Sunday, November 22, 2009

Chanukah Fever

Today I have the pleasure of reviewing Mama Doni's latest holiday CD Chanukah Fever. The big CD release event in New Jersey was two weeks ago, and now fans from around the globe can get their copy through the Mama Doni website.

Faithful readers of Singing in the Bathtub will remember Mama Doni from last year's Festival of Lights blog post. Her album I Love Herring which I reviewed last year is a collection of humorous Jewish themed songs which came with an EP of Chanukah songs (I Love Chanukah) all of which found a home on this full-length album. Admittedly, this music is not for everyone, but for all those of the Jewish faith who are already sick of Christmas music in November, this is album is for you!

If you can imagine a bit of the Bee Gees, a bit of Tone Loc, and a healthy dose of Mike Myers' "Coffee Talk" sketch from SNL you've got a good idea of the music on this album. With her new band and a year of progress, Chanukah Fever is a step forward for Mama Doni. It features the same irreverence and humor as her other albums, but with a more developed sound. Disco seems to be flavor of the month in kids' music (see: Can You Do The Hustle With No Arms or Legs?) , and the song "Chanukah Fever" has the funky vibe that will bring you back to the 70's complete with the white leisure suit. "Funky Gold Menorah" is a celebration of the hey-day of 80's rap.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: Mama Doni may not be on everyone's Holiday CD list, but after singing The Dredel song over and over I'm sure my Jewish readers will be happy to have a copy of Chanukah Fever on hand.

For me it's exciting to be able to follow an artist as they grow and evolve in the Kids' Music scene. Mama Doni and her band are making great strides and recording silly, exciting music in the process.

Kid Quote of the Day: "Do you remember how to say 'Merry Christmas' in Spanish?" I asked my class before singing Feliz Navidad. "That's Dora!" ~Valentina (age: 3)

Friday, October 30, 2009

C.D. Release Weekend!

The date is set for the great big C.D. release event for People, Places and Things. I just got off the phone with the Barnacle State Historic Park. We've booked a two-day event to coincide with the Mad Hatter Arts Festival.

Sat. Nov. 14th 3:00-4:30pm
Sun. Nov. 15th 3:30-4:30pm
Free with park admission

I am very excited. The Barnacle is a beautiful setting for a concert, The weather is begrudgingly starting to break, and the C.D. elves are busily trying to get them done. I've played at the Barnacle for a Birthday, but this will be my first official concert in Coconut Grove that is open to the public (strange huh?).

Once the C.D. is available online and through iTunes, I'll be updating the greater Bathtub Nation. Tell everyone you know!

Kid Quote of the Day: "Mr. Nick you have a mustache!" "Yes Brady, I do." ~Brady (age: 4)

Happy Halloween!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

The Spearhead of Kids' Music

A nice little package came this week from a group called Rhythm Child. They were billed as a sort of Partridge Family with a funky, soulful vibe. I was intrigued. In an unexpected twist, the CD was accompanied by a neat little shaker with the album art on it.

The foundation for each song on this album is combo of acoustic guitar and organ set against a solid rhythm of hand drums and drum set. There is a lot of familiar material that listeners will recognize (such as Mary Had a Little Lamb or The Wheels on the Bus), but done in a unique Rhythm Child way. The closest in sound to anything I've heard or reviewed here at Singing in the Bathtub would be the Funky Kidz album. Rhythm Kid does have a bit of the New Orleans vibe, but again they add their own spin to everything they do. The completely original songs on this album are uplifting and enjoyable. It's easy to see why Rhythm Child is a John Lennon Songwriting Grand Prize Winner. As I mentioned in the title, Rhythm Child is something like the Spearhead of kids' music in my mind.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up:
It is nice to see a family working to create music together. I think the Partridge Family billing had me imaging the kids being more up front. The tracks where frontman Norm Jones' son Bailey are featured are great. He has the voice of a natural singer and I am sure he'll grow up to make some great music himself. Rhythm Child to me is a nice break from the typical music that is market for children. Eat A Bowl of Cherries offers a bit of soul, invites the listener to sing, dance and play along, and puts a smile on your face.

