Learning the sounds of music

The mu­sic man: Jawuan Thomas, a ninth-grader at North­east High School, teaches a 12-week mu­sic edu­ca­tion work­shop for kids 5-14 at the Ta­cony branch of the Free Lib­rary. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHO­TOS

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 jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

You can reach at jloftus@bsmphilly.com.

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