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The sound of music Music + exercise = fun, fun, fun

By Michelle G. Lyerly

Kannapolis Citizen

The folks at McKnight Child Development Center know it is never too early to get moving with music.

Music Therapy with Exercise, directed by Anne R. Treanor, Kannapolis City Schools director of child nutrition, combines music education with exercise.

The program, developed by professional musician Rob Lowry, also known as Mr. Music Man, will frequent McKnight’s Head Start program every Thursday and Friday from 9:30 to 11 a.m. from now until May.

To accommodate all 12 classrooms, individual sessions will run 30 minutes six sessions per day.

“We’re so excited about him; tickled to death,” said Martie Williams, Child Development Center director. “I knew when I met him he was high energy.”

Combining action-packed songs with basic music instruction based on “the science of how instruments work,” Lowry breaks down the parts of an instrument in a way that children can understand.

“Did everybody bring some air with them today,” he asked the children.

Lowry explains to the children that a flute has a mouthpiece, body and keys. “The keys on the flute lock and unlock sounds. When I connect it all together, it sounds like this,” Lowry said as he broke into the “Barney” theme song.

Also included on the itinerary was the “Chicken Dance,” the “ABC Song” and the “Hokey Pokey” — the latter two in hip-hop style — “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and even a tribute to the late James Brown with “I Feel Good.”

“Look at your neighbor and say ‘I Feel Good!’ ” Mr. Music Man called out.

Following the high-energy songs, Mr. Music Man introduced the children to jazz by playing a calm saxophone rendition of “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” in the style of Kenny G. Afterwards, he carried the saxophone around so the children could feel the keys.

Lowry concluded the session with an all-time favorite, the high-energy “Who Let the Dogs Out?” which the kids loved. Jeffrey Wallace, 4, was still singing this song after the session ended, “Who let the dogs out … Who, Who, Who?” he sang.

Family Services Coordinator Linda Young is impressed with Mr. Music Man, who made his grand entrance last Thursday. “The kids really responded to him; he’s full of energy,” Young said.

“He had them jumping, moving and twirling,” added Education Coordinator Alice Ward.

The teachers are also impressed by Lowry’s work. “I think it’s a great program. It gets the children involved in different musical experiences,” said teacher Oranda Maddox, a 20-year veteran at McKnight who teaches 4-year-olds.

“They love stuff like this. When they get back to the room, they’ll talk about the songs,” added Judy Little, teaching assistant.

The children couldn’t agree more. “Fun!” exclaimed Alayla Grier, 4. “I like music,” said Maddie Cobb, 3.

Williams is also excited about this integrative approach of combining music education with exercise, and is grateful to Treanor for her involvement with the Head Start Program.

“Nationally, locally, there is an increased emphasis on wellness and nutrition. We figure if we can get them (the children) active at an early age, they’ll keep it up; it will give them a head start,” Williams said.

Williams added that the Mr. Music program falls in accordance with the purposes and goals of the federally-funded Head Start program, which provides comprehensive medical, nutritional and mental health services to children of low-income families.

The Mr. Music Co., based in Gastonia, exists “to enrich cognitive skills and movement while introducing children, teachers and parents to the world of music.”

The company consists of four Mr. Music men: Lowry, Quincy Hewitt, Jerry Reid and his son, Adrian Reid. Hewitt and the elder Reid have been in the music business 40 years. “They mentored me,” Lowry said.

Lowry himself has also been a professional musician 32 years. He played the club circuit from the time he was 14. “I have always wanted to be a musician,” he said.

Having received a full music scholarship to study at Winthrop University, Lowry left school to pursue music full-time. “My mother was about to kill me,” he added.

Lowry landed his first real music job with PTL back in the 1980s. His wife, Cindy, also a professional musician, has toured with greats such as Jimmy Buffet and Amy Grant.

Lowry’s life changed completely when he was approached by mentor Rosalin Richards who asked him how he felt about working with children.

“I said that’s not my thing,” Lowry said. After thinking about it some more, he changed his mind. “Wish I had started this at 20 years old. I love doing children’s music,” he said.

Rob and Cindy Lowry started performing as Robbie Dog and Cindy Lamb in Gaston and Lincoln counties.

Lowry’s continued involvement in music education eventually developed into what it is today, a fully-structured music curriculum developed “for children by children.”

“The one thing I like about children is they are brutally honest,” said Lowry, who takes the feedback of children seriously.

Believing that music can be powerful therapy, Lowry’s primary source of inspiration comes from his own son, Matthew, 14, who although developmentally disabled, now plays many instruments. “Because of personal involvement, we understand about our business,” said Lowry, who consults other experts, child psychologists and speech language pathologists, in his business decisions.

Some of the situations that plague young children at home sadden Lowry and he wants to ease some of the pain in their lives. “Children have a rough time too. We never think about it.”

Lowry’s educational method is three-fold: care, laughter and repetition. He believes if he can get the children to laugh, they will learn. “Be sympathetic, make them laugh, make them move, then teach them. If you care about them, you can figure out what platform they need to learn on,” Lowry said.

Lowry watches emerging trends. “I have to figure out how to package it. If they (the children) aren’t learning, we have to repackage it.”

The Mr. Music Co. has its own recording studio in Gaston County, tours the preschool and church circuit, and is talking with an executive in Japan about a national distribution deal.

The company is looking forward to the release of its new album, “Mr. Music Island,” which will feature hip-hop versions of “If You’re Happy and You Know It” and the “Hokey Pokey.”

“We’ve lived the part, now we’re musicians/teachers. That’s why we call it entertainment education,” said Lowry.

Contact Michelle Lyerly at 704-932-3336 or news@kannapoliscitizen.com.

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