Why Listen to Kids Music (An Open Letter to Tom Moon)

Zooglobble: What are your musical memories growing up? Stefan Shepherd: I remember being in the back seat of the car on weekend drives through northern California hillsides, listening to whatever easy listening station my parents could find. I still have a soft spot in my heart for Herb Alpert and ABBA... I remember my dad building an electronic organ with multiple keyboards and pedals, the works, when I was in elementary school, maybe first or second grade? I took lessons for maybe 8 or 9 years. I even took piano lessons for a year or two to strengthen my fingers for organ, that's how hardcore we were... We went through Babies R Us when my wife was pregnant with Miss Mary Mack. I was excited to look through their CD section. I recall it being pretty small. We found a CD -- I can't even remember the title and I doubt we have it anymore -- and I remember being very disappointed when I actually listened to the thing -- the nameless (literally, there were no credits on the thing) people responsible for the music couldn't have been bad musicians, but they produced something so schlocky that we had to find something else to listen to. **** IMG_6387.jpgLast week Jeff Bogle from the fine kids music website Out with the Kids participated in a "debate" with the music critic and musician Tom Moon. Heard on WHYY's Radio Times, the hour-long program featured a discussion of whether kids should listen to kids' music or adult music. You can probably guess which side Jeff took, and therefore can also deduce Mr. Moon's position on the question at hand. I say "debate" in quotation marks, because, as someone quipped on Facebook near the end of the hour, it was like hearing a fundamentalist debate a Unitarian Universalist. Jeff would cede some eminently reasonable point made by Tom ("You're not going to catch me arguing against the Beatles"), while Moon would entirely refuse to grant even a single point Mr. Bogle made worth considering. Let's put it this way -- it started out by Tom criticizing Lunch Money's gently amusing fable "It Only Takes One Night To Make a Balloon Your Friend" (listen here). As the 20- or 30-second excerpt ended, Moon railed against it as a song teaching kids to make friends with balloons (it's, um, not) and by the end of the show seemed to imply that Mozart would never have composed his many masterpieces had he listened to music like that. For someone so interested in musical discovery he wrote an entire book about it (1,000 Records To Hear Before You Die -- download the list here) to be so utterly dismissive of an entire subset of music (in response to hearing the Dan Zanes/Sharon Jones cover of "In the Basement," he said that it was nice, but he was pretty sure he'd enjoy anything on her records with the Dap-Kings than on that album -- sound unheard) was a little dispiriting. At first I chalked it up to the way that debates end up polarizing the argument so that people are more concerned with making points rather than finding some common understanding. But maybe I misunderstood Tom Moon -- maybe he completely believes that, that there is no point to kids' music. **** This past year I've thought some about how to spread the word about great kids' music to the world at large. So I presented at the EMP Pop Conference on adult artists creating second careers in kids music, for example. And I've tossed around some other ideas. But what if there are lots of people who ask: "So what? Who. Cares." It's not an unreasonable question. We in the kids music world spend so much time talking about what we think to be good kids' music -- mostly to others in the kids' music world -- that we don't take a step back and say why it's important in the first place. My goal here, then, is to lay out my theory of why kids' music is not only valid but important. I've borrowed a few pieces of information here and there (and I'll note those borrowings accordingly), but the theory (and its faults) are entirely my own.

All Things Considered: The Deedle Deedle Dees on NPR

StrangeDeesIndeed.jpgIf there's a band in kids music which comes anywhere close to actually considering all things, it's probably The Deedle Deedle Dees, whose interest in historical subjects and folklore is wide-ranging, and often expressed in (very catchy) musical format. So perhaps it's appropriate that the band's latest album, Strange Dees, Indeed, was reviewed tonight on NPR's All Things Considered. I did the honors, and if you found your way here for the first time thanks to the review, welcome. Lots of other stuff from the Dees and a bunch of other bands. By the way, if you're curious about the band's blog (mentioned in the review), you can find that here. In any case, thanks for stopping by...