Kid Quote of The Day: "I'm a little coconut, sitting on my cocobutt." ~Sienna (age: 3)

Saturday, October 17, 2009

State of the Art 2-D

I have the pleasure today to review The Jimmies latest DVD of concert footage, music videos and a behind the scenes documentary, entitled Trying Funny Stuff. There is even a bonus live CD that accompanies the DVD, how can you go wrong?

I have not had the pleasure of seeing the Jimmies perform live, and this DVD is the next best thing. "On a hot summer day, The Jimmies rocked New York City," the opening titles read, but I am glad that they chose to open with "Cool to Be Uncool." I love this song, even if no one in South Florida quite gets it. If the Jimmies are coming to your town, you should definitely bring the whole family, if not the concert portion of the DVD gives a good idea of the fun and excitement that is a JImmies show.

Many of the music videos on the DVD can be seen on the Jimmies website: Directed by Michael Slavens and produced by Five Eyed Films the Jimmies music videos are top notch. There is a kooky sense of humor that runs through everything that the Jimmies do right down to the packaging of the DVD which includes little one-liners like "In State of the Art 2-D."

The real gem on this DVD to me is the behind the scenes "documentary" about the making of the music videos. It is an in-depth and humorous look at the hard work the Jimmies and Slavens put into each of their videos. In a 2 minute music video it's easy to miss all the time that went into lighting hundreds of candles to emulate firelight, making a dress out of cotton balls, or constructing a set out of candy!

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: Once again, I think DVD's are key for kids' musicians. With so many mini-vans having flip-down screens, popping in Trying Funny Stuff seems like a sure fire way to keep the little ones entertained on long trips, and the adults bopping to the music while they drive.

The Jimmies are hip, humorous and clever and Trying Funny Stuff highlights all of these qualities. As an aspiring kids' music artist, I appreciate catching a glimpse at the hard work that went into making their videos. Anyone who has made a diorama for school will enjoy the creativity of the Jimmies. Do your family a favor and pick up this DVD!

Kid Quote of the Day: "Do you want to tell me what your Halloween costume will be, or is it a surprise?" Nick asked in his music class. "It's a surprise and it's Wolverine." ~Edward (age: 4)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Cough, Cough, Sniffle, Sniffle...

2009 officially marks my ninth flu season as a preschool teacher. By now I have encountered every cough, cold and flu that has run roughshod through the halls of my schools, and my immune system is ironclad. Sadly, this does not extend to my dear wife Tracey who came down with a nasty seasonal flu and then the one-two punch of conjunctivitis.

Every year it is the same story, classes dwindle as students stay home sick, and teachers cross their fingers hoping that they are spared the brunt of another year's flu outbreaks. As a specialist, I am particularly vulnerable as I come in contact with hundreds of kids on a daily basis. This year the news is a bit more alarming with the H1N1 virus in all 50 states, and especially prevalent in schools. Not just the elderly, those with respiratory illness, and/or infants are at risk. Seemingly healthy patients are winding up in the hospital or worse.

There is good news! The scientific and medical communities have been working tirelessly to come up with a vaccine that can minimize risk of contracting the H1N1 virus. Thankfully this particular strain of flu is not as virulent as predicted, and though it is common for influenza to mutate, the H1N1 strain has remained stable and this vaccine proves to be a strong hedge against rampant infection.

The biggest impediment to the success of this effort by the C.D.C. and the W.H.O. is sadly the very tools that health organizations use to spread the word about vaccination. The internet is ripe with fear-mongering, misinformation and conjecture that is focused on political interests and not the health of those of us in the trenches of the war on flu. I have received emails whooping up anxiety, directing my attention to pseudo-scientific websites, and citing anecdotal evidence about vaccinations as far back as the 1918 Spanish Flu as a means of confusing the issue.

