By White Nights Public Relations
Mamesh Music is a fast growing music school in Crown Heights for children aged 8-14. In its second year it peaked at over 100 students Boruch Hashem. It is a unique after school program that offers several courses in group settings (guitar, drums, violin, trumpet, flute, clarinet, keyboard and more). The Mamesh Music’s highlights – the Mamesh Orchestra, the Mamesh Boys Choir, and the Girls Ensemble – have already featured in many community events.
On August 25th, a grand music event will take place in conjunction with the Community Bazaar in Lubavitcher yeshiva. In connection with the upcoming event, we conducted an exclusive interview with Mamesh Music’s director, R’ Zalman Negin, or as his students call him, “Rabbi Nigun.”
– How did you get the idea to open a music school? When did it start?
– When I first got married (about five years ago), I was asked to teach in a small Yeshiva the topics of “Niggunim and the Rebbeim” to various grades throughout the school. At first it seemed like an odd combination, but as it turned out, it was the perfect platform with which to enhance children’s Chinuch with the depth and richness of Chassidus.
The opportunity to put together a musical performance with some of the children at a Yud Aleph Nissan concert led to the strong working relationship with Avrohom Hassan Sheyi’, and together we started an after school music program in Crown Heights for boys aged 8-14.
After two years, ‘Mamesh Music’ was born, with a boys and girls programs. We’ve also developed a school orchestra and a choir and band, Boruch Hashem.
– When the school started, how many students were there? How many are studying now?
– Boruch Hashem, Mamesh Music started in the year 5772 with a peak number of around 70 students, and this past year we peaked at over 100.
– Who helps you to run the school?
– We have a small core team that we have formed that will represent the organisation that is currently being filed as a not-for-profit. People on the board include Dana Pestun Tichye, who runs the girls division. There are also several other good people who help the school in various ways.
– The most important thing of any school is the teachers. What is the level of staff at your school?
– We are very proud of the great team of teachers at Mamesh Music. Some are extremely experienced (40+ years teaching) and some are younger, full of talent, enthusiasm and great ideas. All of them are very dedicated and qualified in what they teach.
– What programs does your school offer? For what ages are they? What instruments do you teach?
– The boys program offers foundation keyboard courses aimed at boys aged 8-10. There is also the orchestra program for boys aged 10-14, which includes violin, flute, guitar, piano and drums. We are also BE”H starting a marching band this year for boys aged 10-14 – this would include trumpets, clarinets, and a drum line. The girls division offers keyboard courses, a unique ‘guitar ensemble’, and also an ensemble program for girls aged 8-14 which would include flute, piano and violin.
– Please give us more insight on the system of music education for kids. What are your special methods of teaching music to children?
– Because there were no music teaching methods that had Niggunim, we had to start creating a curriculum from scratch that includes only Chassidishe Niggunim. We draw from many different methods and sources to make the best and most effective system we can. Our approach to the teaching is to get children playing music as soon as possible – for example, in the keyboard classes, students are playing a Nigun on their first lesson.
Students learning harder instruments learn to play simple accompaniments to Niggunim using just two or three notes to start with, as another example. We believe that playing music is ultimately what it’s all about. At the same time, all courses study with standard music notation. Learning to play by ear is something that is sometimes included a little later on, though some students ‘catch on’ themselves.
– What age is the best to start learning music? How old were you when you started? Was it your own decision or your parents initiated that?
– My parents Shey’ inherited a piano when I was seven, and I remember I was drawn to the instrument at first sight. My parents started me on private piano lessons when I was seven because I really wanted to. (I learned classical music). I find that seven or eight is usually the best age to start, but in some may want to start learning earlier. Since our program consists primarily of group classes, our courses are for ages 8-14.
– Some people assume that if a child doesn’t sing, it means that he or she has no ear for music. Is this true?
– No. The voice is also an ‘instrument’ in a sense, and therefore a child may not have a particularly good ‘vocal instrument’, but still may have a musical ear.
– It’s not a secret that learning music is not an easy process. Being a professional educator, do you think it is necessary to force students to study?
– I believe that a student has to be motivated to play his/her instrument so that he or she will be able to practice what is required. However, parents are a key element in the picture, and positive encouragement by parents can go a long way in helping the student succeed – especially if the material is challenging, or if the student needs some reminding of the commitment. It cannot be overstated the importance of home practice. The lesson itself is only half of the picture. It is best to give the child a regular daily practice schedule in a comfortable and peaceful corner so that practice can become a pleasant and enjoyable habit.
– What is the repertoire of your classes? Which nigun is most close to you and why?
– As mentioned, the curriculum is Niggunim-based (there may be some exceptions such as Bar Yochai for Lag Be’omer etc.). I personally particularly love the Rebbe the Tzemach Tzedek’s “Yemin Hashem”, and feel there is a special connection to Mamesh Music (the initials of the Rebbe’s name spells “Mamesh”).
– Joy is one of the foundations of the Chassidishe world, therefore the nigunim always played a very important role in life of the Chassidim. Tell us a little about the history of the Chassidishe music.
– Music was always a part of Jewish life, but it was diminished greatly when the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed. According to some, there is still a prohibition in listening to music in certain conditions. As we come closer to the Geula, music becomes more prominent, as we prepare for the ‘real thing’. Chassidus to a large extent brought Niggunim back into the Jewish world, and the Rebbe continually pushed for Chayus, energy, and joyfulness, which expressed itself an unbounded way in the singing at Farbrengens.
– Baal Shem Tov says: “Human speech is a quill of a heart”, and Alter Rebbe adds that “A Chassidishe nigun is a quill of a soul.” How does music influence on a human soul according to chassidus?
– In a sentence, the purpose of Chassidus is to bring inspiration and energy into Judaism – and this is also what a Nigun does.
– Dana: As director of the girls program, what do you feel are the particular features and differences of educating girls as opposed to boys?
– As much as boys and girls are different in nature, they require different teaching approaches. For girls the whole idea of learning music is not only acquiring the skill, but also to express themselves and see how much they are capable of. The approach is more centered around their world and the world around them. Boys’ approach is a more focused one. They tend to work towards a mission, a goal. Accordingly, the program is a little different to suit their needs.
– Do you find it important for girls to learn music and why?
– I think its very important for everyone to be involved in some kind of arts, especially in this community. Children are often limited to the ways they can connect to themselves and their surroundings. Not only can music express their individuality but also boost their self esteem. There are many social, cognitive and psychological benefits to music, as well as enhancing positive character-traits such as discipline, concentration, coordination, perseverance and commitment among many others.