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Music Man: Charlie Keil was Born to Groove

When he was just a kid, Charles Keil had the great, noisy pleasure of owning a drum set. Granted the drums -- much like the saxophone, the oboe, the clarinet – are not on any parent’s dream list of musical instruments, but Charlie’s mother didn’t seem to mind. In fact, she encouraged the exploration of music, which her son did with gusto and hunger. Listening to his mother’s stride piano and lots of recording by Fats Waller, Duke Ellington, Spike Jones and other big name talents marked the beginning of an endless quest for music. It also sparked a soulful crusade to bring music to everyone. The Born to Groove Fund, which serves children in Connecticut’s northwest corner, is a labor of passion for this published author and former professor.

Charlie Keil

Keil (or Charlie as the kids call him) is an upbeat optimist with a firm belief in the transformative power of music, especially for young children. The Canaan Child Care Center has reaped the rewards of his vision, and recently received funding from the Born to Groove fund to invite music into the curriculum and lives of the 3- and 4-year-olds there. According to Jessica Anderson, who is a teacher at the center, musicking is miraculous.

“We created a music study and had Charlie come in to help us add music enrichment to our program,” she says. “It’s so amazing how early we are able to assess music ability. The kids picked up a lot of techniques and songs and after just a few short sessions were able to keep a steady beat with sticks and drums. They loved the African beats. Charlie came in with his conga drums and let the kids climb on them and play them. They had so much fun.”

Fun is the key ingredient in making sure that budding musicians continue to bloom. Anderson and her colleagues were able to engage students with music and mix in other topics. Culture sharing, food, patterns – these are just a few of the cross curricular leaps that abound in the classroom. All thanks to a drum and a dedicated teacher. Even Keil’s own experience with music is heavily entrenched in history and global studies. And, of course, joy and impulsivity.

“It’s a mystery overall how music has shaped my life,” he says. “Each specific style or ‘way’ as a process just delighted and puzzled me from way back when until now. I try to write about music-dance experiences in different societies, and nowadays I'm trying to reclaim the little bits that I've learned about -- such processes in Africa, Asia, Greece ancient and modern -- for use in childcare centers and home. The earlier infants and toddlers get into synch, find the groove in singing, drumming, dancing, miming, dramatizing, game playing, calling and responding, the better.”

The groove master, in keeping with his buoyant personality and no-limits approach, maintains an active role, not only as the fund’s founder and advisor, but also as an educator and mentor to both teachers and students in the region. His presence in the classrooms is electric, and optimism for the future of sound is infectious. And his mission is very simple.

“Berkshire Taconic made it very easy to create an avenue that supports my dream of bringing music to children,” he says. “I am hoping that our effort to involve as many very young children as possible will open up new opportunities for them. Children dancing into the future is my vision for humanity.”

The Born to Groove Fund was established in 2012 and has awarded grants for music and drumming programs to every childcare center in the Region One area.

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Charlie Keil
Charlie Keil
Charlie Keil at the Canaan Child Care Center. Photo by John Dolan. Story by Nichole Dupont.