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). 

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Setting Limits

While watching TV recently, my ear was caught by a phrase that was almost entirely bleeped out. Interestingly, I could fill in the missing words with my mind based on context. This got me thinking about setting limits. From birth to old-age, limiting behavior is a crucial part of living happily in a family and a society as a whole.

We set limits for our children to keep them safe physically, but also to protect them from emotional harm. I am a big supporter of creative expression, and I find value in all forms. As an adult, I enjoy some pretty wild humor. I find that laughing at certain polarizing and charged issues takes some of the sting out of the reality. Laughing at prejudices can prove how silly they ultimately are. 

However, even with the words bleeped out, a child shouldn't be exposed to this kind of expression. As I had done, it's easy for a bright child to fill in the gaps and work out the context. The trouble is that, without a mature point of view, the subtleties of sarcasm and satyr are lost. (Sometimes when this type of humor is on the cover of the New Yorker, even the adults don't get the message).  

I feel a similar responsibility in the world of Kids' Music. When you've had a 4 year old sing all the words of Avril Lavigne's "Skater Boy," or reenact certain graphic scenes from "High School Musical 2," during a preschool class it makes you think. Obviously parental filtering is the most important part of the process, but I think the industry has a responsibility in how it markets media to kids.

I can understand and barely tolerate the Jonas Brothers fanaticism from my 'tween, afterschool students. I see all sorts of Miley Cyrus notebooks and High School Musical backpacks piled up in the locker area daily. It's nothing new, I've got grown friends who have NKOTB tickets. There's always a pop fad. It's when it seeps into the preschool culture, that my alarm bells go off.

As the "pop" market gets younger, the messages of image consciousness, materialism and sexuality are foisted on an audience that is too young to understand, and too impressionable to come away without confusion and emotional damage. The messages that the media sends to us are powerful, but parents and educators are not powerless. Save the mature content (Music, TV, Video Games and Movies) for the grown-ups and search out the quality content for the wee ones. Let's keep 'em young and full of wonder! Keep 'em Singing in the Bathtub!

Friday, September 12, 2008

Reach Out and Touch Somebody

The creation of this blog has been an amazing thing. As a mostly solo act, self-promoting, producing, and publicizing, I've often longed for a stronger community of children's performers. I've made some good friends who are also navigating the industry over the years, but not until I started Singing in the Bathtub did I feel like I was really connected to a community of fans, musicians and bloggers.

The Hipwaders take the early bird prize for having a CD in the mail to me within a week or two. In addition to their music, I was excited to receive the latest releases from #2 on my top ten album list, Bill Harley. His live CD and DVD, "Yes to Running!" came in the mail along with some flashy, promotional shoe laces (they're on my hiking boots).

You can get a little taste of Bill's live show on the Round River Production YouTube page. Here's the opening cut, "I Like To Sing."

I'm excited to be able to play them both in my classrooms. 

In the spirit of community and reaching out, I am putting out these calls:

A Call to Parents and Educators:
I'm reaching the bottom of my bag of Kid Quotes. I've heard thousands of gems, but alas haven't written many down. I'm always listening for new material, but it's tough. Please, send my any humorous quotations you may have, you just may see them close one of my postings.

A Call to the Young Fans:
I am looking for some sort of a logo that would accompany the title of my blog. I'd love some submissions of kids' art work with a "bathtub singing" theme. I'm hoping to get a lot of creative submissions, that way I can alternate between several the way that Google does.

There we go. The address is listed on the left of this page, or you can email submissions to Have at it! 

Kid Quote of the day: "When I'm done with Kindergarten, I'm going to find me a wife." ~ Tom (age 5)

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Who's Hugging the Grownups?

Seven years ago, I was several weeks into my first year as a lead teacher at the LEAP school in Lexington MA. My students had all recently turned three, and this was their first experience in a classroom. There may still have been a few tearful goodbyes at that point in the year, but for the most part, I had established a happy, safe and nurturing classroom environment.

On that, now infamous, Tuesday morning my curriculum director and class-roommate Sarae came into the room during free play time with an unusually serious expression on her face. "There's been an accident. A plane crashed into the World Trade Center," she whispered sideways into my ear. That instant sent my mind in a million directions. "I need to make a phone call," I said and left through the back stairway. 

I couldn't remember where in Manhattan the Trade Center was. I couldn't remember where Tracey's hotel was in correlation. Was she at work already? After three failed calls to her phone my own phone rang, startling me. 

