Families, Fun, and Learning: Summer Music Activities With The Kids!

"Adah and Faddah" perform at an Open Stage at the Gotta Get Gone Festival. Photo credit: Howie Eskin

Every child dreams of a summer vacation full of fun and relaxation. Parents (and others with kids in their lives) want to ensure that their kids keep learning throughout the summer. Music activities can be the perfect blend of fun and education. Here in the Capital Region, we are lucky to have a bounty of opportunities for making music a part of our kids’ (or grandkids,’ or young friends’) summer experiences both at home and out in the community. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

Free Concerts and More

Some of my fondest summertime memories from growing up in the Capital Region are of going to free concerts (and I’m sure my parents enjoyed them, too!). Concert series are an incredible way to encounter thrilling new music and learn about the world through high-caliber international and local music. This year’s selection for The Music Haven Concert Series, hosted in Schenectady’s Central Park, will feature a diverse line-up of acclaimed performers from all over the globe. The Freedom Park Concert Series in Scotia will include local gems such as “The Voice” winner Sawyer Fredericks and stellar jazz ensemble The Dylan Perrillo Orchestra. And, Caffè Lena in Saratoga Springs has teamed up with Saratoga Performing Arts Center (SPAC) to present several wonderful FREE concerts at SPAC this summer!

SPAC also offers free lawn tickets and discounts for other events: “Kids aged 15 and under are free on the lawn courtesy of Fidelity for SPAC classical performances of New York City Ballet, The Philadelphia Orchestra and Freihofer’s Saratoga Jazz Festival,” with a couple of exceptions. If you’re looking for an indoor concert, The Stewarts-Shop-sponsored Little Folks Series at Caffè Lena offers free matinées of folk and traditional music for children and their families, and half-price children’s tickets for other concerts when purchased in advance.

The Albany Symphony Orchestra offers $15 student rush tickets for ticketed performances, and this summer they will be giving seven free concerts around the region through their Water Music NY project. Schenectady Symphony Orchestra offers free tickets for kids 18 and under through a grant from Price Chopper.

For a wide variety of roots music offerings, there’s a spectacular local family-friendly folk festival, Old Songs Folk Festival of Traditional Music and Dance at the Altamont Fairgrounds, which can easily please an entire extended family and can be made affordable through volunteering.

Another locally based organization, the Pickin’ & Singin’ Gatherin’ (PSG), puts on a smaller but equally spectacular festival in Ballston Spa each Memorial Day weekend- the GottaGetGon Festival- plan to check it out next year. They’ve been around as long as Honest Weight, and would love more young families to know about them and get involved. More listings of music events can be found in your local paper, or in databases such as Albany.com.

Camps and Classes

photo courtesy of the Music Studio, http://themusicstudio.com/

If your kids like making music themselves, there are a variety of options for music camps and classes in the region. Camps and classes can be a wonderful way for kids to learn how to play or sing with a new group of friends, explore new environments, and learn about new aspects of music-making. For example, The Summer Academy for Youth at The College of Saint Rose in Albany offers classes for youth in grades 6-10, including History of Rock Music, Song Writing, Pop Singing, Musical Recording and Broadway Bootcamp. The Heldeberg Workshop, located on a beautiful piece of land at the foot of the Heldeberg Escarpment in the Town of New Scotland, offers one- and two-week courses for kindergarten through twelfth-grade students, including music and other performing arts. All Ears: Jazz and Improvised Music Workshops, held around the Capital District with a focus on learning jazz by ear, are open to all ages and skill levels. Kids who are committed to their musical studies can find a variety of options for intensive instruction, such as the Music Pre-College Experience Program at The College of Saint Rose, which allows kids to focus on wind ensemble, vocal, orchestra, music technology or piano, or the youth summer program at the renowned Luzerne Music Center in Lake Luzerne, which includes music theory instruction, private lessons, and ensemble coaching. Skidmore Jazz Institute offers a premiere summer jazz program for high schoolers, and Village Harmony, based in central Vermont, runs traveling summer world-music choral camps for adventurous teenagers. Our area hosts countless more summer music programs, such as Broadway Camp at Proctors, and summer music camp for very young children at The Music Studio in Albany.

But wait! There’s more! Year-round, music classes for young kids ages 0-5 (and their caregivers), such as those offered by local Music Together teachers, are always a hit. These are just a few examples; there are many options to explore!

Music at Home

There are so many ways to enjoy music with your kids at home! You can take turns sharing your favorite songs, listen to the radio, or have a little dance party. If you sing or play an instrument, you can play or sing together, learn new songs or musical skills, make a recording or entertain friends and family. Some families even elect to designate a regular night each week as “family music night.” Songbooks like Rise Up Singing (as well as the same authors’ new release, Rise Again), or thoughtful Youtube searches can make singing and playing together easier and help you discover new material. You could also explore musical activities like clapping games, jump-rope rhymes and building simple instruments. Local music hero Ruth Pelham, who recently retired after 39 years directing the Albany-based summer music program Music Mobile, put together Musicraft: Fun-Filled Instrument Building And Music Making Activities!, which gives instructions for building 15 musical instruments from recycled materials. Pelham’s CDs can also be found at your local library or music store. While you’re there, browse for other recordings, songbooks or music activity books. With a little time and an inquisitive mind, who knows what you’ll find!

Have a beautiful, tuneful summer!

Adah Hetko spent her childhood summers going to concerts and music camps, singing and playing music at home with her dad, and going to Honest Weight with her mom. She thinks she turned out alright. She currently plays guitar and sings with an all-female country band and a Yiddish folk-song duo in Bloomington, Indiana, where she is in graduate school. Adah's dad, Joe Hetko, is a classically trained guitarist who has been performing and teaching in a variety of settings for over thirty-five years. He's part of the Jim Sande Ensemble and can often be found in musical theater pit orchestras. He teaches band and general music at The Doane Stuart School.