Interview by Catherine Boyd
‘No more music, that’s enough – I said, “ok I want to do politics”, says Margarita Malkina about her decision to stop focusing on music at the age of 24 and her full-circle career move to find herself the owner of Brussels-based music programme, Tap & Clap.
Born in Russia when it was still part of the Soviet Union, Margarita came to Brussels by way of Lithuania, the USA and Italy. Margarita started music at 6 in Russia ‘at first for fun’ and continued in Lithuania where ‘it became something a little bit more serious’. She went on to music college and then the Conservatoire in Vilnius.
In 1998, her now husband suggested she move with him to the USA, which she did, despite speaking no English. There, she first studied English and then got a BA in Music. At that point she had focused on music for 18 years so she decided to explore other areas, settling on a career in politics.
Based in Washington she did internships with think tanks before working for the Democrats, until they lost in 2004. She went on to work full time as an NGO programme manager while in the evening doing a full time Masters in International Affairs. Learning French too, she hoped to ‘save the world’.
After the birth of her eldest son in 2008, her priorities shifted: ‘I didn’t want to go back to work because in the States you get very short maternity leave. If you’re lucky it’s paid, I was paid, but then that’s it’. Her husband had the opportunity to move, which they took. First living in Italy and then, when her son was 6 months, they moved to Brussels.
Discovering Music Together and starting her classes
Looking for activities for her son Margarita found Music Together, a US programme, with a Brussels franchise, Ding Dong.
She went for a trial class – ‘I absolutely loved it’. ‘I enjoyed the songs, it was fun, it wasn’t the traditional the wheels on the bus or twinkle twinkle, but it was simple, you could easily pick it up even without a music background’.
“So, what’s good about having her own school? ‘I do what I want, I am no longer limited by the Music Together curriculum and I can design it however I like’.”
The owner of the school, Mariette, was looking for an extra teacher and asked Margarita if she was interested. Margarita thought: ‘I’m scared!’ but did an internship and was hired. She went on to get a Montessori certificate and subsequently taught at the Montessori School: ‘It gave me an opportunity to find my own voice and do the songs that I liked’.
After COVID hit, Ding Dong had to close and it never re-opened. So Margarita decided to open her own school: her first trimester was tough and then it picked up and she currently has over 100 clients and 12 classes.
So, what’s good about having her own school? ‘I do what I want, I am no longer limited by the Music Together curriculum and I can design it however I like’.
What are Tap & Clap classes like?
In class, ‘I travel every week to a different region of the world, musically speaking’. Most recently to Oceania, ‘we did a Māori activity with egg shakers and a dance from New Zealand’.
“We try different things we try egg shakers, we try movements, we try very simple CHOREOGRAPHY, I break it down to very simple steps that anyone can do.”
The classes are structured: starting with a hello song, where each child is welcomed by name, and ending with a goodbye song. In a class there are lots of songs, with activities, ‘we try different things we try egg shakers, we try movements, we try very simple choreography, I break it down to very simple steps that anyone can do’.
There is also a ‘jam session’ where children try different musical toys. The classes are in English but it’s also ‘very global’ and the music comes from all over the world.
All classes are for children aged 0 – 4, but babies under 7 months come free if an older sibling is enrolled.
Benefits for parents and children
For the parents, the benefits include spending dedicated time with the child. As a parent, ‘I know that if I’m at home with my son, I say okay let’s do something fun, but I get distracted’. ‘I’m very much a blah blah blah person’, but it’s good to have a time to focus on the child.
For the children? ‘The benefits are enormous’. In particular: ‘the children pick up all the components of musical language and also the idea music is fun’. Songs teach them concepts like fast and slow, and creeping, for example. Margarita also tries to encourage improvising – introducing creativity.
‘I love my job’ but ‘every week I stress out: I’ve been doing it for what 11 or 12 years now, every single class I stress out, how parents will like the songs’.
What does she like best?: ‘Doing the music that I like, a little bit the theatrics of it, a little bit of acting’. Finishing a song at the same time: ‘it’s such a satisfying feeling, it means we’re all thinking the same way’. She loves hearing chatter outside and the good energy continuing.
So is she happy she went back to music – it seems so.
Want to know more about Tap & Clap?
Tap & Clap is a new music programme in Brussels for children ages 0-4 that inspires parents and children to sing, dance, and simply enjoy music.
Interested in taking part? Registration for Winter Term 2024 is now open!
– 11 sessions, Jan 10 – Mar 24
– €187 for 1st child and €132 for 2nd child and beyond
– no fee for infants up to 7 months old at the start of the term (i.e. born in June 2023 or later) who are accompanying an older child.
All classes are limited to no more than 10 children. Registration is on a first-come, first-serve basis.
Full details on the Tap & Clap website.
If you’re new to Tap & Clap, Margarita would love to welcome you to a trial class! Sign up for a trial class here.