Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Let's Make it a Tradition!

I am writing today, the day after a very successful concert at my mother's school, The Congregational Church Nursery School. This has been the second year in a row that I have been able to play a winter break concert for my mother's school, and it's now on my list of favorite holiday traditions.

I was blessed to share the stage with my wife Tracey and Mom too! Here is a brief clip of "Hang With Me":

During "The Otter Song," the children were moved by the spirit to "swim" around on the ground which was the first time I've seen that happen. It was very cute, and as my mother commented, a free floor cleaning for the church! The concert could not have been possible without the kind support of the French family and David French Music in Westborough. Thanks again for the P.A. equipment and for supporting a fellow indie artist. Kudos to David French Music for providing access to quality musical instruments for budding musicians in Central MA for over 20 years!

First Night Family Fun Update:
I was forwarded a Boston Herald article about Ellis Paul, a folk artist and fellow kids' musician, by a friend of mine. The article is a great read for any struggling musicians out there trying to make it in the music industry. He will be playing a family concert during the Boston First Night Celebration at the Hynes Convention Center between 3:30 and 4:45pm. Any families who are planning to be in downtown Boston for New Year's Eve should check it out!
p.s. The interweb went down here at the AppleGlen Inn last night so this is a bit of an 11th hour suggestion... sorry. Stay warm and stay safe this New Year's Eve.

Kid's Quote of the Day: (before the concert) "You know, my dad is named Nick!" (after the concert) "Did you know my dad's named Nick?" ~ Anonymous Fan (age 4-5)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

On The Third Day of Christmas...

Greetings, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year! Despite my best intentions to post a new, Christmas edition of Singing in the Bathtub, I am just now finding a spare moment to sit, reflect and write.

The lead up to our escape from Miami and return to MA for the Holidays has been something of a wild ride. As some of you may know the Arts Academy of Hollywood has fallen upon hard times. Before the winter break it was unclear what the future would hold for the school, it's students and it's teachers and staff. Fortunately, the school was granted a temporary reprieve by the property owner, the town is trying to come up with a way to find funding, and generous donors are stepping in to help keep AAOH afloat. I hear there is going to be an article in the Miami Herald this Sunday, so the press is also pitching in to bring attention to the issue. Please keep us in your thoughts and prayers.

Now, on to the Mistletoe and Merriment! It has been a joy to share this holiday season with family and friends. Tracey and I are blessed to have both our immediate families in same general geographic location. We missed Alison, Eric and the Wee Miles (who traveled to Cleveland this year), but were grateful to spend Christmas with Tracey's Aunt Sally and Grandma Ruth who made the trip up from D.C. We were also blessed to see brother David (Li'l D.) on break from the Circus which is now enjoying a stint in Montreal, the circus capital of the world. Cheers Birdhouse Factory!

One great joy this year has been the music that we have shared. The Freitags attended the yearly sing-along in Potomac MD with piano virtuoso Silvard. His ephemeral tones (from his new Holiday CD) have been dancing through the house ever since. At the Deysher residence, my mother has been wearing out her copy of Yo-Yo Ma's latest offering, Yo-Yo Ma and Friends, Songs of Joy and Peace. My personal pick for Christmas soundtrack is the classic A Charlie Brown Christmas by jazz piano legend Vince Guaraldi, followed closely by, A Christmas Together: John Denver and the Muppets. You can't top the classics!

One favorite memory from Christmas day was our sing-along around the piano after dinner. Ruth and I shared the piano playing, and by the end we had almost everyone chiming in. My New Year's resolution... to practice some Christmas Carols so I can be a better accompanist!

Kid Quote of the Day: "Who is that guy?" ~ Cousin Jonathan (age 9), "I'm your cousin Nick."

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Won't You Be My Neighbor?

I guess in the hectic Fall season of performances and events, this Chicago Tribune story passed me by unnoticed:

What a heart-breaking, but inevitable shame!

Kid Quote of the Day:

Tuesday, December 9, 2008

The Festival of Lights

It's been a while since I've been able to review a new kids' music album here at Singing in the Bathtub, which is why I am excited to announce this Special, Holiday, Double Album Review!

A few weeks ago I was contacted by not one, but two Jewish kids' singer/songwriters with new Chanukah albums on the market.

Mama Doni

and ShirLaLa (a.k.a. Shira Kline)

We listened to both CD's in class this week, and here is what the students had to say:

Cover Art
We looked at Mama Doni's I Love Herring and I Love Chanukah first. The general consensus was that cover art "stands out," as one 9 year old described. I was told by most of the girls that Mama Doni is, "very pretty." There was general amazement in her transformation from the front cover to the back, "She doesn't look like the same person," one 10 year old girl commented. As for the inside of the CD, the general comment was, "Don't make me hungry!" Mama Doni got high marks in the art department or, "I think this is the best one ever." as one 8 year old puts it.

