If you've read this website over the past five or six months, you know how big a fan I (and the rest of my family) have become of Austin's Biscuit Brothers. They've recorded four CDs and make the not-infrequent concert appearance in the Austin area with their top-notch, often rootsy versions of American classics and originals, packed with not a small amount of wit for both kids and parents.
But it's their PBS TV show in which they really shine. Each episode of the show typically tackles a different musical concept -- tempo, harmony, folk songs, emotion in music -- and illustrates that concept through a variety of ways. The two brothers Dusty (Jerome Schoolar, the executive producer) and Buford (Allen Robertson, the musical director) are the genial guides; sister Buttermilk (Jill Leberknight, jack-of-all-trades) reads from "The Big Book of Music" (it's a really big book); and Tiny Scarecrow (a puppet voiced by Damon Brown, the director) often plays the fool, demonstrating a concept via exaggeration or general silliness.
It sounds dry on paper (or, er, the screen), but it's anything but. Just watch Go Make Music! Volume 2, a collection of 4 episodes from the show's second season (2006-2007) released this summer, and tell me you and your family members a) don't learn something, and b) don't enjoy it. It's explicitly educational, to be sure, but there's such joy and fun on the screen that you don't mind learning (or re-learning) even the most basic of concepts. In the episode titled "Dynamics," all about how loud and soft music is, Tiny Scarecrow and Buttermilk share a duet where Tiny doesn't quite get the concept of loud and soft at first. It's funny to hear Tiny singing "I am singing softly, softly, softly" at the top of his nasally voice, but it gets the point across to the young'uns quite clearly. Or in "Conduct Yourself," the Brothers go on a "Conducting Adventure" illustrating exactly how important conductors are to drawing good or bad musical performances out of people (or how confusing it can be to having two conductors). If there's a base musical style used for illustrating concepts, it might classical music, but the show employs a whole host of styles, particularly folk and roots music when just playing music.
By this, the second season, the show has certainly settled into its routines for each episode, and so the favorite segments -- "Instrument of the Day," Crazy Classics," the end-of-show song in Symphony Barn -- all make their appearances here. The production is, once again, first-class. To artists who think they can just put together a DVD without much effort, I encourage you to watch these shows and look at how many people it takes (or how much effort it takes) to put one of these disks together.
A few technical notes -- the disk contains four 27-minute episodes from the season's second (13-episode) season. It also includes all 12 "Instrument of the Day" segments from Season 2. Strung together, I found listening to the segment theme a dozen times in about 24 minutes a little tiring, but individually (either option is available), I think they're great little 2-minute lessons about, say, the clarinet. There's also a brief DVD "Easter egg" that's worth finding.
The shows are going to be of most interest to kids 3 through 8. Unfortunately, there's nothing showing the Biscuit Brothers in action on Youtube or anywhere else on the web (a segment or three from "The Best of Symphony Barn" episode would be perfect uploaded there, hint hint, guys). But trust me. You can buy all sorts of Biscuit Brothers stuff here.
We watch the two DVDs from the show quite a bit. I watch Go Make Music! Volume 2 and can't help but think that this show a) could be huge, and b) should be huge. They have just the right mix of educational goodness, entertaining productions, and musical talent that make the show a real treasure. Definitely recommended.