By Ken Lutes
Spring-like weather is a sure sign of new growth. Not only will burgeoning buds and bulbs soon fill the air and please the eye with their fragrance and colors, so will strains of many musical genres float on the air in Denver’s West Highland neighborhood. Music instruction classes for all ages are held at Swallow Hill Music’s satellite school at Highlands United Methodist Church, 3131 Osceola St. Now is a good time to sign up.
The spring session is underway, but “we have rolling admission for lots of our programming,” said Barry Osborne, Swallow Hill’s associate marketing director. “For group classes, folks can enroll until the end of the third week, which for this session is Sunday, March 24.”
In its fifth summer at the West Highland satellite school, Swallow Hill’s enrollment has grown to 70 group class students and 50 private lesson hours. In addition, about 40 Little Swallow students are presently enrolled, with room to grow.
Geared for tots from six months to six years, Little Swallows classes “weave together sing-a-longs, storytelling, finger games, circle dances, rhythm instruments, and traditional, world and popular songs into a fun learning experience for each child and parent/caregiver,” states Swallow Hill’s online course description.
According to research, Osborne says, engaging children in music education before age six helps the child to speak more clearly, develop a larger vocabulary and strengthen his or her social and emotional skills. Involvement in early childhood music programs is the first step on the path to helping students advance skills such as collaboration, creative thinking, personal expression and self-direction. Exposure to music in early childhood promotes literacy, gross and fine motor skills and prepares students for success in kindergarten by introducing them to basic classroom skills.
Older kids and adults can take advantage of Swallow Hill’s more traditional offerings.
“We are often thought of as a folk music school, and while there is plenty of folk music happening at all of our locations, we teach many genres including rock and roll, classical, pop, jazz, country, Celtic, bluegrass, and beyond,” Osborne said. “The longer our students stick around, the more they come to realize how interrelated all these genres are.”
Swallow Hill’s music school employs an “experiential” teaching method, that is, teaching music through popular and familiar songs – “hands on” learning, says Osborne, who believes learning music should be a fun and engaging experience.
“In many of our classes we hope to have students playing a song by the end of their first class. We feel this outlook works for all of our students, whether they are very young children in our Little Swallows classes or adult learners.
“Reading music is often part of how we teach, but different instruments and different genres require different skill sets. An old-time folk music class might use tablature, while music for violin or cello might require more traditional note reading.”
Swallow Hill also provides a wide range of Outreach programs, from music therapy, to after school programs, to extra sensory concerts, to students who receive music instruction through its scholarship programs.
“Our greatest Outreach efforts in recent years have centered on our Little Swallows Early Childhood Education Classes, which provide high quality music instruction to underserved schools in our community,” Osborne said.
Swallow Hill’s CEO Paul Lhevine has said, “We know that families are struggling across our community. We know they’re trying to make ends meet. Our Little Swallows Early Education program is providing formal music training for kids that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity, and we know that’s critical for their future development.
“Formal music education really doesn’t exist in early childhood education settings. And even if there are programs, funding is hard to come by.
“We believe in music education because music drives language and math skills. It promotes the appreciation of low pitch and high pitch, fast and slow pace, socialization and collaboration and so much more.”
Most Little Swallows classes are taught in Denver Public Schools, but Swallow Hill is expanding their programs into other public and private school settings.
Swallow Hill Music was founded in 1979 as an outgrowth of the Denver Folklore Center, which was begun in 1962 by Harry Tuft. The Folklore Center offered instrument sales and repairs, music lessons and concerts. Among the performers there in the 1960s and ‘70s were Joan Baez, Doc Watson, Bonnie Raitt, Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal. When Tuft wanted to focus the Folklore Center on the instrument side of things, according to Osborne, some of his employees, volunteers, and the community around the Folklore Center created Swallow Hill as a nonprofit to hold concerts and teach music lessons.
Osborne said that Swallow Hill got its name from the neighborhood that many Denverites now know as Uptown, where the Denver Folklore Center was initially situated.
“That neighborhood was originally developed in the late 1800s by a developer named George Swallow. Even though we’ve embraced the bird as our logo, Swallow Hill really has nothing to do with birds.”
Swallow Hill Music is celebrating its 40th Anniversary throughout 2019. Over the years, Swallow Hill has moved from Uptown to South Broadway to South Pearl Street and has been at its current headquarters at 71 East Yale Ave. in Denver since 1999.
Late spring sessions start April 29 at the West Highland satellite, and a summer session starts July 8.
Get class and concert information at swallowhillmusic.org or call 303-777-1003.