For ShirLaLa, the colorful painting on the cover made an impression. For those students familiar with Chanukah, the menorah was immediately recognized, "I love menorahs, and the pretty colors of the candles look great against the red." one 11 year old girl wrote. Not everyone made the connection, "It looks like a birthday cake at first," her 11 year old classmate remarked. Shira's hip, two-tone hairdo got noticed. Shira's cover art was also well received. "I think the cover art is awesome, and I also think it is very traditional," a quote from one 9 year old which sums it up nicely.

Again, for the Jewish students and those who were familiar with Chanukah, it was easier to grasp what both singers presented in their lyrics. I was a little disappointed that many students wrote, "I don't understand," and ended the conversation there. We talked about most of the references (avoiding some of the more scriptural music in ShirLaLa's album due to the secular nature of the classroom). For those who did pay attention to what was being sung, Mama Doni was most often described as "funny," and "cool." As for ShirLaLa, "She is very creative with lyrics themed around Chanukah." on 11 year old girl wrote.

When I put on Mama Doni I saw a lot of heads bobbing, especially to "Funky Gold Menorah." I even saw some air turntable spinning. "It rocks," or "It's funky," were popular refrains. Some pointed out the different musical genres, "What I like is the Caribbean beat." one 8 year old girl remarked. "It's a mixture of different kinds [of music]," another 8 year old added. The Jewish Cowgirl was by far the most popular track. "I love the Jewish Cowgirl! This rocks!" one 10 year old wrote.

There was also a good deal of bopping in chairs when I put on ShirLaLa. I wasn't surprised that some of my South Florida students commented, "It sounds like Spanish," upon hearing "Chanukah Bamba." One 10 year old girl wrote, "I like how you put different music and added the kids to show your music." The "ShirLaLa Singers" were noted often. The same student went on to say, "I liked how you put two voices at the same time." after hearing "Hayom Chanukah."

Let's start with Mama Doni. We ended on Jewish Cowgirl, so I got a lot of comments about country music, and horses, and hillbillies, and hobos (yes hillbillies and hobos!). "It reminds me of Hannah Montana (but you make better songs than Hannah Montana)," a 9 year old girl commented. 

With ShirLaLa, some of the older boys made reference to Barney (though, as a friend of Barney I don't agree). The ubiquitous "Beatles" reference came up, and one that I was surprised to hear was "The Blues Brothers." 

Age Range
In general the range for both performers was 5 and up. I heard the word "teen," come up a lot when talking about Mama Doni. With ShirLaLa, there were more "all ages" comments. 

The Mike Brady Wrap-Up:
It was a little wild being contacted by two Jewish performers in the same week, both promoting Chanukah albums. At first glance, one might group these two kids' musicians together, but the great thing is that each singer represents a unique aspect of the Jewish experience. Momi Doni sings primarily in Yiddish (when not singing in English), while ShirLaLa sings primarily in Hebrew as a second language. 

Mama Doni's persona is playful and humorous. In some ways I Love Herring is a comedy album. ShirLaLa comes across as soulful and free-spirited. Chanukah! as an album is more focused on education, celebration and religion.

Musically, again we see a divergence. Mama Doni's music, from a production standpoint, is almost entirely electronic. I would prefer some more acoustic instruments. I think producer Adam Nelson's skills and Mama Doni's sound are at their peak on I Love Chanukah. The vocals are well done, though some of the harmonies seem like an after thought rather than part of the composition. The album's humor outshines the music unfortunately.

With ShirLaLa, it is almost the exact opposite. There are very few electrified or synthesized tracks (even down to the string bass which is always great to hear). Here's where it gets a bit strange... Producer Josh Nelson (are they related?), creates a nice, live feel on the album. The band is great and the kids' voices are a nice touch.

I think all those Jewish families who are bombarded by Christmas carols every year, would enjoy either of these albums. So if you're searching for something other than "Dreidel, Dreidel, Dreidel," to sing this year during Chanukah, check out Mama Doni and/or ShirLaLa.

Kid Quote of the Day: "[This reminds me of] a night at home, eating matza ball soup with my family." ~Hailey (age 11)

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Thankgiving in for Sharing

Greetings all, and happy Thanksgiving. Tracey and I packed up the car (and the dog), and drove up to Atlanta to share Thanksgiving with our new nephew and family. It's been a fun trip, and it's amazing to see how Miles has grown and changed since we were here in August.

This morning we had a little impromptu sing along before a wonderful meal, and currently we're rubbing our tummies and feeling full and satisfied.

