A little before four every Wednesday afternoon, a crowd starts gathering at Maryfield Wildwood Park.
Just north of Dexter Road, the small park is horseshoed by Linwood, Westwood, and Maryfield streets. It is usually quiet, with rarely more than a dozen kids, watched over by a handful of moms and dads. But that changes at Musictime. The swings, sandbox, play structure, and grassy softball field are gradually abandoned; more families stroll over from the neighborhood; and a few pull up in cars as the northwest corner of the park fills with strollers, blankets, diaper bags, and picnic baskets.
By four o’clock, fifty to sixty people have gathered, and a couple of thirty- and forty-something dads and one mom stand up in the shade of a giant shagbark hickory tree and begin strumming two guitars and a mandolin. For the next hour the musicians pick and sing their way through a series of familiar classics from the preschool repertoire, as well as songs adapted for the occasion. The bluegrass standard Mama Don’t Allow No Music Playin’ Around Here is transformed into a play-along. The musicians pull maracas, tambourines, harmonicas, small drums, and improvised pie plate gongs from a big plastic tub and distribute them to the kids who enthusiastically bang and blow on and in them throughout the song. Action songs about spinning and jumping follow, and then the musicians pull out a small multicolored parachute. The kids crowd around, holding the edge, and sing I’m Being Swallowed By A Boa Constrictor.” By the end of the song, everyone is under the parachute and giggling and squealing.
Musictime was started in the spring of 2008 by Noah Haiduc-Dale, a stay-at-home dad working on his NYU dissertation. Inspired by his brother in New Jersey, who launched a similar gathering, Haiduc-Dale began inviting friends to his living room, then to his backyard, and finally, as the group continued to grow, to Wellington Park across the street. Jon Thomas-Palmer, who teaches physics at Northville High School, and Jotham Tausig, an insurance agent, and his wife, Jane, eventually joined Haiduc-Dale in leading the songs. Now a weekly email reminder goes out to fifty-one families, and occasionally potlucks follow the music–“my favorite part is actually after the music, when everybody hangs out,” says Thomas-Palmer.
When the Haiduc-Dales moved to Waynesburg, Pennsylvania, this past summer, Musictime moved, too–Maryfield Wildwood Park is closer to the Thomas-Palmers’ house. It also formed a new offshoot: next spring, Noah Haiduc-Dale plans to start another Musictime in his new community.