Two-year-old Jolena Hune is a legacy holder for Walker West Music Academy (WWMA) located in the historic Rondo Neighborhood of St. Paul.
It all started when her mother Connie Hune registered her daughter for the Sing Play Learn with MacPhail Early Childhood Music Program at WWMA after picking up a flyer. Since then music has changed Jolena’s life. Under the tutelage of the program instructor Ivory Doublette, Jolena Hune became deeply engaged with music she was learning in the program. It was evident in her daily life through singing, dancing and playing musical instruments with her 8-year-old brother.
She is what WWMA founders the Rev. Carl Walker and Grant West envisioned 32 years ago when they started WWMA to teach, encourage, and inspire students with music from the African-American perspective, and it continues today. Connie Hune values Doublette’s approach to teaching.
“She is a really good instructor. She is able to get everybody involved. She is really active and is excited about the kids learning,” said Connie Hune. “She sees it as more than just a class when she teaches.”
The early childhood music and arts program, offered through a partnership between MacPhail Center for the Arts and WWMA, is a six-week course for students ages infant to six and their parents or guardians. Doublette, an instructor at MacPhail since 2015 is also a theater actor, musical theater actor and gospel singer. She values the opportunity to teach children in the community at developmental ages.
“Teaching awakened a curiosity I have about child development in particular in communities of color,” said the instructor. “How we are developing, how it may be different, and how the arts can help us with the achievement gap. Music should be used practically in everyday life, that is very much how are community started. We were using the drums, we were communicating with music, we were using it to comfort and to bond. So, I want to bring that back, do more of that, and explore that more.”
The program serves as a primer for these young students on many fronts. They are being introduced to the world of music and how it plays a role in their lives. According to a report published by the Carnegie Hall’s Weill Music Institute, by the age of one a baby’s brain is 70 percent of what it will form into as an adult, and by age three the brain will form into 85 percent of what it will be in adulthood while functioning in human thought and communication.
Additionally, the report says music matters for children because it builds brains and bodies, teaches them to become close, teaches communication and imagining, teaches sharing and managing feelings, teaches being with others and teaches belonging to a community. To take advantage of this critical developmental stage, Doublette has a focus that prepares students for the classroom.
“There is a big school readiness component in all of our music classes,” said Doublette. “One of the main things we focus on is following directions. Being able to teach a child to follow directions in an environment that is safe and fun so that when you take it out in the real world it becomes second nature.”
Music helps children develop a skillset and language. Doublette said.
“Singing period helps even the smallest child with vocabular. As they start to speak it gives them a broader scope of tools to pull from,” said Doublette. “So, if I can say my ABC’s, I can all of a sudden start putting these letters together and form words and sentences. With rhythm in particular students are working with patterns in music. It is very much like learning a language. So if you are able to keep steady beats you’re going to be able to speak sentences, and you’re going to be able to eventually write sentences. And then also I think something that gets overlooked is just the need for kids to have fun. It’s good for kids to play, they learn when they play.”
WWMA wants to be a foundation for these young students as they embark on their journey with music. Tonya Gregory, program director at WWMA said, “Sometimes when parents start their kids in music at school age they may not have any idea of what they think about music. Starting at a young age and it being very enjoyable, then (when they get older) and come back they are ready to learn a specific instrument and they already have these ideas and thoughts and feelings around this building and music in general.”
For more information on how to register for the Sing Play Learn with MacPhail Early Childhood Music Program at WWMA visit www.walkerwest.org/free-lesson/music-for-families/ or call (651) 224-2929.