Wishing you a wonderful and happy Thanksgiving from Singing in the Bathtub!

Kid Quote of the Day: "Brrr, mmmbah." Miles (age 6 months)

Monday, November 10, 2008

Running Off to Join the Circus

Greetings fellow bathtub-singers! I am writing today from the basement of the New Victory Theatre in New York City. For the past two days I have been doing sound design and music mastering for a wonderful circus  company called "Cirque Mechanics." Their latest production called "The Birdhouse Factory," is set to open in Time Square this Thursday. Anyone who lives in the NYC area should come and check it out! It's a great, all ages performance.

By amazing coincidence Dan Zanes and Friends will be loading in after the show wraps the weekend of December 13-14. I met the crew (and my Brother-in-Law Dave) in Pittsburgh and helped them get ready sonically for their show yesterday at Penn State. It's been a busy few days of travel with little sleep, but it will be sad to head back to Miami to resume my usual life as a teacher/musician.

On an unrelated note, I played a concert for the Funtastic Friday event in Hollywood before leaving on my trip. After the show I was approached by a woman who runs a talent agency that focuses on the kids' b-day market called "All About Entertainment." This is really an answer to years of prayers for some help in the booking department.

Additionally, I'll continue playing the Funtastic Friday shows every 1st and 3rd Friday of the month. I also have some shows coming up on the main stage in Hollywood's Young Circle Arts Park so stay tuned!

Circus Quote of the Day: "Without promotion something terrible happens... Nothing!" ~ P.T. Barnum

Friday, October 31, 2008

Happy Halloween

Halloween has always been my favorite holiday. I would begin planning my costume for the next year on Nov. 1st. It's a bit different being on the adult end; dealing with the kids on a sugar high (or subsequent low), managing costumes that include weapons, calming children who are scared or over stimulated, and worrying about the neighborhood kids vandalizing your property. Despite all that, it hasn't lost any of the magic for me.

Today, I wanted to share some great Halloween ideas as well as some fun Halloween songs. These have all been passed down to me from my earliest memories of Halloweens past to my years in the classroom:

The Halloween Store:
There was a really great family I met my first year teaching. They had three girls between 2-6 years old, and the couple were both friendly and skilled parents. To combat the problem of bags full of candy rotting their kids' teeth and filling them with junk, they opened the Halloween Store. An exchange rate was worked out so that the girls could trade in pieces of candy for prizes like books, pencils, erasers, small toys and costume jewelry. (The parents admitted that at the end of the night, they wind up eating all the candy themselves).

The Ooky Spooky:
I have a vague memory of hearing someone sing this variation on the Hokey Pokey, but I can't remember who. Regardless, if you change the words "Hokey Pokey" to "Ooky Spooky," and pause after "that's what it's all about," for the kids to shout "BOO!" you've got the Ooky Spooky.

The Grand Old Spook of York:
The original, Grand Old Duke of York is one of my favorite action songs to sing with children. For this Halloween variation, I just substituted some of the words and imagine that the "Spook" is chasing us up and down the hill as you slowly speed up the tempo upon repeating.

The Grand Old Spook of York,
He had 10,000 men,
He scared them up to the top of the hill,
And scared them down again,
Oh when you're up you're up,
And when you're down you're down,
And when you're only halfway up, you're neither up nor down.
(They can also shout "BOO!" here too)

Witches' Brew
I remember my sister learning this song right at the age when I was getting too old for silly songs, so I couldn't remember the melody when I planned to add this song to my repertoire. Fortunately, my wife Tracey had sung it in church choir growing up, and helped me figure it out. Here's a link to Hap Palmer's own introduction, explanation and lyrics.

I've been having a great time singing this one with the kids, and hearing what they come up with to add to the brew.

Kid Quote of the day: "I'm going to be a white fairy-princess, but I'm keeping it a surprise." Amelie (age 3)

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Exclusive Myspace Release

Dear fans and friends, I wanted to let all my loyal blog readers know about an exciting and exclusive music release on Myspace. In the interest of promoting In The Nick of Time's upcoming album (tentatively titled "The Many Faces of Mr. Nick"), I have uploaded two singles from the album to my Myspace page.

The first is my tribute to Johnny Cash and the Florida Everglades entitled, "Alligator Sally."

The second is my tribute to the Ramones called "Punk Rock Vowels."

I hope you all enjoy! I hope to finish up and release the album sometime in 2009. Until then, this should wet your appetites.

Kid Quote of the day: "Wow, Mr. Nick, your legs are really skinny! How do you stand up?" ~Ava (age 4)

Monday, October 20, 2008

Catch That Train...