"Nick, it's Ginna (Tracey's mother and my, now, Mother-in-Law). Tracey's okay. I spoke with her and she's in Queens at home watching the television." My heart settled a bit, but again my mind spun off into millions of thoughts and concerns.

I cautiously came back down the stairs and into my classroom. Everything stood out in vivd reality. I felt the warmth and care that went into the creation of that space, and I wanted to feel comforted but didn't.

By the time I had reach the main play rug, I was surrounded by a vocal and energetic group hug. They had missed my reassuring presence. I was there to keep them safe, and I could feel the trust and love in their collective embrace. My only thought was, "Who's hugging the grownups?"

On a lighter note, here's a video of Sousa's great "Stars and Stripes Forever!"

Kid Quote of the day: "Love is the most important thing in the world, but Baseball is pretty good too!" ~ Greg (age 8)

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

The Best Laid Plans of Mice and Men

Greetings from Singing in the Bathtub! This edition marks the first of many album reviews that will grace the pages (or screens) of my blog. It is with great pleasure that I kick the reviews off with The Hipwaders most recent release Educated Kid.

Let me start by explaining the title of this posting. I had one gem of a plan for reviewing albums in my classrooms. It was so simple and thought out, it could only fail in historic proportion. As a veteran teacher I can tell when a CD is a hit in my classroom. I recall many kids requesting their favorites and singing along or sitting with their ears literally pressed to the radio when a special CD was played. I can also recall when a certain CD was not making the grade, and the little critics would be vocal in their distaste. 

What I failed to take into account is the "broccoli factor." They say that a child might need to be offered a certain food 10-20 times before deciding to try it (think broccoli), but then they grow to love it. Music can be the same way, especially in a classroom where chatting with friends wins out over a listening activity. There were some focused participants and I managed to get a pretty decent review.

Despite a luke-warm response to the process of critical listening, I presented the Hipwaders music to both my preschool and K-5 afterschool groups. Any parent who has asked their children, "What did you do today in school?" only to hear a one word answer, "nuthin'," can imagine the types of single word responses that I got when it was time to take down our thoughts. The K-5 kids did start to get excited when I told them about the blog and their part in the review. As for the little ones, they were happy just to dance and there's a tacet, but striking endorsement in itself.

Cover Art
We listened to both Educated Kid and the Hipwader's self-titled album, but for the sake of time we focused on the former. I asked everyone to look at the album art before listening to the music. The preschoolers were giggly and enjoyed the silliness of the image of the "Educated Kid" eating a book. Surprisingly, some kids in the older crowd took a strange offense to the idea. "I really have to tell you the truth," wrote one concerned 9 year old, "If you want to make the cover for kids, you should not put a person eating a book." I tried to explain the humor, but it was lost on her. Several other kids noticed references from the song titles (like the "Cat in a Bathysphere"), and  one 11 year old reported that "There are a lot of details. When you first see it, it attracts your attention."

Once the CD was playing, both the older and the younger crews enjoyed the music. The Mix of little kids and disco usually elicits spontaneous dancing. Thusly the first cut, "Turn up the Radio" was well received (and the one hook that some of the kids left humming). I asked the older group to comment on the music as a whole. One 9 year old girl said, "I love how the beachy rhythms and the lyrics are just like my life. You rock!"

I also asked them to report on the lyrics. "It is so good, I feel like I am in the audience looking at you sing!" wrote one 8 year old. "The words are chosen very well. Children can understand. It Makes Sense," a 5th grader told me.

I was curious to know if the kids had any thoughts on who the Hipwaders reminded them of. I got a lot of Beatles references (though, I think that for some of them, that is their stock answers... it could be worse). One 5th grader wrote down "Dr. Seuss." Another 9 year old student thought of other kids' acts like, "The Imagination Movers on Playhouse Disney and Mr. Nick (that's me) when he is playing his guitar."

Age Range
The general impression from the older group was that anyone from 4-10 years old might enjoy these albums. My impression from listening to it with the younger ones (2-4+ years old) is that they loved the beat and the music, but the lyrics, for the most part, didn't capture their young imaginations.

The Mike Brady Wrap-Up:

Here's where I chime in with my 2 cents. I enjoyed both albums from the Hipwaders, but Educated Kid is by far my favorite. Both albums have a surf-rock foundation that I found fitting coming from Cali. From a production standpoint I liked the denser textures on Educated Kid (cool synths and sound FX). I also found that E.K. had more "hookey," singable tunes (picture me singing "This is the History of Decalan Rae"). 

