New Canaan teachers take lessons to the web
Updated 10:49 am, Thursday, August 2, 2012
First comes the brainstorm, Mike Messina said.
"We'd sit down and we'd brainstorm. We'd say, `What's a good music element we want to write about?' "
This is the process he and Monica Fitzgerald use to create songs that teach young children about the elements of music. These include harmony, melody, form, syncopation and tempo.
"What's good is Monica can write such great melodies and I'll take that melody and write the arrangement," Messina said, adding that Fitzgerald will turn over a melody within an hour of the song being written. She often writes the songs, too.
Then, he said, "I'll sit down at the piano, I'll start playing a chord progression."
As a flutist, pianist and vocalist, Fitzgerald adds her own flare to each song.
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"We improvise," Messina said. "I just start playing the piano and Monica starts singing over the piano and coming up with the melody."
Beginning over a year ago between busy work weeks, Fitzgerald and Messina, music teachers at West and South elementary schools respectively, started with this approach until they put together an album of songs called "Mike and Monica's Music Room: Songs That Teach Music." The album was released June 29 on iTunes.
The first song they recorded was "Synco, Synco, Syncopation," Messina said, adding, "It was all based around certain rhythms and teaching kids about syncopation."
And they both agreed their favorite song on the album is "Well That's Form."
"The beat behind it is very (much) what you would hear on the radio now," he said. "It's very techno dance music and the kids will love it."
But Fitzgerald and Messina weren't motivated to create an album that's just fun for kids and parents to listen to, although that would be ideal.
"Working in the same district, we collaborate a lot and we have the same view that music education is extremely important, and we always felt very fortunate teaching in New Canaan," Messina said, adding that his brother works at another school in Connecticut that doesn't have a music program.
"You don't realize it until it's close to home, another town in Connecticut that doesn't have a music program in their district," he said. "There has to be a way to incorporate that. And that's when we came up with this idea."
The album wasn't their first idea, however. Two years ago, Fitzgerald and Messina decided they wanted to create a music show called "Mike and Monica's Music Room."
"We're very influenced by the shows that we loved as kids," Fitzgerald said, naming children's education shows like "Sesame Street," "The Electric Company" and "Reading Rainbow." "We really wanted to become something that today's parents will love and today's kids will love, because its fun, but its also good quality."
With the connection of her husband, Billy Fitzgerald, who owns YouHere Productions in New York City, they set filming five- to 10-minute video lessons at her husband's studio.
"What we're going to do is we're developing a website, and these mini-lessons are going to be put on the website," Messina said.
So far they have shot two pilot lessons and are scheduled back to the studio Aug. 13 to film three more.
"It's kind of like taking our music classrooms and putting them on stage," Messina said, only he said the students remain part of the audience while the lessons are taught to their puppet sidekick, Randy the Rhythm Rabbit.
Each lesson starts as a children's show, in which Messina and Fitzgerald teach Randy a lesson about music, and it turns into a music video.
"It's just to get the message out there," Messina said. "And if a child is introduced when they're 5 years old they'll be life-long lovers."
Fitzgerald added, "The quality of the music that kids are listening to, it's very important because it builds the future of music. And I think it's really important to expose kids to good quality of music, not just what they see on TV, but building your own love of music."
Fitzgerald and Messina plan to continue working on the video lessons for their website, which is still being built.
Messina said they hope to start doing live shows.
"Maybe in children's museums and in libraries, and do it based around the `Mike and Monica's Music Room' show," he said, adding they hope to have their show broadcast on a major network like Public Broadcasting System someday.
As for recording music, they have already started brainstorming ideas for a second album.
"At the same time, the album is to sent out to music education teachers across the country," Messina said. "And for teachers who don't have music classes to use this song in their classes."
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