Greetings fellow bathtub-singers! Today I am proud to announce Singing in the Bathtub's first concert review. Tracey and I were lucky enough to catch Dan Zanes and Friends at the gorgeous Adrienne Arsht Center in downtown Miami.

I missed his last visit to Miami, but I recall the kids showing up at school with T-shirts the next day. Dan Zanes made reference to this concert at the beginning of the this Sunday's show, and I tracked down a little YouTube clip which illustrates why:

There was no onstage, toddler moshpit at the end of his performance this time around, but there was a healthy crowd bopping along down in front or resting their chins on the edge of the stage.

I always love to see events at the Arscht Center (and the Knights Auditorium where Zanes et al. played). The buildings are beautiful inside and out. The stage and setting are great for everything from Comedy (we saw Kathy Griffin a few years ago), to Broadway (we caught "Celia" the biography of Celia Cruz on the first leg of it's tour), to Family Music like Zanes and Friends. Miami is a perfect local for Dan Zanes to debut music from his latest Spanish Language Album, "Nuevo York."

Tracey and I were up in the third tier balcony, but we were near the front and as a performer and live sound engineer it was a good vantage point to check out their set-up and see how they negotiated the sea of cables that keep everyone connected. By my mark, the group of multi-instrumentalists covered the Electric and Acoustic Guitars, String Bass, Banjo, Mandolin, Violin, Trumpet, Spoons, Recorder, Drums/Percussion, Accordion, Harmonica, Ukulele, Tin Whistle, Melodica and not to mention, everyone sang.

I have to admit, I was totally jealous of Zanes' amazing and dynamic band. It's a group effort in the truest sense of the word. Every performer had a chance to sing lead, the front line often swapped instruments between songs, and no one played just one instrument over the course of the show. Dan Zanes is the hipster-star of the show, but he gets by with a big help from his "Friends!"

I love to play the influences game, and I was sensing an ample blend of Bob Dylan, Pete Seeger, Norah Jones, The B-52's, and even a bit of Hendrix (towards the end, Zanes played his electric guitar behind his head a la Jimi). If Bill Harley sounds a bit like Steve Martin (when you close your eyes), Dan Zanes looks a bit like Martin and even has the banjo. Zanes presents a nice blend of Folk, Old Tyme, Rock n' Roll, Latin and Zydeco. Much like Pete Seeger, Zanes is a collector of traditional songs from around the globe. In this sense his, "Family Music" is just the newest branch on the old Folk Tree. 

Where a Dan Zanes and Friends show misses the mark in my opinion is in Zanes' onstage banter, which is directed almost entirely to the adults in the crowd. It's more of a missed opportunity. Zanes had the crowd right at the foot of the stage with their chins on the edge and yet he seemed to be addressing the balcony. Playing traditional, grown-up Folk music can also bring up some questionable themes (like the sinking of the Titanic, or debt collection in Pay Me My Money Down). I guess the same could be said for Ring Around the Rosie!

All in all it was a great show. I would rank Dan Zanes and Friends with some of the best live performances I have seen (Family Music or otherwise)! I love to see talented, energetic performers inspiring the very young with quality music. Don't miss them when they come to your town!

Kid Quote of the day: "I just saw Dan Zanes play! Who did you see?" ~anonymous boy in the elevator (age ~5)

Friday, October 10, 2008

The Mission

Recently, I've been fretting about my career, my personal goals and the direction my life as a musician and educator will take. Bogged down with the mundane, but very real concerns of these troubling times, I've allowed myself to loose sight of something fundamental: The Mission.

Why do I write these songs? Why do I labor to plan my lessons? Why do I spend the hours in traffic, or wear out my fingers playing the guitar for hours? It's not so I can make a name for myself (though I'd love to reach a wider audience). It's not to pay my mounting bills (for I could certainly choose a more lucrative field). It is in the service of children. 

I woke this morning to discover a wonderful documentary on A&E was being broadcast. It was an hour-long biography of Mr. Fred Rogers, and it came as a reminder to me of why I chose the path that has lead me here. His inspiration came from a sign engraved in the halls of his future wife's college dorm, "A Life is for Service." I hope that at the end of mine (as with his), that I can look back and feel that I have truly met this charge.

It is at times like these, when I face obstacles, sagging inspiration and general worry, that I look for powerful examples to show me the way. This small snippet from a US Senate hearing seems particularly appropriate:

I am touched by the way Mr. Rogers was able to melt the crusty shell of his disrespectful inquisitor. His words are as true today as they were when he delivered them, especially when you consider that this fight still continues to this day. As recently as 2006 year, PBS's funding has been in peril. It's a shame when politics allows us to loose sight of the true mission.

