Toddlers in harmony

Four small children and their mommies sit in a circle, the youngsters tapping their red drumsticks against a hardwood floor. The small audience of grownups applauds and cheers the performers, hoping for an encore.

Two-and-a-half-year-old Gianna Jacoby takes over as conductor by collecting all the drumsticks, and hands everybody a colorful scarf for the next number. With instrumental music playing in the background, the youngsters begin dancing around the room, waving their scarves in the air.

Then, as suddenly as if playing a game of musical chairs, Gianna stops.

"This one is broken," she complains, holding up the scarf.

Her mother Jennifer laughs and says, "It’s too little."

It’s all part of the fun of Music Together classes. The new program for infants to 4-year-olds will begin two classes this month. The 10-week sessions begin Sept. 19 at Lori-Lu School of Dance, 1625 S. 11th St., and Sept. 20 at Holy Spirit Church, 1845 Hartranft St.

The New Jersey School of Music-Haddonfield introduced Music Together in South Philadelphia last spring after having success with it in South Jersey. The 10-week session, which includes a Music Together songbook, compact disc, tape and parent guide, costs $155.

Alisyn Stoffel, the co-director and teacher for the program, said expanding to South Philadelphia made sense because it’s a musically inclined area.

"It’s an extremely musical part of the city with all the string bands, and they didn’t have anything like this," she said. "We did have some people coming from Philadelphia to New Jersey, and we wanted to accommodate them."

Teacher Meg Clifton, of 13th and Ritner streets, is helping to establish the program in the area. Clifton, who gives private voice lessons at NJSOM-H and performs regularly at clubs around the city, was sold on Music Together almost immediately.

"I went out and saw Alisyn’s class and fell in love," she said. "I went to Princeton to get trained, and have been doing it ever since."

Princeton University is the home of the Center for Music and Young Children, founded by Ken Guilmartin, who also helped develop Music Together. The co-author of the program is Lilly Levinowitz, a nationally recognized researcher in early childhood music education.

The program is based on the principle that all children are musical and therefore can achieve "the ability to sing in tune and rhythm and make rhythmically accurate movements," Stoffel said.

That may sound like more than some adults can handle, but the teacher maintains parents are crucial to musical development.

"Children learn through play and learn by watching their primary caregivers, who serve as the child’s greatest role model," she said.

NJSOM-H director Tony Salicandro, who teaches music at the University of the Arts and Rowan University, learned of the program through a colleague in the early ’90s, and thought it would be a perfect complement to his school. The school now offers 23 classes at seven locations in four towns.

South Philadelphia classes will be offered twice a week in the fall, with a maximum of 12 students per class. Stoffel said class sizes typically double from the slower summer sessions. NJSOM-H may add more days if the first two classes fill up.

Local moms and their kids are already hooked. Jennifer Jacoby, of the 2300 block of Wolf Street, and Gianna spent their summer down the shore, but made sure they were back in town for their Wednesday-morning classes.

"Gianna loves the class more than anything," Jacoby said. "She waits for it every week."

Word spread to neighbor Gina Gannone, who thought it would be a perfect activity for her 1-year-old son, Rocco Santaguida. After six weeks of drum-tapping, hand-clapping and singing, Gannone said she noticed a big difference in her son.

"Since we started, he is clapping, dancing and interacting with other children," she said. "It’s good for him."

Like a true musician, Rocco saves his voice for the classroom. When asked what he liked best about the class, he was speechless.

Clifton enjoys being around the infant and toddler musicians. At any given time, she could get a kiss from Gianna or a hug from 2-year-old Isabella Versace.

Allie Versace signed up her daughter for the program last winter. Even though they moved from the 2600 block of South 12th Street to New Jersey last month, they still plan to attend Music Together classes in South Philly.

Versace said her daughter developed an affinity for music after just a few sessions.

"There is a lot more interaction with her," Versace said. "Before, she wouldn’t necessarily play an instrument. Now we put the tape on in the car and sing to it."

By the end of each class, the small musicians are ready to strike up the band. The students literally jump into a giant plastic container of instruments and pick their favorite. Custom-sized drums, tambourines, triangles and maracas are the favorites. Clifton maintains order with a warning: "Remember, we all share."

On their teacher’s cue, the toddlers take their seats and play to the beat as closely as possible. At the end of the number, the musicians put away their instruments and sing their good-byes.

Like the students, Clifton can’t wait for the next class to begin.

"They are so young and so different from the other things I do," she said. "They have fun and I have fun."

The New Jersey School of Music-Haddonfield will hold a Music Together open house at 9:30 a.m. Sept. 12 at the Lori-Lu Dance Studio, 1625 S. 11th St., and Sept. 13 at Holy Spirit Church, 1845 Hartranft St.