Thankfully the knowledge of DNA, advances in vaccine production, the use of non-live virus vaccines, and sound scientific practices have given us a chance to stave off a pandemic that could cost many young lives. There is a wealth of information about vaccines at the C.D.C. website if you find yourself concerned or confused by the dyne of misinformation out there:

When in doubt, err on the side of caution and keep your child and yourself home when you may be coming down with the flu. Shots and flu mists aside, that is the best way to stop the transmission of the flu.

Kid Quote of the Day: "See, I catched my cough in my elbow." ~Halley (age: 3)

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

The Beyoncé Effect

If you are ever having a "terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day," and you need to have a laugh and blow off some steam, I highly recommend going to YouTube and searching for "Babies Dancing to Beyoncé's Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)." It was my wife who introduced me to this, one of life's little joys. It's now a sensation and I believe one of the tiny dancers was featured on Ellen.

There are countless versions of this infant dance craze for you to enjoy. Here are my two favorites:

I have to say this next one is unbelievable and we should watch out for this young one on "So You Think You Can Dance" in a few years:

As a self-proclaimed music nerd, and a champion of all things early childhood I thought I would offer my thoughts on this phenomenon. Say what you will about Beyoncé's mind-numbingly catchy tune (I happen to like it, despite being a bit played out... such is pop music), there is something about it that gets infants grooving. The video is starkly simple, the beat is infectious, and the hooks are simple and repetitive. The dance moves are a bit suggestive and the wardrobe is a bit revealing, but the message is one of empowerment and Beyoncé is not a rail-thin waif like many of the pre-teen pop stars.

To me this is a clear example that music of all types can be enjoyable, inspirational and important for even the youngest listeners. I think parents too often feel that they have to suffer through bad music because it is packaged in bright colors and marketed to kids. Here's the alternative:

Call it sour grapes. The Wiggles are the superstars of the kids' music world. In their hay-day they out earned Russell Crowe and Nicole Kidman combined as Australia's most successful entertainers. Despite their success, I maintain that this music is lousy, unimaginative and though it may illicit kids to get up and move, so does Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It)!

Do kids' artists need to wear creepy smiles? Does kids' music have to sound like a Lawrence Welk tune? When I perform I don't enact a forced, over the top persona. I treat children like human beings, and when a broad smile grows across my face it's because playing music for kids is one of the most rewarding performance experiences out there.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: Okay, so I presented two pretty extreme examples of music that gets kids' moving. I'll admit that both have their draw backs, and at the end of the day I hesitate to be too harsh a critic. Making kids' music is tough, and I admire and respect anyone who dedicates their talents to this end. I guess my real message is that there is a happy medium between grown-up music with adult themes and kids' music that makes parents want to tear their hair out after the 1,000th listening. Believe me, if it has a good beat and a catchy hook kids will dance to it. As adults if we don't care to listen to the Wiggles on repeat, we have the power to encourage different musical tastes in our kids. That has been the goal of this blog all along, and that has been a mission of my music from the first time I picked up a guitar and rocked the preschool. So what do you get when you mix the beat of Single Ladies (Put a Ring On It) with the kid friendly danceability of Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes? I like to think it goes a little something like this:

Kid Quote of the Day: I think these dance moves say it all!

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Snap, Crackle and Pop

One benefit of writing this blog is that I am able to spot the latest trends in Kids' Music. Lately I have been receiving a lot of music from female fronted pop groups. Today I'd like to review two albums in this "Kiddie Pop" genre for your consideration.

Great Day: Milkshake
The first album is the latest offering from the group Milkshake. The album is called Great Day, and it's a fun, high energy romp. The Baltimore based group is lead by Lisa Mathews and rounded out by a tight quintet of talented musicians. Upon tearing open the packaging, I was struck by the colorful photos and artistic design of the liner notes. There is even a fold-out poster of the band with the lyrics on the back. Milkshake are a talented band and Great Day is a slickly produced album. Producer Tor Hyams has created a finely crafted pop album.