My introduction to Educated Kid was through the YouTube video for "Paleo Pirate" in the last edition of Singing in the Bathtub. The song stands as a nice contrast to the rest of the guitar rockin' tracks on the album (with it's waltz tempo and mandolins a la Peter Buck). I did enjoy the video and don't want to overstate the Dino/Person issue mentioned before. I applaud songs that explore creativity and fun juxtapositions, and once you start holding up scientific standards to kids' music we're all in trouble (Sorry folks I've never been on a spaceship ride to the planets!). My real pet peeve is with cave men fighting dinosaurs and such. I enjoyed the use of Playmobil (a beloved childhood toy... I had the pirate ship), and the young stars of the video. 

Nice work Hipwaders! If you're ever in the South Florida area, we'll have to light up the town until nap-time. That's it for now from Singing in the Bathtub. Stay tuned...

Concert Updates!
Nick and/or the full In The Nick of Time line-up will be appearing at a number of up coming Hollywood FL area family events:

Friday Family Fun Night- October 3rd, Anniversary Park, Downtown Hollywood, 5-9 pm (details on time and location to follow)

Family Health and Safety Day- October 12th, Arts Academy and Harrison Blvd., all day!

The Witches Ball- October 31st, Arts Park, Downtown Hollywood,  7-10pm

These are all Free events!

Kid quote of the day: (when asked about a male classmate's absence) "Oh, he got sent home 'cuz he got dice in his hair." ~Fiona age 3

Friday, September 5, 2008

Fantasy Music League (and update!)

I enjoy watching a good football game, but I have never been into creating fantasy teams. I'm not knocking it, but it's not my cup of ginger ale (I'm not a tea drinker). Instead I've been thinking of creating a Fantasy Kids' Music League!

I'm thinking of two separate categories. 1) Fantasy  Backup Group, and 2) Fantasy Kids' Albums. The first boils down to this; my first album was titled One Man Band, and that pretty much summed it up. I played and sang on every track. Since then, I have had support from many great musicians in Boston and Miami. My family and good friends, but I have never truly had a band that could tour and put up with the strange hours that a children's musician works. 

It's in this sense that I envy The Wiggles, not because I enjoy their music (to be honest I don't), but because they are (were?) four guys who shared a vision and supported each other. I think it was Paul McCartney who said "I can't imagine what it would be like to be Elvis. We've got the four of us going through this together, but he's all alone in this world." (I paraphrase). 

Who would my ultimate backup group include? It's tricky. I wanted to shoot for the moon, but I also had to consider who would be appropriate in front of my typical audience. I also had to decide if I would include only contemporary musicians or all-time greats. Here's my list:

Fantasy Backup Group

Piano and Keys: Ben Folds

He's a dad which is a good start. He's an energetic performer and a great singer with a good ear for harmony.

Bass: Chris Wood

Chris is the "Wood" that keep Medeski, Martin and Wood afloat. He's got one kids' music album under his belt which is good. He can rock the upright bass and his "Paul McCartney" Hoefner bass as well. 

Lead Guitar: Eric Clapton

This decision was a tough one. Clapton is not by any means my favorite guitarist, but to be successful in In The Nick of Time he'd need to be a chameleon, and Clapton's done it all. 

Saxophone: Joshua Redman

Joshua Redman is smart and talented (choosing music over law school). He's got great style and has been a vocal supporter of arts education. I wonder if he'd pick up a baritone sax for me every now and then?

Trumpet: Arturo Sandoval

Arturo is a legend in South Florida. His club on South Beach is the place for live Jazz. Many UM students cut their teeth at Arturo's. I figure since I play a lot of Caribbean and Latin music, he'd be the best choice.

Drums: Brian Blade

Brian Blade is another amazing chameleon. The last thing I am is a luminary on the subject of the drum set, but I know when I see someone who plays it unlike anyone else. He's the session player of session players and has played with everyone from Norah Jones to Herbie Hancock (as when I first saw him at Lehigh University with my Brother Seth).

The second half of my list tonight was inspired by the many non-kids' acts who have been dipping their toe in our kiddie pool (including They Might Be Giants, The Barenaked Ladies and Medeski, Martin and Wood). Here are some folks that haven't yet tried this crossover, but I wish would:

Fantasy Kids' Albums:

I really think he is the missing ingredient in the kids' music scene. I saw him perform live on a TV show called "Notes From The Road: Live from the Bonefish Grill." During an interview he mentioned that his daughter Gracie is a budding composer. I can imagine a great duet.

She captures a wistful nostalgia of childhood in songs like "Burgundy Shoes." She can tug at your heartstrings, but she can also wail! As long as there were some nice, impromptu snippets of her adorable laugh, this album would be kids' music gold!

