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Young musicians gather to sing Christmas carols.

We sat down recently with Brittany Slaymaker, Artistic Director of Trenton Children’s Chorus, Melissa Niño, Artistic Specialist of Trenton Music Makers, and Kelsey Swanson, Trenton Music Makers’ Early Childhood Director, to hear them swap stories and share their appreciation of each other’s work. Here are a few excerpts:

Now, your programs seem very different, but they all have ensemble in common, right?

Brittany: Singing is so valuable — singing with others helps children find their voice and develop their listening and social skills. I really love the group warm-ups. The smallest kids through seniors in high school sing all together, engaged and focused.

Melissa: Ensemble is key for us. TMM is an El Sistema-inspired program, which began in Venezuela. You might see a little child on his first day in the back of the big orchestra with a triangle in his hands, before he even knows how to hold a violin!

Kelsey: Here too. It’s so amazing to make music with preschoolers as a group, so un-self-consciously.

Do children have to study classical music build musicianship skills?

Kelsey: Great music is great music! Our teachers use Nina Simone, Pete Seeger, and Camille Saint-Saens. We’re encouraging kids to here all kinds of music throughout their lives — it really sets them up for a lifetime of artistic discovery.

Brittany: It’s time to redefine the concept of choral concerts too. During Hispanic Heritage Month, I invited a Latin band to help kids learn learn dance, rhythms, and musical foundations from the Dominican Republic and Cuba. It tells students that “you belong here, AND you make it more colorful just by being you.” So yes, sing Bach, but there is so much joy in exploring different heritages.

How do your ensembles sound so good, so fast?

Melissa: (laughing) It’s not surprising that when young kids play together for 15 hours a week, they are on the fast track to develop their skills and artistry. We give them a lot, and we expect a lot in return! Brittany, how do YOUR kids sounds so good, so fast, with such young voices?

Brittany: Actually, they don’t sound good fast. It takes coming up through the program. If you listen to the high schoolers I teach, it’s not because of me. It’s because they came through a program that gave them all the tools and resources at a young age, just like in yours. Our kids deserve repetition, fantastic and representative examples, a safe space to explore, but also a joyful process and celebrating achievements.

Kelsey: What I love about listening to the two of you is that I can picture any of the preschoolers from Music for the Very Young “graduating” into kindergarten, and entering either one of your programs.

Melissa: We are seeing more and more how an instrumentalist exploring singing improves their musicianship and artistry. String players are always told to “sing.”

Brittany: And singers are always told to “bow the sound”! It sounds like any of our young people would be right at home in the other’s rehearsals! See ad, page 10.

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