BY MICHAEL ELLIS
If you live in Denver, chances are you are very familiar with Swallow Hill and the bliss they bring to the community through their music classes and concerts. Founded in 1979, Swallow Hill Music began as an extension of the Denver Folklore Center, a music store in Denver’s Swallow Hill neighborhood that offered music lessons and performances to the community in 60s and 70s. When the Folklore Center closed temporarily in the late 1970s, a group of committed volunteers formed Swallow Hill Music as a nonprofit organization whose mission is to “bring the joy of music to life every day.” From these humble beginnings, they have grown to become a cultural asset and distinct thread in Colorado’s musical fabric.
However, they have come a long way from representing just the Denver Folk scene. While they have evolved in so many ways, the one path they’ve made that really caught our attention, is with their community outreach program, Little Swallows. The sole purpose of this program is to bring music experiences to under-resourced communities. Through their K-12 After-School Classes Program, School Assembly Program, and community partnerships, they were able to reach 19,000 people at more than 60 locations last year.
Last month, I had the absolute pleasure of sitting in on a Little Swallows class designed by instructor Katie Oaks, at Denver’s Warren Village. Warren Village exists to help low income single parent families achieve personal and economic self-sufficiency—and to sustain it. Single parents living at Warren Village are dedicated to improving their lives and creating a better future for their children and themselves.
Katie effortlessly held the attention of close to 15 preschoolers with her warm and inviting voice, ukulele skills and plentiful props. The children were eager to show off their love of music and knack for knowing the words to the familiar songs. Hidden in each song were math and phonics lessons, secretly packing a punch for these bright- eyed children. It was obvious that this was their favorite part of the day.
CEO of Swallow Hill, Paul Lhevine beams with pride when speaking about the early education program. “We know that families are struggling across our community. We know they’re trying to make ends meet. Our Little Swallows Early Education program is providing formal music training for kids that wouldn’t otherwise have the opportunity and we know that’s critical for their future development. Formal music education really doesn’t exist in early childhood education settings. And even if there are programs, funding is hard to come by. We believe in music education because music drives language and math skills. It promotes the appreciation of low pitch and high pitch, fast and slow pace, socialization, and collaboration and so much more.”
Warren Village offers the perfect home for this program and it is so touching to see the positive impact happen right in front of your eyes. Ethan Hemming, CEO of Warren Village sums the experience up perfectly. “The Little Swallows program has made a huge impact. What they bring for us is access to quality music education and quality instruction that Katie provides for our kids. For children who come from trauma, and with the experiences that our kids face, this music education gives us another tool and an asset that has been demonstrated to help cognitive ability, linguistic development, and fine motor skills. It’s really an additional way that we can help those kids raise the trajectory and where they can go.”
Thank you, Swallow Hill, for your tireless efforts to strengthen our community through the universal language of music. Visit https://swallowhillmusic.org/outreach/ to make a donation to this much needed program!