The kids are alright
“How are my Music Monsters today?” asks Jess Arcularius, a 30-something musician with boundless energy and classic rock charisma.
“Great!” comes the giddy, screamed reply of about a dozen preschoolers.
“Are you ready to play some music?” asks Arcularius.
“Yeah!” These kids, 3-to-6-year-old students at Magic Treehouse Preschool in Sparks, seem genuinely amped, nearly to the point of being unruly, but Arcularius is able to keep their attention and channel their energy toward music.
Each preschooler has a small backpack filled with musical instruments, primarily percussion. Arcularius asks them to take out their small, egg-shaped shakers and create the chugga-chugga rhythm required for a song called “Freight Train.” He also prompts the kids to join in with occasional “Woot! Woot!” train whistle exclamations. The kids laugh and shake their shakers with unbridled enthusiasm.
Arcularius is a Reno native and veteran of the local music scene—perhaps most notably as the guitarist, vocalist and frontman of the group Jumbalaya Blue. Four years ago, feeling burnt out by the local bar scene, he started teaching preschool and developing Music Monsters, a music program aimed at toddlers. He visits a half-dozen local preschools—Sunflower, Little Golden Goose, Magic Treehouse, Pebbles, Noah’s Ark and Saint John’s—and conducts weekly music classes that last a half-hour or 45 minutes.
Every year, he then presents a Music Monsters concert featuring all the kids from all six schools—more than 100 children—all up on one stage, singing, chanting, clapping and banging on percussion instruments, not necessarily in perfect unison or harmony, but with undeniable energy.
This year’s free Music Monsters concert will be in the showroom of John Ascuaga’s Nugget, the same venue that’s hosted the event the last two years. The title of the show, and the theme of this year’s curriculum, developed by Arcularius, is “Roots of American Music.” It’s the conclusion of a trilogy of themed shows. The first two being “Rock ’n’ Roll” and “Folk.”
The preschoolers learn a little about the history of American music and about instruments from around the world, as well as teamwork, the power of creative expression, and “some basic rhythm theory—counting, basically,” says Arcularius.
Some of the songs are originals penned by Arcularius, but others are familiar classics. He says parents get a kick out of the kids coming home singing Johnny Cash’s “Ring of Fire” or Queen’s “We Will Rock You.”
He says he doesn’t want to spoil the surprises of this year’s concert.
For Arcularius, a key to developing the Music Monsters program was learning how to communicate with the preschoolers. For the most part, he spends a lot of time getting the kids excited about music. “I’m like a rock star to them!” he says, clearly relishing the role. But he can gently reprimand if need be, and he communicates to them directly, using each kid’s name.
“Well, I am one of them,” he says with a smile, “So I talk to them as equals—while still maintaining authority. I’m ‘Mr. Jess.’”