As for the music, Milkshake offers a healthy dose of Rock, Pop, and Punk with a 90's alternative vibe. I'm reminded of Lisa Loeb, Juliana Hatfield and Liz Phair. My favorite tracks from the album are Statue of Me and Great Day the excellent piano and keyboards by Brian Simms are a bluesy, soulful addition. Musically and thematically, I would say this album is ideal for the elementary school crowd. This is not a sing-along album, the preschool/toddler aged child would enjoy the music, but the lyrics may be a bit over their heads.

Rockin', Rollin' and Ridin': Rebecca Frezza and Big Truck

Rebecca Frezza and Big Truck have been creating a buzz in the Kids' Music industry. They have been featured on Jack's Big Music Show. Rebecca's most recent solo album Special Kind of Day received a Parent's Choice Award. Rockin', Rollin' and Ridin' is just slightly longer than an EP (with 8 tracks of music), but it also comes with a fun music video for the song Big Truck.

From the get-go Rockin', Rollin' and Ridin' does just that, Rocks and Rolls. In addition to her six piece band, Rebecca Frezza is joined by Roscoe Orman.

Listeners will recognize his voice as Gordon From Sesame Street. At it's core Frezza's music has an acoustic/pop sound, but Big Truck adds a rockin' edge that will get your young music lovers on their feet. The lyrics capture the imaginative world of toy trucks, robots and rocketship rides to the moon. Rebecca Frezza's song writing style is rhythmic and repetitive which makes it catchy and perfect for the younger crowd. In the press release that accompanied the CD, Big Truck is billed as music for the "in-between crowd," however, the album art work, the thematic material and the simplicity of the songs make it better for the preschool aged listener.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up:
The days of Raffi/Barney-style kids' music are clearly over, and I think that parents are better off for it. Artists are recognizing that kids don't need to be talked-down-to when listening to music. In all honesty, Big Truck and Milkshake would not be my first choice in music. It's really not my preferred style of music, but clearly people are drawn to each of these bands, and they are making a splash in the industry. Both Milkshake and Big Truck offer up catchy tunes with a hard rockin' edge. If you long for the hay-days of 90's girl-rock, these albums might be right up your alley.

Kid Quote of the Day: Teacher: "Sam, what are you going to be for Halloween?"
Sam: "Not a robot. It was tricky to walk upstairs. I'm going to be a firefighter." ~ Sam (age 4)

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Can you do the Hustle with no arms or legs?

Ask and ye shall receive. After a few months with nothing to review for Singing in the Bathtub, I finally have a growing list of CD's for your consideration. Today I am going to tackle the latest offering from ShirLaLa entitled, Earth Worm Disco

Frequent readers of Singing in the Bathtub will remember ShirLaLa from last Chanukah's post, Festival of Lights. When I heard about this upcoming release, I was intrigued. First because up until this album ShirLaLa had carved a niché for herself by writing Jewish kids' songs, and Second because her style of Acoustic/Folk music was far from disco!

In both ways this album is a big departure. By teaming up with Producer/Engineer/Multi-Instrumentalist, Josh Nelson as well as other performers, mixers, mastering agents and songwriters ShirLaLa is taking her music to new heights (or perhaps depths). Equally, there is no music that is specific to the Jewish faith on Earth Worm Disco, but, ever the niché performer, the theme here is ecology and the environment. 

Having been introduced to two Jewish themed kids' artists last year (ShirLaLa and Mama Doni), I wondered how much kids' music one could write with such a restrictive focus. In ShirLaLa's case, the answer is 3 albums (ShirLaLa Chanukah, ShirLaLa Pesach and ShirLaLa Shabat). With Earth Worm Disco, she is opening up her audience to we Gentiles (though I really enjoy her religious themed music). Along with this new theme, there is clearly a new sound. Shira rocks harder, incites her listeners to get down, and has created an album which is more of a "studio" offering. 

