The only thing more magical—as well as comical—than the sight of a 2-year-old hugging a cello, is watching several of them take turns playing a tuba that’s actually bigger than they are.
These are typical sights seen daily at an atypical music education program called MusiBambino.
Nestled on West 68th Street near NYC cultural mecca Lincoln Center, MusiBambino caters to children up to age 5, with the youngest students being just 4 months old.
“It’s very important to start them off early,” says the school’s owner Irina Kossolapova (a mom herself), a Russian native who began the school in the fall of 2013. She cites that the way babies learn is to “absorb and absorb and absorb,” the melodies, sounds, and rhythms. And once parents see the positive results and growth of their little ones, they keep coming. “So many children have taken their first steps in this room,” she adds.
She’s referring to MusiBambino’s street-level classroom filled with instruments. Each wall is painted in different primary and secondary colors, with one that’s totally mirrored, so the children can watch their own orchestral performances, and decorated with magnetic musical notes to help students learn to read music.
Whereas babies are introduced to the sights and sounds of the various instruments, toddlers ages 1-2 are engaged in sing-along songs and musical games that focus on building their aural development.
As a cohesive group, children ages 2-3 are exposed to more sophisticated melodies and begin to rhythmically accompany them on various percussion instruments, such as the xylophone, triangle, maracas, tambourine, and castanets. They also play the violin, recorder, and harmonica.
The 4s and 5s are a special group in that the students build greater focus by playing music together. In this group, students no longer pretend that they are musicians—they have become musicians. This class is designed to help children choose which instrument they would like to pursue for private instruction.
Of the many Parent and Me musical experiences in Manhattan, MusiBambino has a style and vision all its own, grounded in their staff’s musical expertise. All the teachers are professional performers and also have master’s degrees in music education. Kossolapova, herself an accomplished violinist and teacher for four decades, will sometimes pop into a class and begin to “fiddle.” The children clamor for their own violins, tuck the instruments under their tiny chins, and try to mimic their school director’s expertise.
During the 40-minute classes— typically capped at 10 students—no instruments are off-limits, so if the spirit moves a boy or girl to go pluck at the adult size harp or just stretch their little legs, they’re free to do so. “Music makes you respond,” Kossolapova says. “So, movement is encouraged.” The teachers also plan scheduled breaks for the students between playing each instrument, when the children can march around or dance about with colorful scarves, freeing any excess energy and physically preparing to embrace the next activity.
Kossolapova makes it clear though that at MusiBambino there’s more to learn than just fun and games with instruments. The program teaches all the basics, laying the foundation for students who may want to go on to professionally study a particular instrument one day. “There’s the knowledge of different types of instruments and how to group them as percussion, bass, woodwind and string, and how to hold the instruments in the proper way. Children become familiar and comfortable with acoustic sounds. And also, music helps with other subjects they will learn when they eventually attend school.”
The school also takes a personal interest in the development of each child. The teachers carefully watch each student’s involvement and participation in class, and then give feedback to parents during and at the end of each trimester (classes are available fall, winter, and summer).
Kossolapova gets most excited about the program’s long-term positive effects, but says she really can’t put into words her belief in how important it is for children to be exposed to music’s tremendous benefits. She likes to direct parents to what she calls the “brilliant” TED Talk, “How Playing An Instrument Benefits Your Brain,” given by educator Anita Collins who describes how actually playing an instrument becomes a full-body brain workout. “She explains it much better than I can,” Kossolapova says.
Kossolapova is very proud of her program, which she believes nurtures the love of the arts and encourages curiosity and imagination while bolstering the development of invaluable social, aural, and motor skills. “I am very grateful to those who can come with their children and enjoy our classes, which are educational, healthy, structured, and give children an opportunity to play instruments all the time,” she says.
To learn more about MusiBambino, visit musibambino.com!