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Fostering a love of music in young people is well worth it, parents say

FARGO – Natalie and Jennifer Shaw’s interest in music started at an early age.

Their mom, Jackie Shaw, remembers when her twin daughters were toddlers, and they used to pound on the keys of the piano and make up their own songs.
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“When you see little ones jumping up on a piano bench and singing at top of their lungs, you know it’s something they enjoy doing,” the Fargo woman said.

They first experienced musical theater by attending a Trollwood production, and Shaw said they were intrigued. In third grade, they had their first taste of singing and acting on stage through Missoula Children’s Theatre, and it’s something that’s continued to be an important part of their lives.

“My husband and I could see music and the arts were something they really enjoyed,” Shaw said. “So we would look for opportunities outside of school band and choir where we could continue to foster their interests and talents.”

The girls, now 17, have been involved in music and theater in school, but they’ve also participated in piano and dance lessons, Gooseberry Park Players, and various Trollwood programs outside of school.

It can be a big commitment to help foster kids’ musical interests, but Shaw said helping children grow in the interests that they love is worth it.

“We believe so much in the importance of music, theater and arts and how it enhances the growth and development of young children,” she said. “There are so many benefits with self-expression, self-confidence, even coping skills – learning how to deal with a stressful situation.”

Natalie and Jennifer said they’re grateful they’ve had those opportunities.

“Being in theater and music outside of school has helped me be better in school, whether it’s with my confidence level or with my ability to express myself with things like jobs and speaking in front of students,” Natalie said. “Doing theater is a pretty big thing. It takes courage and confidence, so I would definitely say doing theater outside of school has given me the courage and confidence that I need to take on the world.”

“The main thing is it’s taught me a lot of more professional skills in life that you don’t get to learn in a school atmosphere because school theater is a more relaxed environment,” Jennifer said. “When you go to places like Trollwood, it’s a whole different atmosphere. You learn to compose yourself in a professional rehearsal setting.”

As a Moorhead elementary school music teacher and Trollwood children’s theater director, Joan Degerness sees the benefits of music both inside and outside of school.

“The extracurricular experiences are important for children to learn to be successful as adults later in life,” she said. “It teaches them strength of character and can give them artistic outlets to express themselves that they might not get in school. It’s a safe place to try new things and learn new things.”

There are so many opportunities in Fargo-Moorhead, like Totally Trollwood Winter Academy and SparkMusic, she said, where even in the winter kids can be involved in musical theater.

Degerness, who directs the Totally Trollwood musical, Trollwood Children’s Theatre, and is an ArtSpark (a performing arts school for young kids) teacher, is also a mom of musical theater kids and said she has seen how much the experience benefitted her three boys.

“Trollwood was really a place where they could be themselves and feel accepted,” she said.

Amy Warrey doesn’t mind driving her daughter, Grace, to Fargo from Casselton a few times a week for her dance and guitar lessons. Warrey said she is happy to do what she can to foster her daughter’s love of music.

“I’m really excited for her to realize that it is a talent,” she said. “It’s worth doing for us because it’s something she’s naturally good at and it’s fun to see her excel.”

Warrey recently posted an audio recording of Grace playing guitar and singing the song, “Come to the Well,” on Facebook. Grace made the recording at Elevate Rock School, where she takes guitar lessons.

Bryce Niemiller, who owns Elevate with his wife, Lisa, said Grace hadn’t practiced singing and playing the song much before recording it. Grace’s rendition wowed her mom’s friends and family on Facebook.

“It makes me feel proud,” Grace said, adding that music makes her happy.

Elevate, which teaches music by letting students play the songs they want to play, offers lessons for people ages 3 through adult, but Niemiller said catching kids who show musical interest early gives them so much more than a creative outlet.

“Research shows that it improves ability at school and it gets brain function going that otherwise might not be happening that early,” he said. “There are ramifications beyond what we see on the surface of simply enjoying a song, but I think most importantly, when I’m singing and playing song, whether I sound good to the world is kind of irrelevant. I’m getting joy out of it, so to me, that’s the biggest benefit.”

Kristina Lelm said her 8-year-old daughter, Kaylie, has been singing since she could talk. And sometimes, the West Fargo mom said, she’ll catch her daughter strumming her guitar and singing songs she’s made up.

Because of Kaylie’s interest, Lelm said she wanted her daughter to be able to take voice lessons. Since they’re not yet offered in school, Lelm signed Kaylie up with Elevate. Kaylie also plans to take guitar lessons there.

“When I’m on stage, it’s really fun, and when I get off, I want to do it again,” she said.

Lelm said she likes that the school gives the kids opportunities to perform on a real stage.

“It’s pretty exciting to see your child up there on stage rocking the house,” she said. “It’s almost like you’ve got a little superstar, even though it’s only for one song.”

Article By Tracy Frank on Jan 12, 2015 at 2:25 p.m., posted on inforum.com