Concert Update:
This Sunday, The Arts Academy of Hollywood will be hosting the Health and Safety Showcase! I have been asked to be the M.C. on the main Harrison Street stage. My afterschool students will be giving a sneak-peak of their Halloween performance, and Tracey and I will be performing as In The Nick of Time! The event is from 1-5pm. It's free and should be a lot of fun.

Kid Quote of the Day: Here's a video response to Mr. Rogers' testimony that was posted on YouTube: ~ Lady Xeona (age 2)

Friday, October 3, 2008

I Met The Mayor!

Well, Funatstic Friday was a big hit! I set up in the newly refurbished Anniversary Park and played for a throng of kids and parents. They blocked off the entire street, set up a moon bouce, and hosted clowns, magicians, local venders and Yours Truly! This will be a bi-monthly event and I was invited back indefinitely (perhaps I can convince the city to pay me next time)! 

I did sell a few CD's and pass out a few cards, and hopefully reached a new audience outside of my school, The Arts Academy of Hollywood. Because I was the only one with a P.A. I was responsible for making announcements (and helping lost children reunite with they're folks). I did a lot of plugging for the venders, the city and for the movie that followed my set "Shark Boy and Lava Girl." I hope that the powers that be recognize my contribution!

On an exciting note, I did get to meet the Mayor of Hollywood, Peter Bober.

I have to admit that, at first, I thought he was an interested parent. He is very young, attractive and dynamic in person. He's the first public official to praise me for my work, and I don't take his endorsement lightly. I was also photographed for one of the local papers. Hopefully I'll get some press out of the deal. So that's the story for this evening. October is turning out to be a very busy month for me and In The Nick of Time. It's great to be back in the swing of things!

Kid Quote of the day: "You're almost as good as the Jonas Brothers," ~ Anonymous Fan

Thursday, October 2, 2008

11th Hour Gig Update (Literally!)

Greetings! I finally have word from the good folks at the City of Hollywood. I'll be performing at the Funtastic Friday Night event tomorrow evening (10/3) starting around 6pm. The gig is in the newly refurbished Anniversary Park, on the corner of 20th and Hollywood Blvd. I'll be followed by a 3-D showing of "Shark Boy and Lava Girl." I've heard mixed reviews about this flick, but I guarantee that the pre-show will be a winner!

Kid Quote of the Day: "George Bush invented guns, and guns are bad, so George Bush is bad!" ~ Jack (age 4)

Monday, September 29, 2008

Mommy and Me (and Daddy too!)

Today I wanted to breach the topic of infant music classes. My sister wrote me an email asking about a Musikgarten class in which she is hoping to enroll the wee Miles. I personally have taught similar classes through Gymboree, and my own school The Arts Academy of Hollywood has a wonderful instructor (Sherri Wilcox) who teaches Kindermusik classes. I wasn't sure if Mommy and Me is still around, but sure enough this is yet another option for infant classes. I'm not sure why they insist on using German spellings, and I'm a think "Mommy and Me," is a little sexist against Daddies, but that's just semantics 

Here is my take on this type of class: The benefits of infant classes are, building physical, emotional and musical bonds with your child, giving infant and toddlers a chance to interact with other children their age and (in some cases) learning American Sign Language and Baby Sign.
The curricula, from my experience, are well thought out by trained educators, the percussion instruments, stuffed toys and class materials are well made and age appropriate (jingle bells are in baskets so no little lips or tongues get caught), and the music can vary from class to class. There tends to be a lot of super-cheesy kid sing-alongs which I abhor, but I guess infants respond to young voices. Gymboree has a partnership with Putumayo music which provides them with great music from around the world.

Here are my caveats: Most of these companies are big national chains. Though the teachers are provided all the materials and lesson plans, the class is only as good as the teacher running it. Typically you can try a class for a reduced price or for free (look online for coupons!). If you or your kids don't respond to the teacher, keep looking. With that said, the location is only as good as the management. I left Gymboree in Miami three years ago after not being paid for my time (I'm still waiting for my check!), but it's still one of the top retailers of kids' clothing nationwide and scores of people enjoy their classes everyday.

At the end of the day, this was the best thing for me. I take pride in developing my own curriculum, and I found the rigid framework to be too constrictive (plus I wasn't allowed to encorporate my songs or bring in my guitar, banjo, drums, etc.). There are lots of studies that show that these infant and toddler classes can improve body awareness, motorskills and musical acuity. The Mandarin Chinese have 70% higher rates of perfect pitch because they grow up learning a pitched language where the tone of a word can change the meaning. However, I always try to warn against the "Baby Einstein," myth. Infant classes will not get your kid into Harvard, nor will they be guaranteed a headlining bill at the Royal Albert Hall. It's the same thing I see in preschool where parents expect their kids to be reading and writing even if they can't use the bathroom or dress themselves on their own (I can tell you which skills their Kindergarten teacher is expecting to see!). These types of classes are mainly for fun, so go and enjoy yourself, and wear clean socks cause you may have to march around in them!

