration every aspect of reaching people through music. Their classes continue through the summer, when each week ends in a small concert with the campers. They present concerts throughout the year, either held in a family's home or at the American Academy of Arts and Letters on West 155th Street - a place that Ellen describes as a "hidden Carnegie Hall. " Ellen also offers classes to families who want to learn to play an instrument together, and Chamber Music sessions for adults who are eager to be a part of an ensemble. Although, initially, Silver Music's adult clients were the parents of the children, today Ellen is pleased that her grown-up students are coming from various parts of the city - and some young students come to camp from as far away as Massachusetts and Vermont. Ellen's true devotion will always be with respect to her youngest pupils. "Every kid can benefit from our classes.... and we nurture each little avenue. " Students learn to follow directions, concentrate, and develop language skills. She finds great joy in the children who sing and dance almost before they can walk and talk. Her tireless goal is to foster an environment where these children can continue to receive personal attention to allow their particular skill set to grow.
Through the power of music, Daniel's Music Foundation (DMF) has been helping individuals with disabilities to learn, socialize, and, simply, have a great time. In the words of Daniel Trush, the brave inspiration and force behind the foundation, DMF is all about music and "letting people shine. " In 1997, when Daniel was twelve years old, he experienced a brain aneurism that left him in a coma for 30 days, and then in a wheelchair for two years. Prior to the incident, Daniel was a music enthusiast having played both the guitar and the trumpet. Daniel's parents, Ken and Nancy Trush, said that while Daniel was in a coma they would play him his favorite artists as a form of communication. Thankfully, he eventually recovered. While in college as a non-matriculated student, he took a music history class and began to experiment with music as a form of therapy. Inspired by this concept and noticing the lack of music programs available to people with disabilities, Daniel and his parents founded DMF. Their hope was to use music as a means of empowerment bonding between people with disabilities. DMF had humble beginnings. The Trush family started by offering a keyboard class with five members in a basement that they would rent by the hour. Gradually, though, their purpose began to resonate with others, and their membership and funding grew. In 2011, DMF was chosen by the New York Yankees as the honored organization in their annual Hope Week - DMF members were invited to sing the national anthem in Yankee Stadium. This momentous event provided DMF with the coverage they were seeking. Within three weeks, the number of students in their programs increased from 150 to 200. Fast forward a few years later to 2013 when DMF was able to move into a state-of-the-art 8, 700-square-foot facility that is entirely wheelchair accessible and "barrier free. " Equipped with five studios and a plethora of instruments including keyboards, percussion, and guitars, DMF also offers private lessons. Members have gone on to perform at Giants Stadium and Madison Square Garden. In addition, they host some of their own special events including an annual festival with forty performances, dinner dances, and the "DMF underground" composed of artist performances and an open mic. Today, thanks to the dedication of everyone involved, DMF boasts over 300 students and 10, 000 annual visits to its facilities from members of other organizations that support people with disabilities. The foundation gauges its success based on a metric created by Daniel that it takes very seriously: "the smile-o-meter, " meant to measure the "changes in attitudes and outlook" reported by its members. For the Trush family, however, it is equally important to build a bridge between the students and the greater community. "We're about music, but also about awareness. "
When I asked Jacob Farber, the administrator and finance manager of the Center for Book Arts, what stood out to him as the most quintessential part of this fascinating company, he responded without hesitation: "We teach book binding and letter press classes. " He continued, "We even have hot rubber stamping machines. We are also a place for artists to come and learn how to make a book incorporating their own art. " Jacob encouraged me to walk through the space and check out what The Center for Book Arts has to offer. Every aspect of this third floor space is dedicated to the art and the appreciation of books in all of its forms. Opened in 1974, the non-profit Center is the first of its kind, devoting its entire attention to books. In addition to the classes that are held, there are on-going art exhibitions. As the owner of a bookstore for many years, I found my time spent on the third floor of this West 27th Street building to be absolutely fascinating. I was afforded the opportunity to learn firsthand about yet another aspect of the book business.
