It was a piano in his grandparent’s house that initially attracted Piotr Gajewski to music. Although no one in his family were trained musicians, music was always apart of his life. He started playing piano when he was four, and that initial contact with the ivory keys resulted in a lifetime love affair with music.
“There was a piano in my grandfather’s house,” explained Gajewski, who grew up in Poland. “They were always playing it, so I wanted to do the same.”
That deeply rooted passion inspired Gajewski to continue his education in music and pursue a musical career.
Although he was lucky to have that childhood exposure, he understands that not all children may be that lucky.
Music exposure at an early age touts many benefits—it improves academic and physical skills, refines patience, introduces new cultures and boosts self-esteem. Even in the womb, prenatal music can help with brain development and prenatal learning.
“Music has been shown in lots and lots of studies to help in brain development in ways that literally nothing else does,” he said.
Government funding and school budget cuts have hampered music expansion in early years, but parents still play a crucial role in the exposure equation.
“I’d say advocate to reverse those cuts!” laughed Gajewski. But if parents are unable to voice their concerns, they can still enroll in community music programs through local organizations or libraries.
Music is a universal language , said Gajewski, who immigrated to the United States when he was 10. Nearly every culture has their own style of music, or has put forth great composers and musicians. When a child or adult is able to experience what these cultures have to offer musically, they’re experiencing new worlds.
But if a parent or guardian does not have a direct interest in music, or access to musical programs, it can be hard for the beneficial exposure to happen, but not impossible.
“Start playing music for your kids,” explained Gajewski. “All kinds of music. When they are very, very young. And that will help them naturally cultivate an interest in music.”
To help more children experience live music, Gajewski along with the National Philharmonic, created the All Kids, All Free, All the Time initiative 20 years ago. It allows Montgomery County children, ages seven to 17, to attend concerts at the Music Center free of charge.
The initiative was the organization’s way of addressing the growing costs and associated concerns of live concerts. Cost can be a big deterrent for a family looking to experience the arts.
The organization also does annual concerts for all second-grade students in Montgomery County, reaching over 12,000 students every year.
“The school system has noticed an increase in interest in instrumental music in the school children,” Gajewski said. “That leads to kids taking music lessons. And kids taking music lessons do better in academics than kids that don’t.”
Whether it is a piano, trumpet, violin, flute or even the tuba, Gajewski urges more kids to experiment with picking up and playing instruments.
“How well or quickly a kid progresses really has little to do with natural talent and more to do with intensive time spent with the chosen instrument,” he said. Allow a child to explore. “If it’s a forced thing, it’s not nearly as quick or as rewarding.”