Fans of ShirLaLa's organic, near-live, folky music might be surprised when they pop in Earth Worm Disco. Even the sound of her voice and style of singing has evolved. She goes from the smoky, torch singer style on tunes like "Whole Wide World" to a harder edge of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle and Rock" to a pure sweet ballad tone on "Turning of the World." There are a lot more electric guitars, drum beats, horns and guest vocalists on E.W.D. and ShirLaLa has teamed up with some great performers! Shelley Nicole Jefferson adds a soulful flavor as Mother Earth on the title track. Shawn Shafner who plays Dr. BreathEasy on "Way Up There" brings a bit of Broadway sensibility to the album. I could imagine this cut being part of a kids' show on the environment. I was excited to see that ShirLaLa included a song by Ruth Pelham ("Turning of the World"). Her "Rainbow Song" was the song that kicked off my entire career in kids' music. I had never heard "Turning of the World" before, but it's a great addition to the album and my favorite vocal on the album.

As a special treat, ShirLaLa included a remix of "Reduce, Reuse, Recycle & Rock" done by Electric Junkyard Gamelan. I was not familiar with this crew of homemade musicians, but I am glad for the introduction. There is a bit of dialog to describe what is going on, but sadly, the music alone doesn't give the listener the whole story. Kids are so inundated with electronic music, that the organic sounds of this "junk-band" might be dismissed for more studio trickery. Check out the videos on their website. This is amazing stuff!

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: Earth Worm Disco marks a turning point for ShirLaLa in the world of kids music. She's got a new focus, a new sound, and some new friends to help her take the music to the next level. Ecology and the environment seem to be a growing trend in kids' music (everyone from Trout Fishing in America to Jack Johnson have their offerings along this theme), and when you stop to consider the uncertain world this next generation faces I am glad. 

As a child of the late 70's I am glad to hear some funky disco music specifically for the smaller set. True, many people railed against the over-produced excess of the disco era, but I'd take a little Night Fever over the auto-tuned, in your face pop that Radio Disney pumps out. With our first anniversary come and gone here at Singing in the Bathtub, it is fun to watch artists who have been reviewed in the past grow and evolve. Earth Worm Disco is ShirLaLa's "one giant leap" into new musical territory and, in my opinion, a ringing success!

Kid Quote of the Day: "If I can't think of something, I just hit my head and say 'think, think, think.' It helps me remember." ~ Genevieve (age: 5)

Friday, August 28, 2009

A Plugged in Culture

To set the stage for this edition of Singing in the Bathtub, please take a moment and watch this video that I recently saw on Facebook:

As an educator this video boils my blood! I do not dispute the claims and statistics that are starkly presented here. I acknowledge the power that technology has to teach and I agree that our educational system is sorely in need of reform. I just think the conclusions that are drawn are wildly off base. What this video says to me is "Let's spend money to put computers in our classrooms, but continue to pay teachers a pittance to compete with these digital influences."

My first experience with computers in the classroom was in my very first preschool class. A computer was donated to the LEAP school, and it made the rounds from room to room with several educational games for the students to play. In our class we made a turn-list and set a 5 minute time limit for each turn. Let me share two observations: 

1) I could tell those students who were accustomed to playing on the computer. They knew exactly what to do, where to insert the DVD's how to scroll through menus and directions and these were three year olds! The funny thing was, that these were the children who threw startling fits when they were forced to abdicate their turn. Our culture is just starting to recognize video game addiction as a serious problem. I shutter to think what these, now teenaged, video junkies will have to deal with in their life. 