I have often commented on how I wish there were more places to write about for children on the side streets of Manhattan. Each business that I have discovered has been fantastic; I just always want to come upon another. That is why I was so excited to find this fascinating indoor petting zoo and activity center. The Art Farm has been on the Upper East Side since 2002. Valentina Van Hise, the director, visited the Art Farm that Mari Linnman formed in the Hamptons in 1999. She worked and trained there as a teacher before deciding to open a location in Manhattan. When the Art Farm in the City first began, it catered to Mommy and Me classes. Today, the center offers activities for children up to eight years old, although everyone must be accompanied by an adult. Everywhere I looked I saw animals: examples of children’s art projects hung on the walls, depicting different creatures; murals of underwater scenes covered the bathrooms; and illustrations from animal-centric books like The Very Hungry Caterpillar decorated the first floor. In addition to a cozy playroom with a green carpet that imitates grass, the ground floor has a full kitchen, which is used both for baking and arts and crafts. Art Farm has what it calls “Friend Fridays, ” where children can come and do projects in the kitchen each week. “There’s no craft we don’t know, ” one of the staff members said with a smile. “The Farm, ” located downstairs, was the most remarkable feature. Impossibly fuzzy chinchillas rested in cages while bunnies hopped around a large central pen across from a chicken coop. We met Fluffy (a chinchilla who is “in a kind of retirement home to herself"), Maggie the guinea pig, and Russian tortoises named Boris, Natasha, and Yeltsin. In the back of the room, we found creatures without fur, including insects, amphibians and reptiles. I gazed in awe at the large orange Halloween Moon Crab and the walking stick insect. Farther back, there is a large birdcage and a fish tank. The Manhattan Sideways team was overcome, petting everything in sight and gazing into tanks at hissing insects, bearded lizards, and salamanders. The piece de resistance for us, however, was when one of the staff members quietly brought out a few baby chicks that had recently hatched. Happily, every class and activity involves the animals in some way. Even during baking activities, as soon as the treats are in the oven, the children are escorted down the steps to play with the creatures.
When I visited the Center for Family Music, the home of East Side West Side Music Together, a class was just getting started. Danny, one of the program’s talented instructors, was leading a room full of toddlers and adults in a welcome song. Everyone sang “Hello everybody, so glad to see you, ” before specifically greeting all the “mamas, ” “nannies, ” “grandpas, ” and then each child by name. The entire group was welcomed and included in each part of the class, from the funny little noises made with mouths and hands between songs to the tunes themselves. I thoroughly enjoyed Danny's accompaniment on his autoharp as the class sang “This Little Light of Mine. ” Children were allowed to wander around and dance instead of being forced to sit still, but most of them sat with their eyes riveted on Danny or their parents, slowly catching on with claps and sounds. Fleur, the Center Manager, took me into the office, which will soon be partly turned into a space for birthday parties, in order to tell me more about what I had seen. Music Together is a worldwide music program for newborns through the age of five. It began in 1985 and is now taught in over forty countries. Fleur excitedly told me that the first Music Together had just opened in Sydney, Australia, thanks to a family that Fleur taught in New York: the mother loved the program so much that she became certified as a teacher and started a group when her family relocated. Music Together works by having the adults who take the class with the children model certain musical behaviors that the kids eventually copy. Semesters are long – ten to twelve weeks – in order to let the young students fully absorb the material. The program works through different “collections” named for instruments (I witnessed a class in the “Fiddle”). There are so many collections, Fleur told me, that a family can be in the program for three years before they get back to the original one. Even better, the Music Togethers around the world are always on the same collection, so if a family moves away, they can find stability in a new Music Together class, picking up right where they left off. The caretakers who accompany the toddlers make up a varied demographic (as the song said, from nannies to grandparents! ) and during weekend classes, Fleur explained, entire extended families sometimes show up to participate. Often in New York, it is a nanny who introduces Music Together to their families. Fleur went on to tell me that she once had a nanny say to her, “I’ve been doing Music