We sat down for a quick question and answer session with our founder, Rob Sayer, to learn more about him!
What made you want to start teaching music?
A few things really. I’ve always loved being around kids. When you treat kids with honesty and respect they give it right back to you. I try to do this, and it has helped me enjoy getting to know my students. I’m still in contact with some of my first students from when I taught High School 35 years ago! In music class I love getting to know the families in class and seeing the children learn and grow.
Also, I really enjoy being pushed creatively. Interacting with students and developing ways to teach that are meaningful and memorable for them requires endless creativity. I started my career playing in a symphony orchestra, but left because I found it boring compared to teaching.
Another big motivation for me came from my teachers I had when I was young. From them, I developed a passion for how best to teach beginners. It is so much easier for a child to have success on an instrument if they learn to play it correctly from day one! Too often kids love playing an instrument, but get frustrated because to make progress their teacher has to try to correct a fundamental problem in their approach, which is hard to do. When I taught instrumental music, I found it really satisfying to work with beginners with the goal of setting them up correctly for continued success. Then, when I had my own children and thought more about music in general. I learned that fundamental music skills like pitch and rhythm are learned in the first years of life. Without setting that foundation correctly, not only will children have a very hard time learning to play an instrument, but they won’t be able to simply hear, understand and enjoy music to the fullest. That’s what motivated me to leave my school teaching position and to start The Music Class.
We've seen you play trumpet at our concerts - do you play any other instruments?
I can play a few notes on many different instruments. As a school band director, that was a necessity and I found it easy to do. But there is a BIG difference between being able to play a few notes on an instrument and playing an instrument fairly well. So to answer your question, I play just one instrument – trumpet. [Editor's note: Rob is being so humble here, because we've seen him play "Mary Had A Little Lamb" and "Twinkle Twinkle" on MANY instruments! :-) ]
Do you remember the very first song you wrote and recorded for The Music Class?
When Raina, my oldest child, was little I used to make up songs for her. This was when we lived in New York. One year on a whim I recorded about 4 or 5 of these songs and gave them to her preschool and her classmates. They loved them! Years later, some of those songs ended up on our first recordings, including "Elephant", "I Have a Turtle", and "Bunny, Bunny".
Any funny stories about specific songs you can share?
One that I’ll never forget is when we recorded “Little Baby Monkey” for The Giraffe Collection. My parents were in town visiting and I thought it would be fun to include them in the chorus of this song. My mother recorded without a problem. My father was a different story!
To understand the story, you need to know that my father always had a very positive attitude, and also that he became very hard of hearing when he got older. So I taught him the song and put him in the recording booth. The funny part was that for most of the session he said he couldn't hear so I kept turning the volume up on his headphones. He could see me and kept singing on my cue, but his singing was silly and not close to in time with the track! I thought it was because he was so deaf. He was happy to keep trying, but things weren’t getting any better. Ended up it was my fault - the headphone cable had pulled out of the extension cord and I was so focused on his lack of hearing that I never thought to check my equipment. After laughing uncontrollably for a while, I finally went into the booth and had him repeat after me without using the headphones, which worked! FYI - if you listen to the track it will be very hard to hear him because his pitch was never very good and so I made him very soft!
Do you have any songs you are particularly proud of?
Of course I’m super proud of the songs my kids wrote and recorded. Ever since Raina was little she had the ability to write creative songs that our families really enjoyed, like "Lizard Blues", "Sam the Dinosaur", and "Do a Little Twist". Brian was a toddler when I started The Music Class and always liked to sing. I love hearing him on songs like "Nanny Poppy" and "Baa Baa Black Sheep", and I particularly love our duet on Ostrich Walk. As far as my own work, I wrote the arrangements for almost all of our songs. I’m particularly proud when the arrangements have just the right balance of simplicity and musical energy. "Littlest Dog", "Tingalayo", and "Panda Pete" are a few that come to mind. I also enjoyed playing trumpet on some of the tracks like "Ostrich Walk" and "Jungle Cat".
What would you say are the most important things parents should know about how young children learn music?
Too often we think of music as an innate skill or something children will learn in school when they are older. We need to change that habit of thinking to a different one. The reality is that learning music is like learning language. We instinctively talk to our children from the day they are born, and because we immerse them in language, they become fluent in that language. The same is true of music. Parents who sing, dance and listen to music together with their children during the first years of their lives raise kids who can fully understand and enjoy music for the rest of their lives. Music is one of the many gifts we can give to our children, and it’s hard to think of any other parenting job that is as much fun as raising a musical child!