They have the music in them

DeWayne Bartels
Music Together owner/director Julie Walker, plays with one of the children during class.

Bringing children, and their parents, to music is Julie Walker’s mission in life. She sees that happen in her small studio on Peoria’s Riverfront.

For years, she has brought music to families as a singer at Northwoods Community Church.

Today, she brings music to families in a much more direct way. With her business, Music Together, Walker is brings Moms, Dads and children together to play pots and pans, among other things, and sing. In the process, Walker said she  builds stronger families and opens avenues of learning for children.

That, she said, is a satisfying career.

It is a career that almost did not come to fruition, however. 

Three years ago, Walker had a choice to make. She wanted to make music her career and have her own business. She found out about the Music Together franchise and made some inquiries.

She knew this was what she wanted to do, but was hesitant.

“I wanted to bring this here because there is nothing for kids to do here, especially musical,” Walker said.

“I was very scared, even though I knew it is important to do what you love.”

She called and inquired about a franchise and learned there was training available in Chicago.

“I prayed about it,” she said.

She made a deal with herself.

“I decided to put in a bid for $40 for a room at a four star hotel. I knew it would never go, but if it did I was meant to do this,” Walker said. “Everything fell in place. I got the room.”

She went to the training, and then stepped further out on the limb she was on.

“My husband, who is a fireman, found this location. It was perfect. I signed a lease. I was scared to death.”

That was three years ago.

She started with 10 families.

By the time her second semester rolled around eight weeks later she had 75 families.

Now, three years into the business, she has just hired a second teacher to handle the weekend classes.

The business, Walker said, is a success.

In the small studio May 24 the tempo was upbeat, and the children responded with clapping hands and small voices singing. It is exactly what Walker, owner/director of Music Together, wants in her classroom.

Some children stood in the center of the room dancing. Others stayed close to their mother, but all of the children and moms were engaged.

That is what Walker strives for.

She is not looking for wonderful singing voices. She is not looking for a hidden musical talent. She is simply looking for engagement.

“We’re all born with musical ability, but a lot of children don’t really get exposed to music,” Walker said.

She said exposure is more than music from the radio or TV. Real exposure, she said, comes from participating in the music.

That is why mother, father, caregiver and child participate together whether it is something as simple as tapping on one’s leg to the beat or banging on kitchen utensils to create sound.

“With true exposure you help a child develop rhythm,” Walker said.

“Children learn best by participating with their caregiver.”

Walker said the caregiver’s participation is so important because children learn by mimicking the actions of those around them.

“Time and attention is the key,” Walker said. “The kids really do get it. The earlier the exposure the better. The kids are just soaking it in.”

And, that exposure is wide. Walker incorporates everything from childhood classics to Jewish music and even African drum music.

“I like all music,” Walker said. “It’s good to expose kids to all kinds of music.”

But, exposing them to music with some caregivers does pose a challenge. Walker said she has heard many times from parents that they have no singing voice or rhythm.

“It doesn’t matter. My whole family was athletic. I’m the oddball as a singer,” Walker said.

“You don’t have to be a singer to expose kids to music. Children love to hear their parent’s voice. They don't know if they’re off-key. I simply tell parents not to be afraid. I tell them, ‘Stop worrying about what others think. This is your child.’”

Liz Jockish, of Peoria, is one of the mothers who does not worry about singing and brings her two boys Gordon, 2, and Gabe 9 months, to the class.

She began the classes nine months ago.

“Julie is wonderful. It’s very loosely structured. It’s nice,” Jockish said.

“It’s been fun for me to see how Gordon has gotten to know the music. I can see him progressing. He doesn’t just sit now. He gets involved.”

But, the baby is getting something out of it as well, Jockish said.

“Gabe is into it. He’s more animated about the music than his older brother. I see it establishing some rhythm and coordination, even at his age.”

Comments like that is music to Walker’s ears.

She smiled.

“These boy’s wives will thank me and their parent’s years from now,” Walker said, “when they can dance at their wedding.”