Aspen Times Weekly: ‘Tuneful, beatful, artful’ |

Aspen Times Weekly: ‘Tuneful, beatful, artful’

by Andrew Travers
The Aspen Music Festival and School is launching a new music program for infants, toddlers and pre-schoolers this summer.
Aspen Times file |

Applications for “Sing, Play, Move!” are available at

As the Aspen Music Festival and School welcomes some of the world’s best and brightest musicians to its campus as students this summer, the nonprofit will also offer classes for the first time to the youngest and newest musicians among us.

“Sing, Play, Move!” is a new musical enrichment program for infants, toddlers and preschoolers. Limited to 12 students, classes will run three days per week for five weeks between June 28 through July 29 at the Christ Episcopal Church in the West End.

Inspired by acclaimed music educator John Feierabend’s widely-adopted “First Steps in Music” program, the curriculum incorporates folk and world music, engaging kids in vocal play, along with some dance movement and simple composition with instruments like egg shakers and tiny tambourines (the kinds of instruments, program director Katie Hone Wiltgen notes, that Jimmy Fallon and his “Tonight Show” musical guests have used to make viral “classroom instrument” videos). The new program aims to help kids start to start grasping concepts like melody, beat and creativity early in life.

“The whole concept is creating kids who are tuneful, beatful, artful,” says Wiltgen.

Early last year, the Aspen Music Festival’s board added community engagement to its priorities — a move which has led to expanding its local school programs and adding Wiltgen as a full-time staffer overseeing local education efforts. She was previously a band teacher in the Roaring Fork School District. When she joined the organization, she quickly made developing a program for the littlest of kids a priority.

“I was disappointed there wasn’t a sustained music program for kids in kindergarten and below,” she says.

The Music Fest has previously hosted one-off programs for those kids — its “Gotta Move” music and dance program and its weekly “Tunes and Tales” partnership with local libraries, for instance — but hasn’t launched anything like this, with a curriculum that builds over a sustained period. It’s similar in philosophy to the popular “Afterworks” programs that run in local schools through the academic school year, introducing grade-schoolers to string instruments, guitar and choral performance.

“We wanted to be able to replicate that experience in the summer,” Wiltgen says.

Leading the classes will be Amanda Hanzlik, former coordinator of the early childhood music program at the University of Connecticut. She’ll play guitar and integrate literature into the lessons, reading the stories behind the folk songs they’re performing.

The nine-week season of public performances at the Music Festival will also be integrated into the lessons, with visits to orchestra rehearsals in the Benedict Music Tent (kids age 3 and up, it turns out, are permitted to attend Music Fest concerts). Hanzlik will integrate the repertoire of the Aspen Symphony Orchestra with classroom lessons. The orchestra managers and conductors will be prepared for these rehearsal visitors, and the potential for squealing from the back of the tent.

“Squeals are a good thing,” said Wiltgen, “when kids express themselves vocally.”

There is sizeable and growing body of scientific study about the links between music and childhood development. For years, “the Mozart effect” — the concept listening to Mozart would boost kids’ IQs and learning capacity — led parents to pipe his symphonies into the womb and the crib. But it’s fallen out of favor in recent year, and the consensus about music and little kids seems ever in flux.

“The one thing that’s definitely indisputable is that whether or not it has academic benefits that are measurable, we know that being a vibrant member of society means being a well-rounded individual, and exposure to music makes you a well-rounded individual,” says Wiltgen.

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