Little Folkies Offers Unique Music Classes for Kids

April 26, 2014

Little FolkiesParents in Marin and the Bay Area looking for a music class for their kids have many options to choose from. One of the more unique resources for musical education for little ones is Little Folkies. Run by Marin parents Irena and Joshua Smith, Little Folkies keeps kids engaged and entertained with classic music in the spirit of folk legends like Pete Seeger and Woody Guthrie. Little Folkies' main studio is in San Francisco's Noe Valley, and they offer regular classes at locations in Marin, including San Anselmo and Mill Valley.

We asked Irena to tell us about how Little Folkies came about, and what makes it a unique music experience for children.

What makes Little Folkies different from other music classes?

There are a lot of aspects of Little Folkies which make it distinctly unique. But to what really sets Little Folkies apart from other music classes of its kind are three things… Songs, aesthetic, and the fact that the business is truly independent and locally born and bred right in San Francisco.

The songs in Little Folkies classes are, by and large, original compositions of the creators of Little Folkies Irena and Joshua Smith, a songwriting duo, who are also active folk musicians themselves and parents of their own 14-month-old little folkie, and residing in West Marin. They also feature traditional folk and bluegrass tunes in class each week.

Little folkies pride's itself on a handful of aspects that really set it apart from other music classes of its kind. It is firmly rooted in the inspiration of pre-1950s era folk kids music, exemplified by the children's music of Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger, as well as a the folk song forms that these classic tunes are built within.

Why did you start Little Folkies? What was the inspiration?

The two of us, (Irena and Joshua) had the great fortune of getting to meet the late Pete Seeger a handful of years back when he performed at the Monterey Jazz Festival. Some good friends of ours were playing in his backing band, and when we first met him backstage, he found out that we taught music to young kids, he proceeded to sing "Where is Thumbkin?" to us in its entirety, which brought tears to our eyes. It was so sweet.

And then we watched him perform an incredible set of children's music that was both musically riveting and timeless. Here was a man in his 90s playing some of the best and most down-to-earth children's music we had ever experienced.

It was the perfect example of the dignity and musical integrity that is sometimes lost in modern music geared towards young kids. Pete really brought a sense of purpose and a responsibility for the experience of the young children who were listening to him that day, as he always had, and we set out to create a program that builds on that particular spirit of music that is not sensationalized, but real, down-home music, that is not a compromise for the kids and adults to get excited about…

Little FolkiesWhat's the most satisfying thing about teaching kids music?

Hearing our compositions being sung in full voice by families in our class will never fail to get us a little choked up and swelling with gratitude. We are thrilled to get to enhance the moment to moment experience of the little ones in our classes by giving them a repertoire of songs to sing and learn about their world through. When we see them smile and hear them sing a song that has really become a part of their world, it makes us feel good.

What kinds of music and instruments do kids get exposed to?

Our teachers always lead class playing acoustic guitar and from time to time they also play songs on banjo, ukulele and mandolin. The instruments that get played in Little Folkies class are shakers, kid-sized accordions, glockenspiels, and various percussion that can be played by anyone of any age… In our big kids classes for children ages 3–6 years, the teacher introduces a new instrument every week, ranging from string instruments like banjo, fiddle, and mandolin to more unusual instruments like the saw, melodica, harp, and slide guitar.

What else do you offer besides music classes?

At our headquarters in Noe Valley, Little Folkies Studio, we offer group ukulele, banjo and guitar classes for adults as well as private lessons through our music lessons service, SF Music Lessons.

Where do you teach Little Folkies classes?

Our main location which runs classes almost daily is in Noe Valley on Church Street near 27th. We also offer Little Folkies classes at a few satellite locations in Marin Country throughout the week: at Sprout in Mill Valley, Pomegranate and Marin Community Music School in San Anselmo, and also at SF Sprout in the Marina. Our website is www.LittleFolkies.com and registration is available at the moment for a 10-week Spring Semester of classes at all of our locations.

Photos courtesy Little Folkies