Alex and Music’s Magic: A Kindermusik Story

Kindermusik Story

[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Mark and Kim Elicker and their son Ethan were a wonderful family, but they all had so much more love to give. About six years ago they traveled to China to adopt two year old Alex. This is his story – a story of endless love and musical magic.


Kindermusik for Ethan

Before Alex came home to his family, Kim, an early childhood educator herself, took her son Ethan to Kindermusik from the time he was a baby until he aged out. Lydia Klinger was their Kindermusik educator and really drew the family in. Kim shares why she choose Kindermusik:

Lydia was the reason we started and fell in love with the program. With Ethan I admit I valued the social benefits of being with other Mom’s and families. As an early childhood educator I connected with the developmental appropriateness of the curriculum. Years later when we adopted Alex, I once again became a stay at home mom and I wanted that connection to other families. I chose Kindermusik again with Alex because I loved it so much with Ethan, but I honestly, remember seeking activities that I believed would foster our bond and attachment.


The day Alex legally became a member of the Elicker family!
The day Alex legally became a member of the Elicker family!


Alex Comes Home

When Alex came home with the Elickers at age two he wasn’t very verbal. He was a child surrounded by sounds he had never heard. Occasionally, he’d speak a word or two of Mandarin, like mā-ma (mother), bà-ba (father), gē-ge (older brother), and siè-sie (thank you).

Dr. Boyle: When Alex came home with you, how would you describe him?

Kim Elicker: He was quiet and energetic, though when he first came home he didn’t have a lot of stamina. He was curious and resourceful! He could play with a bucket, a box of crayons, and a paper bag. That was just him – he didn’t need anything fancy.

DB: You mentioned he wasn’t very verbal.

KE: He wasn’t. And that’s a typical very typical of children who are adopted into a family who speaks a different language than he was born into.

DB: Right…so what he had been hearing for the first two years of his life, he’s wasn’t hearing that any more and was a completely different environment for him.

KE: Exactly. In our situation, everything changed – what he saw, what he heard, what he smelled, even what touched his skin. It was all very different.

DB: So…you shared with me that on days he was going to Kindermusik, Alex tended to be more verbal.

KE: Yes. In the beginning, receptively he picked up English rather quickly. He was following simple one step directions.

DB: Little kids are sponges.

KE: Yes! But his communication pretty much shut down verbally. We expected that from classes we took before the adoption. His brain was switching gears. We read to him, we talked to him, we engaged him all the time, but he didn’t attempt to speak a lot.

When we started Kindermusik, in the beginning much of it was listening in that particular first program he was in. I noticed his concentration level – his focus – was very intent. He would be very tired those afternoons after Kindermusik in the morning!

By his second set of classes, I started noticing a change. We’d go to Kindermusik, we’d have lunch, and the rest of the day he’d be much more talkative. He’d attempt new words. Anytime he tried new words, it seemed to be on Kindermusik days. Once I noticed the pattern, I really started paying attention to it. It followed this trend for about a year.

DB: And did you take part in the classes with him?

KE: Yes.

DB: That’s great. There’s all this research out there that tells us that because of the way music impacts the brain, when you make music with another person, it builds empathy between you and the other person, it builds trust between you and that other person. You can become more comfortable with that person when you share a musical experience.

KE: That’s an interesting take on my situation. When you are first adopting you need to build trust. That’s part of the attachment process. It’s an interesting thing for me to hear you say – it makes total sense![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Alex and Ethan
Ethan and Alex having fun in the band room.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]DB: Sounds like Kindermusik was an important part of Alex’s process.

KE: Yes! I remember sharing the news of Alex’s increased verbal activity with Lydia, our Kindermusik educator. She said it just gave her chills! She was excited to get that feedback.

DB: I would imagine! Kindermusik is certainly fun with music and movement, but the mission is really to help kids develop socially and emotionally…getting them to interface with other kids and have positive interactions with adults. It helps them move through those developmental domains.

KE: Certainly. And in our case, it was quite obvious because he wasn’t really verbal at all…it was very easy to pick up on when was happening.

DB: It’s just so cool to hear about this – a very specific situation in which music helped a child affected by a rather involved transition find his voice. That’s music reaching parts of the brain that everyday speech or conversation does not. I would imagine that music coupled with music was helpful.

KE: Yes! That was his other area. According to the typical US standard, he would have been lacking in gross motor. Within six months he had caught up. The movement in the class was beneficial.

DB: That’s great. So how long did Alex do Kindermusik?

KE: He was five, almost six when we stopped. When we love something we stick with it![/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Kindermusik Educator
Lydia Klinger, the Elicker’s Kindermusik Educator, with Ethan, and guest trumpet player Allen Vizzuti.

[/vc_column_text][vc_column_text]Kindermusik was a very important part of the Elickers lives. Ethan, now 15, lives for the trumpet and plays as often as he can. And Alex? He’s going into third grade this fall. He’s taking piano lessons and singing in church. His ultimate goal is to play organ!

Lydia, their Kindermusik Educator, retired after 20 years of serving musical smiles to her community. She now plays with the Harrisburg Symphony. The Elickers still keep in touch with her. Recently, she arranged a meeting with the Symphony’s guest trumpeter, Allen Vizzuti and Ethan.

