A group of parents sits comfortably in a circle on the floor, some with babies in their laps, some with toddlers or kindergarteners next to them or moving around the circle. A teacher, seated on the floor with the rest, leads parents and youngsters in a cheerful greeting song, tapping and swaying to the rhythm. Then the class participants fold their hands, bow their heads, and sing Ave Maria.
This is Making Music Praying Twice, a Catholic early-childhood music program. Early-childhood music classes have achieved huge popularity throughout the United States. Parents are attracted by the benefits of early music exposure and the desire to have fun with their children.
Making Music Praying Twice (which takes its name from a saying of music-loving St. Augustine) adds an important dimension for Catholic families: praying with music and introducing hymns and chants linked to the liturgical year.
As Kate Daneluk, creative director of Making Music Praying Twice (sometimes called MMP2), explains: “When I first tested the program years ago, I wasn’t sure how children so little would respond to prayer time in a class, but music as prayer was something I wanted to give my children. [At first, the children] did not want to ‘calm down’ from the fun. Then, at one class, I said, ‘Let’s just let them be kids and ignore their attempts to get attention, and just pray together. That example will do more for them than any correction.’ We knelt and prayed together. The next week, we did the same; and the third week, when I announced that we would sing our prayer, a 3-year-old girl walked over to the statue of the Blessed Mother, knelt and folded her hands. The other children followed.
“We sang and prayed and smiled. After another week, the children started singing along at prayer time. The power of prayer combined with the power of music transformed the children, the families and the groups.”
MMP2 promotes a “child’s God-given musical aptitude.”
Daneluk drew on her own experience as a teacher certified by the Center for Music and Young Children in Princeton, N.J., to develop the specifically faith-based music program: “In the first three years of life, the human brain is hardwiring itself at the fastest rate of growth it will ever experience. While this is an inappropriate time for formal education, it is an essential time to have social and environmental stimulation. Exposure to the faithful music of our Church is also more powerful at this early developmental age.”
Parents report that the benefits quickly become evident for all members of the family.
Julie Anne Milelli, a mother of three, says, “The spiritual impact of MMP2 has been phenomenal. Often, I find myself lost in my daily obligations and duties [and] barely have time to thank God for all the wonderful things that I have in my life. When I attend a MMP2 class, I put aside all my worries and focus on the music and take the time to pray and meditate. MMP2 is another place where the boys are able to feel the presence of the Lord through music and prayer.”
And Hannah Scansaroli, who attends classes at MMP2’s home parish, St. James Church in Basking Ridge, N.J., says the program “certainly has made us more of a spiritual family through music.”
Classes, which include singing, musical movement and instrument play, meet once a week for about an hour. Families take home books and CDs to reinforce the learning at home.
Mary Magnier, who attends Daneluk’s classes, says, “It is one of the few extracurricular activities that all of my children (ages 4, 2, 1 and newborn) can be in together. It is definitely a bonding experience.”
Since becoming a full-time endeavor in 2009, Making Music Praying Twice has expanded to 30 parishes across the country.
As Daneluk explains, “We feel that MMP2 is deeply in the spirit of the New Evangelization. We look to fill a need that appeals both to faithful families and un-churched and lukewarm Catholics. Families who participate are not ‘hit over the head’ with the faith, and yet the faith is powerfully integrated into the curriculum. ... If parents find a nurturing place for their children with valuable activities at the church, we can attract them to church at a critical and powerful time of their lives, the birth of their children.”
In addition to basic classes, a “Family Edition” is available for parents at home who don’t have a class nearby.
While it’s usually ardent Catholics who are first attracted to MMP2, the class’ reputation and family-friendly price point also draw less passionate and fallen-away Catholics. Teachers have been approached for help to have children baptized or introduced to other sacraments. Fallen-away grandparents have returned to the faith. And already serious Catholics, like Scansaroli, note that they’ve become closer to their parish through Making Music Praying Twice.
Father Michael Saporito, pastor of St. Helen’s in Westfield, N.J., has promoted the establishment of Making Music Praying Twice at his parishes “as a way to attract young parents and their children right from the start, even before other programs of religious formation. MMP2 gives us a chance to establish bonds with the children and families early on.” He says the program is “very well received. After the initial start-up costs, training and purchase of instruments, our program basically pays for itself.”
Elizabeth Foer, associate director of the Archdiocese of Newark, N.J., Catechetical Office, has helped Making Music Praying Twice implement its program in five of the archdiocese’s parishes. She explains that “this is a wonderful way that parishes can tap into the model of the New Evangelization by starting this program and opening it to all (not just their parishioners) within their geographic communities.”
As the MMP2 website (MakingMusicPrayingTwice.com) sums up: “Music is a pathway to God. Making Music Praying Twice provides that path by bringing children and parents together on the wings of song. ... While the gift of music education is invaluable, the gift of music combined with prayer is immeasurable.”
Wendy-Irene Zepeda writes from Southern California.