I had just enough time to make it to the Edmonds City Hall for the unveiling of our state’s first creative district (if you missed that story click here) when I stumbled onto an unusual scene: At a space adjacent to City Hall, where I expected to see a law office disgorging an occasional dignified adult, I observed about a half a dozen adorable little kids with their accompanying mom, dad or grandparent pouring out.
Curiosity got the best of me. I thought, what’s the story here? Turns out, children’s music school Alley Bell Music is housed there now. It moved into the space in May, replacing law offices that had resided in that space for 60 years.
I think the symbolism of this new music program is fantastic — another creative “point of light” (to borrow from the late George H. W. Bush) pops up in the heart of Edmonds.
It reminds me of the image of a flower growing out of a crack in the sidewalk.
Its existence here in the center of commerce is emblematic of the hope of our new creative district. It points to a cooperative effort by the city, the property owner and the creative individual who had a dream to build a music program here.
The driving force behind Alley Bell is Sarah Richàrd. She received her bachelor’s in music education at Western and went on to earn a master’s in voice pedagogy at Texas Christian University. She also taught in the Shoreline and Edmonds School Districts for 10 years.
She began her program in 2012 with a single class in a space she rented from Barclay Shelton Studios — the entrance to her space opened into the alley just off of Bell Street. Alley Bell Music was born, and so was her second child (she has two boys), so Richàrd kept the program small in the first years. Eventually, she moved to a space she sublet from Bloom Early Education on Olympic View Drive. As Bloom expanded to include a bilingual program, space became tight. Richàrd found herself hunting for a new home for her program.
“I had always had my eye on being downtown around the art corridor — I dreamed of being in that building,” said Richàrd.
Lo and behold, a Craigslist offering for the space, which had not been up for lease in 60 years, appeared.
A music school was not really what owner Chris Williams had in mind, but he and his wife had an appreciation for early education done well, and decided to give it a go.
Next came sweating out the City of Edmonds’ approval, which included a change-of-use designation. Perhaps planners’ awareness of the push for creative endeavors helped things along — however it came about, much to her relief, Richàrd received a green light.
One of the things that impresses me most about Richàrd is her passion for her curriculum. Music Together is a licensed, internationally-recognized program that Richàrd first became enamored with as she earned her master’s degree. “I really feel that we’re changing American culture with this program,” said Richàrd.
Perhaps one of its most endearing qualities is that Music Together is play-based, (not performance-based) eliminating any sort of anxiety that is often connected with recitals or concerts.
Richàrd believes that music is our birthright, that it’s crucial to our culture. I couldn’t agree more.
Music Together emphasizes tonal and rhythmic development, two critical aspects to music that can’t be developed too young. “We wouldn’t dream of waiting until elementary school to start teaching our children speech. Like speech, music is a language — children can benefit from exposure to music from the very beginning,” Richàrd said.
Alley Bell accepts kids from newborn to age 5; the curriculum is designed to be adaptable to the entire age range. Materials include a songbook, a compact disc and there’s even an app! The 45-minute sessions span 10 weeks and expose little ones to an extraordinarily broad range of music. Music Together has enough material to run three years without repeating a lesson.
Alley Bell also conducts classes at Kennelly’s Keys in Lynnwood as well as in Lake Forest Park and Lake City.
Richàrd is especially excited about a new program — Music Together con Español. It’s perfect for Spanish speakers looking for a more accessible way to experience Music Together, as well as for those who want some exposure to the Spanish language through music. She’s brought on accomplished vocalist Elizabeth Ylaya, who is fluent in English and Spanish, to lead this immersive course. She’ll be offering this class both in Lynnwood at Kennelly’s Keys and at the Edmonds studio.
Enrollment for winter quarter, which begins in early January, is open. Although some classes have filled, space is still available in others.
Richàrd also teaches privately and works with students age 10 to (as she gently put it) “retirement age.”
Another program worthy of mention that Richàrd is involved with is the PEARL remote learning program sponsored by the Quilcene School District. It’s a K-2 class for homeschooling children. In this weekly 45-minute drop-off class, children have the opportunity to develop rhythmic and tonal skills through songs, chants, creative movement, musical games, and instrument exploration. Students can receive tuition for the program and need not reside in the Quilcene school district. The tuition Quilcene offers is not need based. It’s available to any home schooler in the state.
Learn more about Alley Bell Music at www.alleybellmusic.com.
When not actively scheming about ways to promote the arts in Edmonds, James Spangler can be found (highly caffeinated) behind the counter of his bookstore on 4th Avenue.