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Young sounds abound
"What's the sound of a circle?Ohhh...And if you don't know that, you're not a 3-year-old in the Tingle Tingle Band.With hands joined Friday morning, five children, three parents, and instructors Paul and Melanie Zeir repeat that sound again and again, closing the circle tighter and then backing away, the pitch of their mantra rising and dropping with their movements.Up they go: oooooOOOHHHH!And down again:OOOOooohhhh.....And, lest anyone think the youngsters are zoning out with some New Age meditation, rest assured. The exercise is nudged comfortably amongst perky children's standards like The Hokey Pokey, and a cute ditty that could become popular around Bainbridge this time of year, There's a Dumptruck on the Road.At Talking Hands Talking Feet, where music is the key to set them free, it's all part of the curriculum.The inspiration was kids, and the idea that music is more than music, says Paul Zeir, who co-orchestrates the children's music workshop in a bright studio next to the Zeir family's Pleasant Beach home.When kids are exposed to music at an early age, it actually teaches them a lot of things - motor skills, translating feelings and expression, versatility.A native of Colorado, Paul Zeir has taught music to children for more than 20 years, primarily guitar. Extensive travel exposed him to indigenous styles from Alaska to Latin America.Melanie Zeir, who hails from South Africa, studied ballet, tap and classical dance from infancy. She moved to Israel to start a dance school of her own, later settling in the states to put her dance certification to use here.The Zeirs started Talking Hands Talking Feet three years ago in Seattle, and relocated to Bainbridge in January. The goal, they say, is to bring alive the natural creative musical spark in kids. Classes meet once a week, and are set up by age group, each with a whimsical name connoting the joys of romperdom:Ages 18 months to 3 years meet as the Tingle Tingle Band; ages 3-4 are the Boom Boom Orchestra; ages 5-6 are known as the Traveling Troubadours. Class costs range from $30-36 per month. In a half-hour session, children and parents enjoy a variety of song and dance, fusing rhythm, movement, theatrics and storytelling.If you go an African village, everyone there is musical, says Paul, down to the little kids.It's a model they hope to emulate by bringing out expression in local youngsters.The developmental value of children's exposure to music - the so-called Mozart effect - is in full debate by academecians. As reported in the New York Times education supplement recently, the current literature suggests that youngsters who receive training in musical instruments have better spatial abilities - useful for surgeons, engineers, archaeologists and artists - than those who don't.While some dispute the causality suggested by current studies, Paul Zeir is circumspect, arguing that there's plenty of time down the road for children to receive formalized training with instruments. Rather, he says, the key is to immerse children in the world of sounds early on, and help them use song and dance as vehicles for all types of expression - physical and emotional.Friday morning, part of the session focuses in song on the moods suggested by the color red, followed by a short time spent with a picture book about marine life. A tablecloth becomes the ocean, and students imagine fish swimming among them while the sounds of the sea emanate from a nearby stereo.The bare- and stocking-footed kids, some still at an age of reticence around strangers, are a generally enthusiastic bunch, watching their peers for clues when to clap, touch the top of their heads, or for purposes of the Hokey Pokey, when to put their right hand in and shake it all about.She loves it. She loves singing the songs, says Christy Dorman of her daughter Sophie, age 3. We sing and dance at home, but this has been really nice for her.She's pretty musical, I think, so this is a good match for her.In the younger classes, parent participation is as important - and as welcome - as that of the students. And the grownups seem to take something home as well.I get ideas for stuff to do the rest of the week, says Ken Ragsdale, after singing with son Albert. And a tablecloth has a whole new meaning for me, he adds wryly.At home, Ragsdale says, Instead of sitting and listening to music - which we do quite a bit - he wants to dance to it.It is this innate, intuitive response to music that the Zeirs hope to tap into.Melanie Zeir says a young dancer in formal training might spend a lot of time watching other dancers, trying to emulate their movements and make sure their hand is in the right place. It is, she says, an outer to inner approach, just the opposite of what she and Paul hope to teach.If you can stand and walk, you can dance, Melanie says. Our approach is the inner to the outer. There's no 'wrong' way to move. Any person can find their own dance. "