Christmas Songs 2011, Part III

I think it's time to wrap up my Christmas/holiday song links for 2011 seeing as it's barely 48 hours until the celebrating starts. In case you missed any of it, here are links to: Christmas Songs 2011, Part 1 Christmas Songs 2011, Part 2 Christmas Albums 2011, Part 1 (Kids Music) Christmas Albums 2011, Part 2 (Non-Kids Music-Specific) Kris Kindie, the kids music Christmas benefit compilation Tips for caroling with kids And with that, let's get rolling. So, speaking of Kris Kindie, a couple of the tracks on the album are available elsewhere here on the Interwebs. HipwadersLive.jpgThe Hipwaders appeared on Northern California radio this morning, playing a couple tracks off their fun Kindie Christmas album. They played "Wake Up (It's a Christmas Surprise)" (yes, it's on Kris Kindie) live in-studio. Good to hear DJ back in the fold. (Listen to "Yes, It's Christmas" here.) Debbie and Friends also contributed a song to the compilation -- the new tune (and Spin Doctors-inspired) "Santa and Baby." No, she didn't create the video just for the compilation -- that would be a little much to ask for in just a week, but it's kinda cute anyway. Debbie and Friends - "Santa and Baby" [YouTube] Oh, you think we're done here?... we're busier than a shopping mall the last Saturday before Christmas.

Caroling Tips: Caroling with Kids

carols1-150.gifWith Christmas rapidly approaching, I thought I would share some tips for caroling. I actually wrote much of this just after the new year, but thought that tips on getting the most out of the caroling experience with kids wouldn't be of much use in January. (Music can be an important part of celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday and Valentine's Day, but caroling... not so much.) So read on for my tips on how you and your kids can get the most out of caroling without driving you (or your kid) crazy. I actually went caroling twice in December 2010, which proved useful as there were a number of things I learned the first time (on a Sunday morning with a church group at a nursing home) that I used the second time (on a Monday night with friends from our -- and in our -- neighborhood). It wasn't the first time I'd gone caroling -- I'd also organized our prior neighborhood caroling event a couple years ago -- but I paid much closer attention to what seemed to work well. 1) It helps to have a single sheet. Books of carols are nice, but it takes too long to find the carol you actually want to sing. That's why my carol sheet (see below) is two pages, which can be copied back-to-back on a single sheet of paper. You obviously still need to find the carols, but it's much easier scanning a single page or two. 2) You need to have (at least some) songs preschoolers can sing. This is assuming, of course, that preschoolers are part of the mix (although it can be argued that simplicity is essential, and it's not that bad of an idea to stick to the simplest of carols). That fancy carol sheet is of little use (beyond that of pride) to the preschooler who can barely recognize their own name let alone the second verse of "O Little Town of Bethlehem." Songs I'd include in this category include "Jingle Bells" and "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," though I'd note that even more complex carols like "Deck the Halls" offer opportunities for the youngsters (kids pick up the "Fa la la la la..." part pretty quick). 3) Have a variety, but not too much so. You need to have a variety of songs so you're not singing the same three songs at every stop. Having said that, there is some value in everyone singing the songs 2 or 3 times during the caroling session so they actually master it, and if you have 30 songs (many of which will be unfamiliar to many of the carolers), you're not going to get that value. Also, you need to include a preschooler-friendly song (see above) at every stop.

Share: "Cat and a Bird" - Cat and a Bird

CatAndABirdHoliday.bmpLike the picture says. Almost all every track of Cat and a Bird's great self-titled debut album (really, it is) is now free on CD Baby for a limited time. You'll have to pay $0.99 for the album's one cover ("Wanna Be Like You" from The Jungle Book) and download the tracks one at a time, but it's definitely very much worth it. Download the tracks here.

Announcing Kris Kindie: Christmas Music for Kids and Families

kris kindie cover art.pngIt all started innocently enough -- someone makes a comment on Facebook about how there should totally be a kids' music Christmas compilation album. For charity, maybe. (Note: I cannot vouch for the veracity of the word "totally" in there.) Then somebody (I'm lookin' at you, Jeff) suggests that I should head up the effort. Next thing I know I'm downloading WAV files and uploading them to Bandcamp and pondering tracklist order. So, today, less than one full week after the original suggestion, I'm happy to present Kris Kindie, a collection of 27 Christmas- and holiday-themed tracks from 27 different kids' musicians. In this case, I don't feel like I'm a producer (though I'll call myself that) as much as I am a coordinator -- folks sent me tracks, and I put 'em together in a handy single format. (And got Jeff to do the album art.) Some were recorded especially for this compilation, some are new, some are old, some are reverent, and some are... less so. But I'm pretty sure that most folks will be able to find at least 5 tracks they like, which is great, because for just $5, not only do you get those 5 tracks (and the other 22), you know that all the net proceeds (which are all purchases minus Bandcamp and PayPal processing fees) will go to KaBOOM!, a national non-profit dedicated to creating "great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities" and, eventually, "a place to play within walking distance of every child in America." Thanks to Jeff, Bill, Gwyneth, and Deb, who helped out, and most of all, thanks to the musicians who contributed. Listen below, and if you like it, I hope you'll consider purchasing the download.