Together for 23 years! ” She told me stories of how, in some cases, it is not just the kids who end up learning: For example, one father could not keep a beat, but had managed to teach himself to keep time with the others by the end of a Music Together semester. As Fleur pointed out, the classes are not about being good at music; they are about appreciating music, singing out, and introducing music into a child’s life. For that reason, tone-deaf parents who still sing their hearts out are some of her favorite people. The goal of Music Together, Fleur informed me, is to give kids “Basic Musical Competence” by the time they start school. This means being able to sing a song, keep a beat, and change the key of that song. Instructors never play an instrument more than three times in a class because, as Fleur pointed out, “You are the music maker. ” Music is known to activate more parts of the brain than any other activity, and so Music Together is not only giving kids the gift of music, but also preparing their minds for further learning. One thing Fleur emphasized about the program is that it is research-based and educationally-minded. She reminded me of the funny lip trills that I saw the kids doing. She demonstrated how a simple motion like that can activate the lips and tighten the diaphragm while still keeping it fun and silly for the children. This combination of learning and fun is why, in Fleur’s words, the program has “stood the test of time. ”The staff comes from a variety of backgrounds, but they appear to share two core elements: a love of music and a dedication to teaching. Danny has been teaching for almost twenty years, but has been performing professionally since he was seven years old. Fleur moved to New York City after going to school for acting. Music Together was brought to her attention while she was working as a babysitter, and she immediately decided to get certified. “I didn’t want to wait tables, I wanted to do this! ” she said, adding, “Once you’re in, you sort of drink the Kool-aid: You get hugs for a living! You’re around happy people for a living! ”I spoke with Deanna, the director, who started West Side Music Together in 1993 before uniting it with East Side Music Together in 2005. She was first introduced to Music Together as a mother. In 1992, when her oldest child was a baby, the mom’s group that she hung out with in the park suggested she take a class. She told me, “As a mom it made a lot of sense, and as a musician it felt really grounded. ” She added, “It was about all of us – not just about a teacher entertaining my kid. ” Deanna is a performer, but she took time off from auditioning when she became a mom. She thought Music Together was the perfect way to “keep [her] sense of herself” while taking a break from the theater world. She inquired about training and after getting certified, she decided to offer Music Together on the Upper West Side, where there was no outpost. She opened a little place on Riverside Drive with seven families and has since grown, thanks almost entirely to word of mouth, serving close to 50, 000 families since 1993. In the late nineties, Deanna partnered with her acting friend, Sally Woodson, who helped her to rent a space in her apartment building. Sally has sadly since passed away, but the space that she found is now the Center for Family Music. Deanna says that she feels especially happy to be offering this opportunity in today’s electronics-driven society. She pointed out that since kids and parents are always “Nose to nose with their electronic devices, ” it is easy to get disconnected from one’s own children. Music Together allows families to have “real quality time with their children in a musical setting. ” Deanna is also pleased that her own chapter of Music Together has spawned new centers around the country, an obvious sign that she is doing something right. She says that she encourages any curious family to come see what a class is like, because being able to have the musical experience is the best way to see what Music Together is all about. Deanna continues to thrive on her school, even (or especially) after over twenty years. “What more could you ask for from a career than to say you love what you do? ”
Hell's Kitchen has a tremendous amount to offer to young people, however, it was the 52nd Street Project, begun in 1981, that might have touched my heart the most. For children in the neighborhood - ages nine to eighteen - the Project offers them an opportunity to get on the stage and perform in their 150 seat theater, while being mentored by professionals. In addition to having the chance to act, children have a safe haven for a few hours each day where they can be themselves and feel protected, while also giving them an outlet to use their creative energy. They become involved in playwriting, directing, stage managing and of course getting up there and performing, alongside some of Broadway's best, including Frances McDormand, Billy Crudup and Edie Falco.
