The kids in Juwuan Thomas’s music workshop at the Tacony branch library learned “When the Saints Come Marchin’ In” one day last month.
But that’s not all. They learned the basics of music theory, rhythm, music technology composition and, pitch too, from Thomas, a member of the Philadelphia Boys Choir and the Northeast High School Choir.
“And the kids absorb it so quickly,” the 17-year-old Tacony resident said.
Thomas is amused, he said, when little kids recognize something they’ve seen before but did not previously understand.
“They’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s what that means,’ ” he said.
The 30 pupils in the hour-long Monday afternoon workshops, said Thomas, are 5 to 12 years old. Some come to the library knowing next to nothing about music. His own musical studies started in fifth grade. He learned the trumpet and sang in church. Singing beat out the trumpet long ago.
“I love to sing,” said Thomas, who has been a Boys Choir member for nine years.
Almost all the kids who are participating in the 12-week program are from Tacony and go to school locally or are home-schooled, he said. Some can just walk downstairs from the library’s afterschool program to take part. Many of the younger children come with their parents, who stay on to watch their kids participate in the class.
Kids can come any time, Thomas said. “All are welcome.”
Thomas keeps up the kids’ level of class participation, which also keeps the moms and dads interested. Using iPad projections during April 22’s workshop, Thomas wrote musical symbols and asked the kids to identify them.
“Did you study?” he asked.
Well, not everybody had, it seemed. Half the notes were identified correctly.
Thomas also played recordings for his pupils and asked which they preferred. Rock beat out Verdi in popularity.
Generally, the kids are well-behaved during the workshops, Thomas said. The challenge, Thomas said, is keeping the 5-year-olds’ attention.
“Their attention spans are very short,” he said.
A few weeks ago he brought in some South African percussion instruments and some Spanish instruments and asked the kids to look at them and draw them. But the kids did more than look, he said.
“It was very noisy.”
Children’s librarian Linda Carpenter met Thomas at Christmastime last year when he performed at the library. She said she was looking to put together a musical program for local kids and was so impressed with Thomas that she asked him to put together a series of workshops.
What he did, said branch manager David Payne, is create a complete music course that fills a gap.
“In many cases, in-depth music education is missing from these children’s lives,” Payne said. “The response and interest from parents and children so far has been fantastic and shows just how much these workshops are appreciated.”
Thomas said he would do it again “almost definitely.”
The workshops also help the instructor. Thomas is interested in pursuing a career in music education.
“It’s giving me a lot of experience working with children,” he said.
And Thomas wants more kids, especially kids older than 9 to come to the Monday workshops and join a choir he’s forming.
The Tacony branch of the Free Library is at 6742 Torresdale Ave. Workshops run 4 to 5 p.m. on Mondays into June. Call 215-685-8755. ••
Reporter John Loftus can be reached at 215-354-3110 or firstname.lastname@example.org.