2) In this classroom there was a boy who was on the mild end of the autistic spectrum. At three, he was still hanging in with most of his classmates, but by the end of the year it was clear that he would only fall farther and farther behind as they matured. One of the main goals that we worked towards was to facilitate social interaction for this boy. He would be content to live in his own world, but what he desperately need was to model social behavior. Watching this boy play the computer was staggering. For a child who needed constant support for even the simplest classroom tasks, he was a whiz on the computer. He clearly excelled beyond many of his classmates. This may sound like a victory, and using these tools in the appropriate way would be great, but the flip side is that he was completely isolated while playing video games. The room could have been on fire and this boy would have continued to match shapes and colors. What would happen to him in the future? Yes, perhaps he could find a job in programming or graphic design, but could he walk down the street and buy a carton of milk? The most important element of school for this boy was being with other kids. Let him shine on the computer when he's at home.

This year I have noticed a dramatic shift in my struggle to compete with technology. It is due in part to the fact that I was dealing with older, wealthier children this summer at Rock and Roll Camp. It was shocking to me to see how many 7 year olds showed up to camp with iPhones. They would stealthily appear in the middle of a class and I would find these tech-addled 'tweens unable pay attention for more than 10 minutes without playing with some gadget, surfing the web, or just stroking the phone like Gollum from Lord of The Rings (seriously!). It wasn't like I was trying to teach these kids linear algebra, we were learning, playing and making music. 

When I put my foot down and removed all iPhones from the classroom, it was an amazing shift. The kids were attentive, and enjoyed playing actual games as opposed to the virtual ones. That isn't to say that there wasn't a scary "withdrawal" period where I was vilified for expecting my students to pay attention to what was actually going on!

When I see the statistics that are touted in the video above, my first instinct isn't "Great! let's give these kids more opportunities to plug in!" I'd like to combat these statistics with some others:
  • A classroom with 30 students will have between 1 and 3 children with ADHD.
  • Boys are diagnosed with ADHD 3 times more often than girls.
  • Emotional development in children with ADHD is 30% slower than in their non-ADD peers. This means that a child that is 10 years old will have the emotional development of a 7 year old, a 20 year old will have the emotional maturity of a 14 year old.
There are also studies that show 70% of children in america are not getting enough vitamin D because they will spend on average 50% less time outdoors as my generation did  20 years ago. Between 1980 and 2006 the rate of childhood obesity has increased from 5% to 17%. One in three of these children will go on to develop type 2 diabetes in their life time.

In addition to the annoyance factor of having my young rockers constantly pulling out their iPhones, you'd be shocked to see some of the things they were surfing onto. Every song that they would ask to play had copious swearing, every video they would watch would be violent, sexually inappropriate, or include confusing mature content. Children see 20-25 acts of violence in "children's television" each hour. I've had to speak to parents about 3-4 year olds imitating sexually inappropriate behavior that they picked up watching High School Musical.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: I am in no way saying that I think technology and education are at odds with each other. I actually find it to be a very powerful tool in learning. I just think our society is obsessed with instant gratification and technology's ability to deliver this. I think a clear example is the difference between watching a kid play guitar hero and actually play guitar (which I see each day at the Live! School). Kids are much less likely to strive to get better at actually playing guitar these days because it's a challenge. Anyone who's learned to play an instrument and has overcome this challenge knows how much more rewarding it is than getting a high score on a video game. There is nothing creative about guitar hero, even though music is involved. It is a slippery slope once technology is introduced into a classroom. Children are much more tech savvy then their teachers, and when asked to compete with an internet browser the teacher will loose every time. Kids will find a way to bend the rules and access questionable material when they should be paying attention and respect to their teachers. Cyber-bullying, video game addiction, diminished attention span, and dwindling creativity are the result of a society that is too plugged in.

Cut the cord and send them outside before it is too late!

Kid Quote of the Day: "I didn't get to sleep last night until really late! My sister woke up me, woke up my mom, woke up my dad. When she went to be, then I couldn't sleep. I couldn't fall asleep until I fell asleep!" ~Khami (age: 8)

Thursday, August 27, 2009

The Well Hath Run Dry

I like to imagine that there are a countless other children's artist who read this blog and they are all clamoring to send me their music. Sadly, I do go through spells where I run out of fun music to review. So here's another call to all those making music for "the smaller set" to send in your submissions to the Bathtub.