Here's what my mother (Anne for those of you who follow the comments) had to say:

"I would say that if you have the time, try it and see what you think. Use your judgment. I did some little music and Mommy and me gym classes with you kids at the Y when you were wee ones. My only caution is not to get suckered into having to do "classes" with Miles when he's little. We have parents whose preschoolers are in dance, gymnastics, soccer, music and so on. One little girl goes from school to dance and then swimming all in one day! Too much! Kids need time to be home and chill. That being said, if you find the classes provide and opportunity for some quality time with Miles (meaning that he enjoys it, too), and a chance to connect with other young parents, then great!"

Kid Quote of the day: "Nicholas [a classmate, not me], your mom does too much for you. You should feel lucky that she even bought you a birthday present!" ~ James (age 8)

Friday, September 26, 2008

Hodge Podge

I've been meaning to put out a new edition of Singing in the Bathtub for sometime now, but a minor, rear-end car accident at the beginning of the week has eaten up all my time. Both the car and I will be fine (after some body work), and thankfully AIG's woes haven't effected their ability to pay out on insurance claims. As a result, I am going to try and pack in a bunch of different topics that have been running through my head this week:

I heard a startling statistic on NPR's "All Things Considered," during my drive home today. On average, public school teachers spend $1,200 a year out of their own pockets to buy supplies for their classrooms. That's more than 5% of my starting salary as a preschool teacher! With budget cuts and short falls, the burden on teachers is getting worse. There are dedicated people and organizations who are trying to do something about it. If you have a chance, please visit Adopt -A-Classroom and see how you can help out a school in your area.

Digital Media and Kids' Music
Coming soon is a review of Hank Hooper's new CD called Playground Fortune Teller. I was contacted by BitWorks Music who are responsible for Hooper's multimedia digital distribution. They are working on the cutting edge of the digital music scene and for this release there are audio files, liner note images and an eBook to boot! I applaud this kind of innovation, but I'm not sure how appropriate it is for the kids' market. After the release of my first kids' album One Man Band, a fan and parent told me that her son slept with the CD case on his pillow. Having a tangible album to hold and appreciate is a powerful thing for the very young. Perhaps I am being a bit old fashioned (and a bit hypocritical since my own album is available on iTunes), but I feel that this generation will be plugged in enough as technology advances. In my classroom critique sessions, the kids jump at the chance to pass the CD around and inspect the cover art. With this in mind, I contacted Hank Hooper directly and he has offered to send me a hard copy. Until it arrives, here's a video from the album for you to enjoy:

For My Bean-Town Readers
If you read my review of Bill Harley's Yes To Running! DVD and CD, but have not had a chance to go out and get your copy... You're in luck! I received an email today from the Harley camp informing me that Boston's PBS affiliate (WGBH) will be airing Yes To Running! as a TV special on Saturday, October 25 from 3:30-4:30 and again on Sunday, October 26th from 11am-12pm. Set your TiVo's!

That's it for today. Hope you enjoyed the Friday Hodge Podge! Stay tuned for information about next weekend's "Funtastic Friday For Kids" in Hollywood FL. Once I find out when I am playing I'll let you know!

Kid Quote of the day: "Wow, you were a very patient waiter today," (Nick praising a student). "I know, I practice!" ~ Kate (age 4)

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Game Time

 I am declaring today, Singing in The Bathtub Game Day. I need some kind of distraction from the "other" game that's going on today (sorry Pats!). After some successful afternoons of playing the following games in my classrooms, I've decided to share the fun with my readers. I invented each of these games to help teach a specific musical concept. These two games are best for K-5th graders, though with the right group, you could try these out in preschool. 

Hide The Whole Note:
A hide and seek game similar to "Hot and Cold," exploring the concepts of tempo and dynamics.

Needed supplies:
-A ping pong ball with a whole note drawn on it (using a sharpie marker).
-A bucket of percussion instruments (one for each player)

In this game there is a Whole Note Hider and a Whole Note Hunter. The other players are on hand to help direct the hunter when they begin the search. The hider does what one might expect, hide the whole note ball somewhere in the room so that, at least part, is showing in plain sight. Obviously the hunter must cover their eyes and put their head down while the note is being hidden.

Once the hider has returned to their seat the hunt begins. As the hunter moves through the room the other players play a beat with their percussion instruments. As the hunter gets closer to the whole note the tempo is increased, as they get further away the beat slows down. Once the whole note is found the hunter becomes the hider and the game moves on to the next player. I typically rotate the instruments on each turn so that each player gets each instrument (this saves on arguments over who plays the cymbals etc.). I end the game with the first hider taking a turn as the hunter so that each player does each role.

