Parksville musician Gerry Barnum plays for a young, excited audience in December. He performs at Oceanside Building Learning Together’s free Music Time program for kids zero to six-years-old on Tuesday, with the program starting back up on Jan. 16. — Adam Kveton Photo

Parksville musician teaching munchkins through music

Free kid literacy program starts up again Jan. 16 in Parksville, Qualicum Beach

Winning over a crowd can be a tough job as a musician, but local performer Gerry Barnum is looking to give his audience more than just a fun time — when he plays, he’s teaching too.

Barnum is the music co-ordinator at Oceanside Building Learning Together (BLT) where he performs in the free Music Time program for children zero to six-years-old.

Starting back up Jan. 16, the program runs from 10 a.m. to noon at Munchkinland in Family Place in Parksville, and 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. in Munchkinland at Qualicum Beach Commons.

Asked how education happens through music, Barnum said, “I think it connects with a little deeper and more basic level of us. Most people can kind of feel that beat and start moving, and that’s the first connection,” he said.

“And then to educate over time – what we call music literacy — is keeping the beat and simple things like that, singing along, call and response, getting the parents and sometimes grandparents involved with the children.”

While those lessons involve listening and communicating, as well as learning how to physically keep time, a big part of the education is emotional as well.

That’s one of Barnum’s favourite parts, he said.

“Honestly I think, in the long term, (the best part) is seeing some kids that are super shy and stood in the background and then through time, slowly being drawn in and then becoming really gregarious through it. Because I was one of those kids that grew up super shy, too,” he said.

“You’ve got to drop your guard to have fun and play music and sing, right? That’s been really great.”

Though the Munchkinland Music Time program is the bulk of BLT’s music programming, Barnum and BLT have done other programs in the past, both with older children at local schools including at PASS/Woodwinds Alternate School, and at local senior’s care homes.

Some of those programs involved getting seniors and children together and play music together, while others targeted seniors with dementia to stimulate memory, said Barnum.

“I’d go in with a harmonica and say, ‘OK, see if you can remember this song,’ playing Oh! Susanna and On Top of Old Smokey and stuff like that. They nail them, they get them. So I’ve got to really dig deep to try to stump them.”

However, many of those programs have had to be cancelled over the past few years due to budget constraints, said Barnum.

“It’s like a big souffle that just deflates,” Barnum said. “It’s really good and everything and it looks great but the funding is not there to keep it inflated sometimes. So we’ve just maintained by doing the Munchkinlands in the morning and they’ve been really successful, and this one’s starting to catch on in the commons a little more, in the afternoons.”

Music Time takes place Tuesdays starting up again Jan. 16.

Children ages zero to six accompanied by a parent or caregiver can join Barnum to sing-a-long and also build their own musical instrument.

The program runs from 10 a.m. to noon at 495 Bay Ave. in Parksville, and from 1 p.m. to 3 p.m. at 744 Primrose St. in Qualicum Beach.

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