For the Elickers, participating in Kindermusik classes helped smooth the complex process of an international adoption, helping Alex open up and explore his verbal possibilities in his new language. As an educator, Kim knew exactly what was happening. As a mom, she got to see music work its magic in her son’s young life. Friends, that’s why Kindermusik Educators do what they do. They are in it to change lives.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Ethan prepares to play a duet with a friend.
Alex prepares to play a duet with a friend.


Love and Music: A Magical Connection


[vc_row][vc_column][blockquote cite=”Johann Sebastian Bach”]”It is the special province of music to move the heart.”[/blockquote][vc_column_text]I’ve said it before: music is magic. It’s the strangest thing…something you can’t physically touch can have such a tremendous impact on your emotional state. And it’s pervasive. Marketing folks and film producers know this magic. They effectively use music to tug at your heart strings when the mom in the insurance commercial opens up a letter from her son, who’s been away at college. Music, in situations such as this, increases emotional response. It’s as if music is an emotional lubricant – think of Dorothy freeing the Tin Man in the Wizard of Oz with the oil can –  music can sometimes free emotions that have been stuck in gear.


Music, Love, and the Brain

Dr. Cortney S. Warren, a professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas states it quite clearly – “Music is what feelings sound like.” This is true, especially for composers and performers in many cases. They are expressing emotions through their music. We often get a tonal representation of an emotional state. But what about how the music impacts the listener? Well, part of this comes from association. Hearing is a sense and is tied to memory just like the other senses. When you eat that favorite childhood dish, you are taken back to pleasant days, sharing a meal with the family. When you smell a specific flower – let’s say a daisy – you are reminded of your baby shower because the room was full of daisies that day. Music has the same associative impact. When you hear the song to which you danced your first dance at your wedding, it most likely will bring forth positive emotions (as long as no one’s feet got stepped on!). The music becomes a cue for the brain to recall a memory associated with that tune.

Makes sense. But when you’ve never heard a piece of music before and it causes certain feelings, what’s going on there?[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Words Matter…But So Do Notes

If the music has words, this can have an obvious impact. A song that talks about the one that got away might make you think of the one that got away. If you are expecting and a song talks about babies, you might respond with strong emotions. If you have no connection to the words, you might not feel much. But music doesn’t need words to evoke feeling. Therein lies its magic – and it’s based on science.

The amygdalae are deep, central brain structures that receive some of the first projections from the lower brain centers. Music stimulates the amygdalae in a similar way to faces, smells and other sounds, most likely because all these stimuli are perceived as having social significance due to their communicative properties.

– Dr Victoria Williamson

So music has a physical effect on the part of the brain that is partially responsible for processing emotional reaction and memory.

Let’s try something. Take a listen to the first few minutes of this piece by Arvo Pärt, an Estonian composer of minimalist music. This is his Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror of Mirrors) for piano and cello. It is very, very simple. No words. No flashy rhythms. No driving drum beat. No singer crooning about that special night. Close your eyes and listen. As you listen, think of a loved one for whom you care very deeply, whom you haven’t seen in a while. Press play, close your eyes, think of that person, and listen.[/vc_column_text][vc_video link=”″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]

Music Waters the Emotional Tree of the Soul

What happened? What did you think of? What did you see in your mind? What did you feel? I bet you felt something. Did you cry? Did you smile? Did the music take you to an emotional place you weren’t expecting? It’s almost as if the music gives us permission to feel, to emote, to let the inward become the outward.

Music, in its infinite wonder, feeds the emotional tree of the soul. It allows buds to form, flowers to bloom, and green leaves to spread like a crown, turning toward the light of the sun and collecting dew in the morning and rain drops in the afternoon.

Music connects us emotionally. When you make music with others, you develop a sense of trust, of empathy, of compassion.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Sure, there’s science to back this up, but we can feel it when it happens. When there’s a song in your heart, let it out.

I’ll say it again: music is magic. And with respect to Shakespeare’s original line from Twelfth Night, I think Col. Henry Heveningham got it right when he said, “If music be the food of love, sing on!”[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]

I love it when a plan comes together

So for months now we have had Kindermusik classes.  And many of my families have been together all that time, so they have become family to each other.  Just the other day, a magical moment happened in class.

We have been working on building this “family” community by having a gathering time at the beginning of class, so that parents and care givers can connect. We then continue on with singing a hello song that incorporates all the children’s names, and we like to do circle dances to help bring people together in a relaxed, fun, safe environment.

One of my favorite circle dances right now is Love Somebody.  We have been having a great time walking in and out of the circle, and then the big finish is tell all the children in class that we all love them….and now even the adults will point to each other!  Our families in class are so comfortable singing and doing activities that when a new person comes into class, they all openly embrace that parent and child.

As  Kindermusik teachers, we want there to be that connection between parents.  We hope and plan to have that happen. We love hearing the play dates being organized, but most of all we love having that special time with each of our classes!

– shared by Miss Beth from Studio 3 Music, the world’s largest Kindermusik program.