This game is best with 5+ players. You could play with as few as 2 but it's not quite as fun. It can get pretty wild with larger groups, so I often introduce the idea of dynamics so that when the beat slows it also gets quieter and louder as the tempo increases. This can give you ears a bit of a rest.

Pass The Beat:
This is a game similar to "Hot Potato," which tests the players' ear for rhythm.

Needed Supplies:
A shaker egg (or other percussion instrument that can be safely tossed)

This game is started by forming a tight circle in chairs or on the floor. One person is selected to start the beat and pass it on (I typically start the game off to show how it's done). To set the beat the first player holds the egg in one hand and taps out a rhythm on the other, open palm (this provides a much clearer beat than merely shaking it in the air). The beat needs to be roughly one measure long, but no longer or it's too tricky.

The player calls out the name of the next player they intend to pass the beat to (as a warning), and tosses it into their lap. This new player must mimic the beat exactly or it can be stolen. If the new player doesn't play the beat correctly it is open to the floor for a steal. A player steals by correctly clapping the beat, and is then given control over the egg and the beat.

I tend to suggest that you must pass the beat to someone who hasn't had a turn until the whole group has played, then it's open to choice. It's important that the player doesn't stall between playing the beat and choosing the next player. I will often give a 3-2-1 countdown to encourage a swift pass. This one can be played in pairs and large groups, or even as an elimination game leading to an ultimate champion.

So there you have it. I hope you enjoy these games. I know we do in my class. Until next time, that's all from Singing in the Bathtub!

Kid Quote of the day: "This is my doggie, Egg On The Ceiling." ~Julia (age 3)

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Corn Syrup Lobby

While contemplating whether to drive to the local CVS, Tracey and I wound up discussing our unhealthy obsession with gummy peach rings (which come in a convenient 2 lbs. bag under the CVS gold label).

This got me thinking about a strange set of advertisements I have been seeing recently about corn syrup.

There is even a website dedicated to promoting the golden sweetener called Sweet Surprise.
This whole campaign makes me feel a little strange.

In an attempt to be fair and balanced, I wanted to include a link to an article that explores the ties between high fructose corn syrup and childhood obesity. Here is one from Arizona State University. Sadly, it's no match for a slickly produced commercial. Who likes to read charts and graphs?

This is a difficult issue to tackle, and I don't claim to have expert answers on the subject of school children and their diets. In some ways I agree that, in moderation, it's fine to enjoy sweet treats. In my years in the classroom, I've encountered many families who keep strict diets and limit all sweet treats. Sadly, these are the children that I would find sneaking under the snack tables to eat rogue M&M's, or secretively trading away parts of their lunch for contraband. 

There are many schools that observe no outside food policies (such as B-Day cupcakes, or pizza parties). I'm not convinced that this is the answer, though as a teacher, I can say I wouldn't miss trays of store-bought cupcakes that are quickly separated from their frosting leaving piles of crumbs and slimy wrappers in their wakes. 

There is no question that childhood obesity is a serious threat in our vending machine culture. In my mind the easiest way to make sure your kids are eating right is to cook it yourself, and perhaps even include them in the process. Finding time can be tricky, and knowing what to make for young food critics is tough.  Here are a couple of resources I found:

I guess at the end of the day, moderation is the key to everything. Water can be toxic if consumed in large enough amounts (WikiAnswers)! Banning foods can make them all the more enticing and kids often find a way to get what they want. Perhaps I should go with the small bag of gummy peach rings!

"This ice cream is too spicy for me!" ~Kira (age 4) tasting peppermint ice cream.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Laugh-Out-Loud Funny

Today, for your consideration, I am presenting a review of Bill Harley's live CD and DVD (both entitled, "Yes To Running!"). I'd like to preface this edition by saying that I have a vivid memory of seeing Bill Harley play at Fales Elementary School in Westborough MA when I was in first grade. I won't say how long ago that was, but it has stuck with me. It was a treat introducing a new generation of kids to his music. It's also rare to have a group of kids laughing out loud while watching a performer, but needless to say, Bill Harley is a veteran. 

The kids were excited to be wearing their critics' hats again (I see the "broccoli factor" in effect). We watched the DVD as the CD has pretty much the same content minus the video (I like to have the CD for the car ride from Coconut Grove to Hollywood though). I have to say that DVD's are the way to go for kids' performers. I need to get on that bus! The kids were transfixed (at least for the first number anyway), and when we filled out our critique forms, I got responses that showed their careful consideration.

