By Tim Nichols, freelance writer
Imagine fingers dancing across the keyboard. Tapping out a Bossa Nova beat on a table. Playing the recorder over and over, eyes transfixed by the notes arranged on the page. Well, that’s just me remembering my meeting with the director of Musikgarten in Oak Park, Amy Pappageorge.
Rewinding and playing the recorder again, I can picture Pappageorge in person. Her childlike excitement swaddled in a very supple, inquisitive mind. For an hour, she paints a picture in my mind that shows how vitally important early exposure to music and the arts is to the development of children: Sometimes singing to illustrate a point, sometimes standing up suddenly as if moved physically as well as emotionally by the importance of it, and always supremely articulate.
“The Musikgarten curriculum educates the child from birth in a carefully sequential plan that we refer to as the pathway to music literacy,” Pappageorge explains. It’s clear, though, that this is about much more than learning how to play the piano. “All aspects of learning are enhanced when music is a key element in a holistic approach” she adds. “Research clearly shows it is helpful to all later learning and strong cognitive functioning.”
Then I simply follow that up with, “Wow, really?” to be serenaded some more: “When information is embedded in an emotional context, it stimulates neural circuitry more powerfully than information alone.”
The next question is designed to impress her with my exacting knowledge of the subject matter: “Is it really true that an early arts education can lead to higher concentration levels, more motor coordination and better—better—you know—”
“Among many other things, It promotes language development, creativity, a love of singing and dancing, social interaction, and cooperation,” Pappageorge responds patiently.
After earning her master’s in Performance Studies from the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, Pappageorge and her husband moved to Los Angeles with their two children to pursue acting, professional storytelling and a general process of self-discovery. Fortunately, for the children and parents of Oak Park, a combination of bad public schools in LA and too much waiting on tables between auditions led the family here.
They were immediately influenced by the “the wonderful schools, the community-wide support of the arts, the idealism of its citizens and their passion and caring about the welfare of others,” says Pappageorge. “Oak Park is a tight-knit, open-hearted community. There’s a ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ spirit in this town.”
One of Oak Park’s great teams is the Oak Park Arts District Business Association on Harrison Street, where the first Musikgarten space was located.
“OPADBA just works wonders to support Arts District Businesses and to provide cultural events and bring beauty and opportunities to the village.”
To underscore that point, Pappageorge recently moved her studio space even closer to the heart of the Arts District, right next to the Buzz Cafe on Lombard and Harrison. An increased demand for classes also made it necessary to find a larger environment, after operating for years in a one-room school house.
“Everything about the new space and the overall design fulfills my requirements for a lovely and well-arranged music and movement studio,” she says.
The move also helps continue a collaboration between Pappageorge and her friend Gigi Hudson, director of The Actor’s Garden.
“In the new location, we have made Musikgarten and The Actor’s Garden accessible to each other by adding an inside adjoining door. This allows us to use one another’s spaces and helps the families to stay connected to us as we share students and pedagogical goals.”
Additionally, the backyard of the new studio features a community-supported organic vegetable and flower garden.
“With our nature-based preschool curriculum that encourages an understanding and appreciation of nature, what could be more perfect and harmonious?”
Pappageorge is particularly proud of a second room in the new storefront that will serve both as a studio for her own pursuit of painting as well as a studio for keyboard classes and possibly Zumba dance classes for adults.
As we stand in this second room, surrounded by keyboards, oil paintings and colorful bongo drums, Pappageorge points to two incongruous plaid-patterned recliners against the back wall. She smiles longingly and talks about how they will be perfect for sneaking naps during the day. However, if you’ve ever met Pappageorge, you’ll agree that this is one dream, maybe the only one, that will not likely come true for her.