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Something to Sing About

Something to Sing About

piano
Ensembles:
“Maddie has a great affinity for music. She’s developed so much familiarity with instruments and with different elements of music.”

Music is a way of life for the Butler-Hellewell family

Written by Kate Battenfeld

In the Butler-Hellewell home, the joy of music fills the air. Parents Michelle and Elizabeth both grew up playing instruments and have always envisioned passing that love of music onto their children. This is what drew them to SDYS’ ChIMES program in the first place, and now, three years later, they continue to enjoy  the benefits of an early childhood music program that provides the whole family with an enriching musical environment.

Michelle and Elizabeth first enrolled their three-and–a-half-year-old daughter Maddie in a ChIMES class when she was just ten months old. Initially, they were looking to introduce her to a fun, interactive musical activity as well as support a local nonprofit arts organization. However, they soon discovered that ChIMES was also building and nurturing their daughter’s understanding of musical concepts, expanding her knowledge of instruments, and providing their whole family with a delightful musical activity they could share together.

“Maddie has a great affinity for music,” says Elizabeth. “And now, she’s developed so much familiarity with instruments and with different elements of music.” She and Michelle remember the time when Maddie first began to identify specific names of instruments. “When she was 15 months old, we’re in a parking lot where music was playing and she said, ‘A trumpet!’,” Michelle says. “I don’t even notice that there’s music playing, yet she notices the different instruments because they’ve been demonstrated in class. That made a big impression.”

Maddie’s parents have also noticed a growth in her comfort level with singing and recalling songs from the classes. “In the beginning, she would sit on one of our laps and just be quiet the whole time… but when we put her in bed, she’d be there singing all the songs from class,” says Michelle. “Now that she’s older, she’s doing more, she plays with her instruments from class a lot, and it’s just meant so much, how it’s all soaking in.”

Along with picking up the songs quickly, Maddie is developing a real appreciation for being part of a musical community. “With ChIMES being a part of SDYS, it has that real ensemble connection and that’s one of the things that we want to showcase,” says Michelle. “Understanding how to be a part of an ensemble is something that’s really helpful in terms of early learning.”

The ChIMES classes also help to further strengthen the family bonds within  the Butler-Hellewell family, made even more special now that their infant son Ethan has joined the classes with big sister Maddie. Additionally, they have made some wonderful friendships through attending classes, and this has provided all of them with a real sense of belonging. This feeling of community has been especially helpful since March 2020, when ChIMES classes went online due to the pandemic. 

“The fortunate thing for us is that we started ChIMES classes long before this pandemic started, so Maddie already had this familiarity with the structure of the classes, and knew some of the other kids,” says Elizabeth. “It’s been a great constant during this time period.” 

Michelle agrees, and adds that even for families who have not yet experienced the classes in person, the virtual ChIMES format still brings people together to sing and dance with joy. “It’s been really nice to just have other people in our living room,” she says.“So even for those people who are starting from scratch, it’s great too because it’s nice to have people outside of your immediate family singing with you.”

No matter what, it’s clear that the Butler-Hellewell family will continue to find ways to make music a part of their everyday lives—and that is certainly something to sing about.


ChIMES (Childhood Introduction to Music Education, with Smiles) is the flagship program of the San Diego Youth Symphony’s early childhood division, and started with just a few classes back in 2018.  Since that time, it has grown to accommodate over 500 families in its parent/child classes, over 300 students in the Chula Vista Elementary School district, and a number of partnerships with area preschools and community outreach programs as well.

For more information on ChIMES classes, visit sdys.org/chimes 

San Diego Youth Symphony