Cover Art:
I was interested to see how the kids would respond to a rather simple cover without illustration. As I expected, the reviews were mixed. Most kids really responded to Bill's grinning picture. "It is very good because it shows you what it's about right away," one 11 year old girl observed. Her classmate (also 11) found the cover art to be "Original and very nice." Bill Harley's funny faces were referenced by almost everyone, "I love the picture because your mouth [is] always open or with a smile on your face. You have a funny face when you try to make a funny face," responded one 9 year old girl. On the downside, one 10 year old boy wrote, "Could use some cartoons." A second grader had a constructive suggestion, "You should have a picture of kids laughing on the outside," she remarked after realizing you had to buy it and open it before you saw the picture.

If I were to sum up the responses to Bill Harley's lyrics in one word, it would be, "funny." If I were to sum them up in two words, they would be, "very funny." If I were to sum them up in four words they would be, "They are very funny." Some were able to use more words to describe what they heard, "It is so nice to know that someone understand[s] me. The songs connect to us, it's like hearing ourselves talk!" one 11 year old noted. I noticed big laughs during "The Great Sled Race," when Bill compares Mammoth Hill to Everest, and the sled race to the Superbowl (we had a nice conversation about exaggeration in story telling and tall tales).

The kids were immediately intrigued by the fact that it was just Bill and his guitar. "Acoustic guitar is very nice for any song," an 11 year old student commented. One eight year old boy reported "It sounds like country (I like country)." I also fielded questions about Bill's finger-picking style, "How does he do that?" a second grade boy asked after Harley completed a nice counterpoint lick. He also commented on Bill Harley's singing style, "Speak-talker. It is pure excellent!" His 9 year old classmate called Harley's performance "Inspiring."

Many kids noted Bill Harley's comic delivery and wrote "a comedian," or "a joker." One 10 year old girl thought of "Eddie Murphy." I had another few notes about Dr. Seuss, "It rhymes very well," an 11 year old girl said comparing Bill Harley to the Doc. Still other students mentioned their "embarrassing parents," while we were listening to "Grownups are Strange." "It makes me think of my Dad when we sings out the window," one girl admitted. "My Dad is so embarrassing when he dances. At least he does it in private!" a second grader remarked. My co-teacher Terri came into the room while we were watching and noted that, without seeing the screen, Bill Harley sounds a lot like Steve Martin. Minus the banjo and the, "excuse me!" she's on to something I think.

Age Range:
This time around I read "1-100" a lot. Some were more specific and the average here was around 5 and up. I received one very precise score. "7-54," wrote one 7 year old girl (I wonder who is 54 in her life. Was she thinking about AARP?).

The Mike Brady Wrap-Up:

I was really glad to get word from Bill's team after the top-ten list. He is one of  my big influences, and catching up with his latest material has been a treat (though I miss his mustache). I have been chomping at the bit to do this review. It's a concrete way for me to express why I think Bill Harley is  an example of everything I think is right with kids' music today.

He's got an uncanny ability to make both kids and adults laugh (watching the audience on the DVD is priceless). In the spirit of Roald Dahl and the Muppets, though, not everyone is laughing at the same time. I like that the parents respond to the little "over-the-head" comments and the kids giggle at anything silly, gross, outrageous or spoken with a wild accent. 

As a guitarist, this DVD made me feel compelled to practice. As a child Bill Harley seemed like a rock and roll god! As an adult I can see I wasn't too far off. I've always admired solo acoustic acts, purely because I could never be one. There is a certain skill to playing the acoustic guitar as a bass, harmony and melody instrument, all while singing and telling a story, that Bill Harley has clearly mastered. Musically, the song writing is simple and unadorned but the expression and playing are solid and his overall sound is full.

As much as Bill Harley is a story-teller and songwriter, he is equal parts comedian. His light-hearted and personable delivery is engaging. I know from personal experience that, being at his live show makes you feel like you're the only one in the room sometimes. This is the mark of a skilled performer. I would put the target audience for "Yes to Running!" at elementary school aged and up. The littler ones enjoyed "I Like to Sing," and "Echo." "The Ballad of Dirty Joe" had them captivated (the book's great too), but some of the longer stories were not on their wavelength. 

Nice work as always Bill Harley! I'll  be listening for you on NPR. If you're ever in the neighborhood we'll have to team up and keep 'em rolling in the aisles. That's it artists, my well has run dry. Send in your entries and be the next to be reviewed on Singing in the Bathtub.

Kid Quote of the Day: "Did you drink a lot of coffee today? You're acting like you're really hyper or something." ~ Sophia (age 6) to her teacher Nick. "No he's just always like this." ~ Gabriel (age 8).