A new way to play: Little Roots music program attracts families, new fans abroad

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  • Little Roots cofounders Maggie Shar (left) and Annie Stevenson (right).  COURTESY LITTLE ROOTS

  • A child watches a Little Roots video on a screen at home during virtual online classes.  COURTESY LITTLE ROOTS

  • An assortment of props and small musical instruments used in Little Roots.  COURTESY LITTLE ROOTS

  • Local musicians and music educators Annie Stevenson, left, and Maggie Shar play a song on the steps of their Little Roots Studio in Florence. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Local musicians and music educators Maggie Shar, left, and Annie Stevenson are co-owners of Little Roots Studio in Florence, a children’s music program that has also blossomed online. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Maggie Shar cranks the diorama on a pretend screen in the activity space at Little Roots Studio in Florence. Photographed on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

  • Local musicians and music educators Annie Stevenson, left, and Maggie Shar are co-owners of Little Roots Studio in Florence which offers a children’s music program that has also blossomed online. Photographed on Wednesday, Sept. 23, 2020. STAFF PHOTO/KEVIN GUTTING

Staff Writer
Published: 9/24/2020 12:20:48 PM

Although the COVID-19 pandemic has shut down in-person classes at the Little Roots studio in Florence, children from across the globe can now attend an online version of the Florence-based program in the comfort of their own homes.

Little Roots — which offers family-friendly music classes for children 6 months to 6 years — is the brainchild of musicians and educators Annie Stevenson and Maggie Shar, who founded the program in 2014 before opening up their studio on Maple Street.

“We do music classes for young kids and their grownups, and we really try to make it a place where we can build community, increase the joy factor and create a space that makes music feel accessible to everybody,” Shar said. “We also really try to make music that grownups like as well.”

After the pandemic began, Shar and Stevenson said they had 500 people sign up for classes during a single week from across the world, tuning in from countries such as Spain, Israel, France, Canada and Peru.

“Through word of mouth, within a week, a lot of people just kind of were joining in, and it was really amazing,” Stevenson said. “Everybody was kind of in shock, and people were signing up for these classes. We saw all these little squares of just tons and tons of people, some that we knew from our community and our classes and a ton of people that we had never met. But everyone was just singing the same song at the same time and just being together.”

Both Stevenson and Shar are professional gigging musicians. Stevenson, a graduate of Berklee College of Music in Boston, is a singer-songwriter, guitarist and recording artist who has performed with artists such as Justin Townes Earle,  Anaïs Mitchell and Josh Ritter. Stevenson also fronts her own band, Annie and The Beekeepers.

Shar is a banjo player and Hampshire College graduate who has performed regularly throughout New England with her bands The Moon Shells and The Ephemeral Stringband.

The music educators said that songs performed during classes — their old-timey folk tune “Green Like a Garden” is one favorite — draw from traditional Americana tunes as well as Gospel, West African music and Irish traditional songs. One class is specifically focused on ukulele; other offerings are a Bedtime Class, the Little Roots Family Class and adult music classes called The Woodshed. Prices range from $135 to $175 per household, depending on the class session.

With the switch to an online format, Stevenson and Shar have added more visual elements to their classes such as puppetry and folk art.

One of the challenges is the “Zoom fatigue” attendees are feeling as the weeks stretch into months, Stevenson said, noting that the number of attendees has decreased recently. Typically, 15 to 25 children attend Little Roots, which launched its fall session on Monday.

“We have our regularly scheduled live classes, which feel like our bread and butter right now,” Stevenson said. “We still get to see everybody, and they get to see us in real time and interact.”

The duo is also launching a new series called The Little Roots Show, which will include four prerecorded episodes for the autumn season featuring guests such as percussionist I-Shea and Americana/bluegrass singer-songwriter Aoife O’Donovan of the band Crooked Still.

Stevenson, who now has a 4-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son, said O’Donovan is “an old friend” whom she has known for years as part of the same network of musicians in the Boston area. “She has a daughter, and so we thought it would be fun for their family to be able to do a little something together,” Stevenson said. “The idea is to help inspire people to make music as a family.”

For more information about Little Roots, visit littlerootsmusic.com.

Chris Goudreau can be reached at cgoudreau@gazettenet.com.


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