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)