Celebrating Two Decades of In Harmony Music

Photo by Luke George Photography

When Justine Chadly moved to Benicia 20 years ago, she was seeking a creative arts program for her young son, who was around the age of one and a half or two.

“There was nothing here in town that was arts based, and also nothing necessarily community-oriented,” she says. “There were swim lessons, for example, but not necessarily an activity that provided a way to meet other parents.”

Chadly took matters into her own hands, creating In Harmony Music — a youth music program for those ages 0-8, with parent or guardian participation encouraged. In Harmony Music is now celebrating its 20 year anniversary in Benicia, and along the way, it expanded to cities such as San Francisco, Sonoma, and Marin. Though the music was a passion of Chadly’s, she put in the work to make this business a success for herself and for every member of the community.

“I was always involved in music and musical theater and choirs,” she says.

“I hadn’t done any formal music education, so I went back and got a BA in music from UC Davis with an emphasis in vocal performance, then an MA in Music Education with an emphasis in early childhood and special needs from San Francisco State University. I was motivated to be able to articulate to the families how and why it’s important to start so young, for teaching not only music but social engagement. Social engagement in classic settings is best learned at this age and much is learned from watching the adults around them … the kids are really watching the grown-ups participate. Classes show the parents or caregivers how important their role is.”

These connections, big and small, young and old, are what fills Chadly’s cup — and what she loves most about Benicia.

“I love the community,” she says. “People show up for one another and help one another out. Some of my closest friends are the families that took my class 20 years ago. It really shows you how much music can connect people. There are fundamental needs of humans: to move, to create, to connect with other people, and to be able to express, and also to play. Early childhood music has to be playful, and it’s kind of an excuse for adults to be silly and play.”

Leading up to the pandemic, Chadly had stepped away from teaching to grieve the tragic December 2018 loss of her son, Damani “Mani” Elijah Chadly, to gun violence. She even appeared on episode 7 of Tyler Henry’s Life After Death, which they filmed at her son’s memorialized bench at E Street’s waterfront. Despite this time in her personal life, Chadly undoubtedly showed up for her community through music. She connected people when they might have otherwise felt isolated, through socially distanced and online classes. Her fiancé, Tom Foote, is an impressive creative mind in his own right and was a particular source of strength.

“Tom and I write music and we teach together; I think that’s why our classes are so popular together. We’re a dynamic duo,” she says.

“I hadn’t been teaching, but when the pandemic started, I had to jump into gear to get the community together. We started teaching online and stuck together. We have a hard time teaching without the other! He was meant to carry me through tough times and be right by my side.”

In honor of Chadly’s son, who was the inspiration behind In Harmony Music and continues to bring motivation, Chadly has started In Harmony Foundation to offer loved ones of gun violence victims support through music and beyond.

“We offer similar programming of music and mindfulness methods proven to help heal,” Chadly explains. “Music helps to heal and regenerate nervous systems … it’s complex. Did you know that music is one of the only things that engages both hemispheres of the brain? Though there is solid research out there, music provides healing powers beyond anything we can explain. When people are in mourning and feel alone, we can connect, offer resources, and provide various community events.”

As far as classes go, Chadly has kept virtual classes as an option along with quarterly classes that meet three times a week.

Some in-person classes are inside while others meet at the Benicia Green. Fall sessions begin on September 11th and run through November 19th, but fill up quickly. Another viable option to experience In Harmony Music is to book a private class, which was also a staple during the pandemic as many felt comfortable partaking with their quarantine “bubbles” or “pods.”

Chadly’s passion shines through in everything that she does, and she hopes to continue on to make more community connections through the power of music.

“I’m just honored to do this work,” she says. It’s sacred and my life’s purpose.”

For more information, please visit inharmonymusic.com.