The magic of Mark Rosenthal’s instruction is that he knows exactly what children are capable of and how far he should push them with their art. He admitted, “I discovered the exact difficulty of each grade. That's why this works. ” As he showed me around the Art Center, I was continually surprised by the work and the advanced skills that the children were able to exhibit. I became aware early on in my exploration that the Art Center does not just foster good technique, they "teach skills and love of the creative process. ”Mark started the Art Center nearby in 1994, but he had already been teaching in the neighborhood since 1985. He worked at the Town School, and because he was not formally trained as a teacher, he was sure to read all the books he could find on child development, teaching styles, and art in the classroom so that he could keep up with his peers. Mark spoke to me at length about Howard Garner’s idea that art should be reinstated as a discipline in schools and the Erikson theory of psychosocial development. After a few years at the Town School, Mark qualified for a sabbatical and it was then that he officially began his Art Center by renting space from other schools in the area. Like Mark, who studied painting at Cooper Union and NYU, many of the other teachers in the Art Center are professional artists. I met Paul, an illustrator, and Melissa, a sculptor. Mark explained that he tries to have teachers from a number of different disciplines in order to make classes more interesting and to provide greater range of instruction to the students. The Art Center is set apart from other schools by the fact that the classes are strictly kept to a five to one student/teacher ratio. This ensures that each student is able to receive individual instruction. The space allows two classes to happen simultaneously, with the age range from first grade up through adult. Looking at the curriculum for the different grades, Mark pointed out how the children will approach the same project from a different perspective as they get older. For example, first graders will create simple two dimensional self-portraits, but third graders are instructed on how to use shading. Though I recognized a few projects as common to most children’s art classes, I was impressed by how many unique assignments Mark has given his students and how many fascinating pieces the children are encouraged to create. Even the 3D paper mache animals, which are a staple of most school art classes, were unlike any I had seen before. “A lot of kids do these, but we like to do it on steroids, ” Mark boasted. One distinctive series I noted was a collection of Chinese paintings of toys. Mark told me that he found a book of famous Chinese toy art and thought that it would be a fun project for the kids, especially since each toy has a folk story attached to it. Some of their one-of-a-kind art projects arise out of serendipity: one year, the paint shipment did not arrive in time, so Mark created a workshop that involved coloring in different shapes. This assignment continues today. It is evident that Mark is proud of what he has created, as well he should be, with the amount of research and training that has been put into the school. “We think of it as the best art school for kids out there. That’s how I designed it, ” he said, matter-of-factly. He listed his experience in the field, his highly honed curriculum, and especially his amazing fellow instructors as the driving force behind his success. As Mark continued to flip through books of children’s work, appreciating much of it, he stopped, smiled, and announced, “The kids are what I love. ”
NY Kids Club offers fitness, art, music, Spanish, cooking, theater, karate, rock climbing, yoga, gymnastics, ballet, hip-hop, birthday parties and summer day camp for Manhattan’s children. As a “children’s enrichment center, ” this busy and exciting club has the goal of giving children a creative outlet – a place to release their energy, learn how to interact with other children and gain confidence. Please call NY Kids for their class schedules.
Even without taking an art class, I began to feel a sense of calm and purpose in the presence of Rebecca Schweiger, the owner and founder of The Art Studio NY. I arrived in the middle of an adult class in which the students, all women, were being taught how to create photo transfers of architecture. I watched the women critique each other's work good-naturedly, pointing out "lines that move your eye" and "good use of layers. " The students were comfortable enough that they were not afraid to make suggestions, using comparisons between the other pieces in the group as inspiration. In the background, classical music played unobtrusively. The walls of the classroom were covered in art that ran the gamut from a pop art Alice in Wonderland to a gray scale still-life. After focusing on each photo transfer individually, the ladies seemlessly shifted towards talking about their experiences during the project. As one woman pointed out, "The key is knowing when to stop. "After the class, I chatted with the women, who were probably close to my own age and were all friends. "This is our favorite day of the week, " they uniformly agreed. Not having an ounce of artistic talent, I was so inspired by these ladies, and simply having a wonderful time being creative. I actually considered signing up on the spot. As they filtered out, I was then able to speak with Rebecca and hear her amazing story. Rebecca started The Art Studio NY in 2004 in her apartment with five students. Rebecca is a trained painter who has always been "enamored by the power of creativity. " In addition to being a painter, I believe she should consider herself a poet. She told me, "Art is one of the best kept secrets. It's an elixir for all life experiences. " At a certain point in her own life, Rebecca realized that she wanted to teach. "I always wanted to make a difference in people's lives. " Her goal in The Art Studio NY is to bring art to people who do not think that they are creative. From weekly classes for the very young to "paint and sip" sessions with groups of adult friends - complete with wine - her days are jam packed with interested artists on any and every level. Rebecca's style of teaching is very different from that taught in art schools. She attended Boston