For anyone who's seen the treadmill video, you can understand where I'm coming from. These guys are an indie-rock outfit that isn't afraid to look a bit ridiculous while they rock your world. I can only imagine what YouTube gems would come out of this venture.

These budding Philly rockers already have the right name. I was blown away by how much their lead singer sounds like Chris Cerf a la "The Opposite Song." They've got the energy and vocal harmonies that kids respond to.

Beck can definitely take his listeners to the far reaches of musical experimentation, but I think if he used his wild creativity to delight the smaller set it would be great. I have often admired and emulated his production styles (can anyone hear it in "Hang With Me?"). I bet the lyrics would be hard to decipher, but have you ever thought about the words to "Hey Diddle, Diddle"?

So that's the list and that's my challenge to these five! Go at it and make me proud. If you need a hand, I know a producer/song-writer who'll knock your socks off! You'll find me here at Singing in the Bathtub

Today I received my first (two) album(s) in the mail for review. Wow, the blog-o-sphere moves fast! The Hipwaders, a trio from the left coast, sent me Educated Kid and their self-titled release for my students' and my consideration. Here's a video I came across on YouTube to wet your appetites:

There is something to be said for knowing your audience. A Paleo Pirate blends two powerful kid subjects (though I cringe at any implication that people and dinosaurs coexisted from a science perspective). Stay tuned for more on the Hipwaders.

Kid quote of the day: "I'm Jack in the box!" ~ Jack, while in a dishwasher box (age 3)

A Day in the Life of a Music Man

In these tough economic times, I'm pleased to have a job that I love to do. I get to play the guitar, piano and drum all day long. I get to smile and interact with bright young children. I am constantly challenged physically, mentally and emotionally, but I'm inspired and continue to grow as I teach. 

I have often said that I went into preschool for the play dough, but recently I've been thinking that comment belies a deeper truth. As much as my job involves play, a day in the life of a music man can be pretty tough. I am prepared to sing  and smile over wailing and inconsolable toddlers. I know that at any moment I can be upstaged by a worm digging up from the ground during a concert. I've taught classes where I saw more of the children than their parents did (awake at least) It's all in a day's work.

In this political season, we hear a lot about economics, energy independence, national security and government reform. I think without discussing education and how we can support, encourage and improve our teachers everything else is for not. It's the next generation that will be picking up the pieces we'll leave behind. We need to prepare them for, what could be, a bright and amazing future. No matter what your political leanings are, I think that we can all agree that teachers and schools are the most direct path to a prosperous future for our country and the world. More information about education reform can be found on the Center for Education Reform website.

Well, that's all from Singing in the Bathtub for now. I guess I can climb down from my soapbox for the night. I think I'll close with a quote from one of my hero's Mister Rogers:

"When I was very young, most of my childhood heros wore capes, flew through the air, or picked up buildings with one arm. They were spectacular and got a lot of attention. But as I grew, my heroes changed, so that now I can honestly say that anyone who does anything to help a child is a hero to me."

Kid quote of the day: "Home is where the house is." Andres (age 6)

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

The Man in Black

There is a legend about a single evening of friendly jamming that changed music history. It was sometime around 1969 in Laurel Canyon (just outside LA) at a house where Crosby, Stills and Nash were staying. A casual party and jam session sprung up and before the night was over Joni Mitchell had debuted "Both Sides Now," CSN played "Suite Judy: Blue Eyes" for the first time, and Johnny Cash, the man in black, tried out a brand new song which he would play for the first time in front of an audience at San Quentin state prison, "A Boy Named Sue."

What is only slightly less well known is that the beloved children's poet Shel Silverstein penned the words to "A Boy Named Sue." It's not such a stretch when you think about it, but neither is the idea of Johnny Cash writing a children's album. This week my wife Tracey discovered that very thing on iTunes! 

One cut from the album, "Nasty Dan," was performed by Johnny with Oscar the Grouch on Sesame Street. The album is what one might expect from Johnny Cash, straight forward, dripping with swagger, and a light-hearted bounce. Johnny even has his own "Dinosaur Song," though I'm pretty partial to my own Dinosaur Song (even if Joaquin Phoenix isn't jumping to play me in the movie!).

The Johnny Cash Children's Album delivers 15 tracks of good ole country blues. Any Johnny Cash fan should have this one in their collection. That's it from Singing in the Bathtub for now.

Kid quote of the day: (after being told by her mother to behave) "I am being have!" ~ Kate (age 2)