Making music together

Music school opens studio in Stephens City church
Azusa Stephens, left, and her son Hideshiro, 1, of Winchester, sit with Miho Sato, a music therapy teacher with The Community Music School of Piedmont, and her son Saul, 5, during a recent class at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stephens City. Rich Cooley/Daily
Saul Sato, 5, of Winchester, hugs his mother, Miho, while she winds down the class with light guitar music.. Rich Cooley/Daily
Hideshiro Stephens, 1, slides along the floor in a parachute to music tunes Rich Cooley/Daily.
Hideshiro Stephens slides his hands on a musical washboard to feel the vibrations during music class at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stephens City. Rich Cooley/Daily

STEPHENS CITY — A new school in Stephens City is part of an effort to share music with more people.

Music Together classes for children from birth to 5 years old started two weeks ago and take place from 10 to 10:45 a.m. Tuesday mornings at Trinity Lutheran Church in Stephens City. The school, which is affiliated with the Community Music School of Piedmont, based in Upperville and with other locations in The Plains, Middleburg, Waterford and Purcellville, will also offer music therapy sessions and private lessons for piano, saxophone, guitar and voice.

School Executive Director Martha Cotter said the music school branched out from its Loudoun and Fauquier county locations when it decided it would fill a need by heading west.

“We’re not out to set up an empire,” Cotter said. “We’re trying to bring music to folks, make it accessible.”

Trinity Lutheran was the first location the Community Music School contacted in the Northern Shenandoah Valley, and the Rev. Cameron Keyser agreed that having a music school in the recently renovated church building would provide an opportunity for community outreach.

Azusa Stephens, of Winchester, said the upstairs room provides a great location for the Music Together class she attended last week with her 1-year-old son Hideshiro Stephens.

Taught by Miho Sato, who also teaches in Upperville and is trained as a music therapist, the class combines dancing, singing and the playing of various percussion instruments in a hands-on process that incorporates multiple senses.

With only two students so far, including Sato’s 5-year-old son Saul, the class will be able to fit six in the same room.

Hideshiro enjoyed touching all the different instruments and hearing the sounds they made.

In one game, a colorful parachute became a boat with waves of color moving around the smiling boys.

In another, a musical washboard was a pretend door on which Sato knocked with her knuckles or scratched with her fingernails.

“Who’s that tapping at the window?” she asked the children. “Who’s that knocking at the door?”

“You guys felt it?” she asked them, letting each one feel vibrations the movements made against the instrument.

Saul, older and more familiar with the program, still maintained enthusiasm for the full 45 minutes of activities that switched almost seamlessly between soothing songs and more cheerful tunes, which hinted at various cultures from around the world.

Accompanying instruments included xylophones, sleigh bells, plastic tubes and mallets, maracas, bongo drums, cymbals and a rain stick.

After each song, she and the children said “good-bye” to old instruments and pulled out new ones for the next song.

At the end of the session, Sato sang them a parting song.

“Goodbye, so long, farewell,” she sang. “We’ll see you again soon, my friends, and make music together again.”

Stephens praised the class, saying she likes that Sato is open to what the children show interest in doing — lengthening her songs or showing them other instruments, like a guitar or egg shakers nested inside a tambourine.

“It’s really good for him, and he can actually run around,” Stephens said.

Intended for children to enjoy with a parent or caregiver, the classes encourage parents and children to keep using the ideas together at home.

Music Together is an internationally recognized music education philosophy started in 1987 by composer Kenneth Guilmartin and educator Lili Levinowitz.

Sato studied music therapy at Shenandoah University after moving to Winchester from Tokyo, Japan, in 1999. A music therapist for about 10 years, she focuses on improving sensory growth, speech and fine motor skills in participants of all ages.

One of her clients is a 2-year-old born prematurely and taking longer to meet developmental milestones.

“It’s been very successful, and she’s actually talking now,” Sato said.

Her other client is 27 years old and has severe physical and developmental disabilities.

“Music helps her,” Sato said. With music, “she is more together as a person.”

After seeing Sato for about four years, the student makes better eye contact with family members, vocalizes herself with more intention and demonstrates more purposeful behavior. Sato said the student also has fewer seizures now.

When music is playing, Sato said, “She could do many things better.”

Contact the Community Music School of Piedmont at 540-592-3040, or The Stephens City classes are held at the Trinity Lutheran Church, 810 Fairfax Street, Stephens City. The school, a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization, charges tuition of $32 per half hour to pay instructors and cover administrative costs. It also offers scholarships.

Contact staff writer Josette Keelor at 540-465-5137 ext. 176, or

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