University's College of Fine Arts, where she found that their philosophy did not mesh well with how she wanted to experience learning. As she explained, "They taught well if you wanted to be cutthroat and competitive. " In The Art Studio NY, Rebecca makes sure that the environment is relaxed and that people can work at their own pace. Fifteen different teachers work at the studio so that class sizes can remain small and Rebecca lets each teacher's strengths shine. "It is important that my instructors bring their greatest passions, " Rebecca said, adding that though there is structure to each class, she does not stifle any teacher's creativity. As for the studio itself, it is a unique space that became available to Rebecca by chance. She lives in the building and is very friendly with the doormen, who know everything there is to know about the neighborhood. After teaching out of her apartment for a few years, she asked the men if they knew about any available space in the building. They came back to her with the news that one of the basement apartments, which was zoned to be commercial, was soon to be vacated. Although it is a little out of the way and can only be accessed by riding the elevator, Rebecca has been quite pleased with her location. She considers the elevator a great safety measure for the children, as they can never escape without the doormen's knowledge. This is a good precaution for a studio that caters to children as young as two-years-old (for the Mommy and Me programs). On the subject of children, Rebecca was sure to tell me that, "The kids' classes are not babyish. " She recognizes that little ones are sponges, and so she teaches them the same things as adults. She was proud to tell me that one woman who interned with The Art Studio NY had started taking classes from Rebecca when she was seven-years-old. She is now a student at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD). "It feels great, " Rebecca shared. Though the 96th Street classrooms are Rebecca's main studio, she and her fellow instructors teach throughout the city in after school programs, and work with corporations on team building events. When discussing the adult instruction, Rebecca commented, "Many of these people have never picked up a paintbrush since Pre-K. " Not only do the professionals get to try something they may have never done before, but they also get to work next to people they usually do not work alongside. A story that Rebecca relayed was when she was asked to organize an event for the entire staff of the newly branded Lexington Hotel. "It was a lot of paint and a lot of canvasses, " but she loved it. During the art class, one of the housekeepers was painting right next to the CEO. Rebecca remembers that at the end, a different housekeeper came up to her and said, "Ever since I was a little girl, I've always wanted to take an art class. " It warmed Rebecca's heart. In addition to these outreach art lessons, The Art Studio NY offers events outside of its normal classes, including drawing classes at the park or in one of the museums. Rebecca even holds Date Nights, in which two people work on the same project. Thanks to the studio's relationship with hotels, they are able to cater to tourists who are only in town for a short time but are eager for this art experience. No matter whom Rebecca happens to be teaching, she has the same goal of wanting to "bring people's creative spirits alive. " She clarified that the classes are not just about art: they "are about growing and gaining self-esteem. " As the mother of a talented artist from the time he was a very young child, I fully appreciated Rebecca's philosophy on teaching, but also her kind and gentle way with each of her students. She told me that parents often tell her that they can sense a physical and emotional shift in their child after they have taken a class. They notice that "there's a happier, more relaxed person in front of them. " Parents have described their children as being "more mellow" on days when they have a class at The Art Studio NY. Rebecca says this is because art "gives them wings and space to express themselves. " I am sure that she is correct; however, I am also certain that it because of Rebecca, herself, that everyone is happier after spending an hour in her presence. I could have sat and listened to Rebecca for another hour, as I found her to be totally enchanting, but we both had other appointments. Before leaving, Rebecca revealed to me that she was recently contacted by a publisher to write a book about creativity. This means that she is now benefitting from two artistic outlets: painting and writing. In closing, Rebecca left me saying that she feels strongly that the world is at the beginning of a "creative revolution. " If this is true, I see Rebecca as one of New York's most passionate revolutionaries.
The Loop of the Loom, tucked below street level on 87th Street, is a center for SAORI weaving, a special practice that combines the art of weaving with the principles of Zen. The founder of Loop of the Loom, Yukako Satone, began her career as a graphic designer for fifteen years in both Japan and New York. She claims that she did not consider herself a “craft person” until she was introduced to SAORI weaving when her daughter was five years old. She became a certified SAORI instructor in Japan, thanks to a talented teacher, Misao Jo. Shortly thereafter, Yukako made the decision to open a studio in Manhattan, hoping to introduce this specific type of weaving to New Yorkers. The Loop of the Loom encourages anyone who walks through the door to find their own unique style while embracing earthy materials and the Japanese idea of “Mottainai" ("non-waste”). The threads are made from natural fibers and many of the tools are created from recycled materials. The repetitive, calming nature of the work is said to introduce mindfulness and healing to the weaver. When I visited Loop of the Loom, a group of young children were gathered for a special children’s class, celebrating a child's eighth birthday. It was a special sight to watch them calmly sitting at their looms, eager for their next instruction. In addition to her studio, Yukako often takes her portable loom out into the city to do demonstrations. She loves that her “happy weaving” can bring smiles and a sense of calm to passersby.