Musician finds his passion while performing for children

When his youngest daughter was born in 1987, Gary Van Slyke left the club and bar circuit where he p

When his youngest daughter was born in 1987, Gary Van Slyke left the club and bar circuit where he performed for years as a rock and folk musician.

It turns out raising Amanda was a transformative event for the man who, it seems, played on every stage in the area.

“I knew I had to find another way with my music,” said Van Slyke, who describes the direction he found as his calling.

Within a few years, he was performing regularly at the day care center at the Gloversville YWCA.

“Over time I began to realize what a positive impact that music could have on children,” said Van Slyke, now 56 and living in Mayfield.

Eighteen years later, he said, former pupils of the day care center continue to approach him to tell him their vivid memories of those performances. In a number of cases, he said, they credit the experience as the inspiration that led them to learn an instrument.

“They tell me what instruments I played, what songs I played,” said Van Slyke. The unexpected feedback, he said, shook him up. “I said, ‘Whoa, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’ ” He said he discovered that playing children’s music is “high impact. … It’s the most positive contribution I can make.”

Though he has played weekly the last 10 years at the Montessori School of Amsterdam (for preschoolers), he said he has been nurturing an idea for 15 years to start a monthly children’s concert series in Gloversville.

That idea came to fruition last month when the series for preschoolers and young home-schoolers began at First Congregational Church on East Fulton Street.

Nearly 20 youngsters, some from the YMCA day care program, attended the first event. Van Slyke, who is volunteering his time, will continue the series from 10 to 11 a.m. on Wednesday at the church.

Playing such standards as “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” and “Row, Row, Row Your Boat,” Van Slyke relies mostly on his guitar, autoharp, harmonica and penny whistle. On occasion he introduces some percussion instruments and even presents his marionettes. Van Slyke encourages the children to participate in some of the songs.

Van Slyke’s act receives top reviews at the Montessori School, where head teacher Marcia Schmidtmann said the children refer to Tuesdays as “Gary’s Tuesday.”

The performances are taped and used throughout the year, said Schmidtmann.

“I couldn’t possibly tell you how much we enjoy him,” she said.

“We love him,” she said of Van Slyke, who also performs at the school on special occasions.

Van Slyke said while he is committed to the new concert series at Congregational Church, he would like to take it to a more sophisticated level with the help of grant money or donations.

Funding, he said, would make it possible to present additional musicians and programming.

Categories: Schenectady County

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