I have heard news coming down the pipe that two friends of the Bathtub (ShirLaLa and The Jimmies) are working to get new material out to their fans. I was invited to ShirLaLa's CD release in NYC on September 13th, but I am going to miss it by a week (I guess seeing U2 the week after instead isn't that bad). Her new album "Earth Worm Disco" is set to "drop" on the 7th of next month, so if you are having the back to school, Labor Day blues better get your copy.

As for the Jimmies, Ashley and crew have made the trek to sunny SoFLo to record their latest CD. I saw Ashley and her mother/our neighbor Arlyn strolling around the neighborhood, and the thought of new Jimmies music got me really excited. I know from personal experience that the recording process always takes longer than planned, but I'll keep all my faithful readers up to date on all the Jimmies news that is fit to print. 

With preschool out of session, I was getting down to the bottom of the barrel on my kid quotes. I was about to recycle some email forward, kids say the darndest things style quotes sent to me by my Mom-in-law Ginna, but I heard a real loo-loo today so hear goes:

Kid Quote of the Day: "So you can see that the middle C is on a line and the D is in a space," I said pointing to the sheet of music. "The D is in space? In outer space?" my young student asked with a broad smile. "No, not in space, in a space." I replied. ~Pablo (age: 6)

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Year in the Bathtub

After a weekend celebrating Tracey and my sixth wedding anniversary, I realized that another important anniversary has come and gone. It was just over a year ago, that I followed the inspiration of my Sister Alison and began Singing in the Bathtub.

It's been quite a year of blogging, and to look back over the various posts and subjects covered, I am proud of what I've accomplished. I've done 12 album reviews, and made many good friends in the Kids' Music industry, and have been introduced to a bunch of great music that I would not have otherwise heard.

As many of my readers know, I have a new album in the works, People, Places and Things. I had hoped to have it completed this summer, but, as is often the case, the final stages of production always take longer than expected. At this point I believe that I'll have it printed and pressed by mid-October. Step by step I am expanding my audience, achieving new goals and challenging myself to grow as an artist, an author and even an agent. It's moments like these when I look back over a year and say to myself, Nice work Nick! Thank you to all the readers who have followed me on this continuing journey through the world of Kid's Music.

Kid Quote of the Day: "When I hear this sound, I imagine a magical universe. It's a cookie universe, that you can only get to when you are sleeping. It's very magical."  ~Brian (age: 4)

Monday, August 17, 2009

Update: The Photo is In!

Here's a snapshot from my second playroom performance during the Radio Lollipop Birthday Celebration:

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Radio Lollipop and Those Pesky 'Tweens!

I am writing today after last Thursday's performance at Miami Children's Hospital. I was hoping to write about my experiences at the Radio Lollipop 13th. Birthday Celebration while it was fresh in my mind, but after a weekend's reflection, and a lovely visit with the In-Laws in Miami's Bizarro-World, west-coast, opposite St. Petersburg, I think I am better prepared to put my thoughts on the screen.

This is only the second time that I have played a hospital event, and my previous performance at Joe DiMaggio Hospital was definitely one of the more difficult shows I've played. These events typically have a 4:1 adult to child ratio. So many grow-ups swarming around these young, sick children nervously hoping that they are having a good time makes for a difficult atmosphere in which to perform. To top it off, there were only three or four children in attendance and all were in that tricky 'tween phase, too old to enjoy my style of music and too young to fain politeness when I am unable to play T.I., Lil' Wayne or Miley Cyrus on an acoustic guitar.

Needless to say, I was a bit nervous going into the Radio Lollipop Party and that is a rare thing for me. My schedule for the evening included two "big" performances at the different playrooms and two series of bed-side visits for those children who were unable to leave their beds. I was to be escorted around by a volunteer who's job it was to keep me on schedule and guide my through the labyrinth of hospital wards. Radio Lollipop had gone all out, and the main organizer had a slew of performers, activities, costumed characters and caterers to oversee. My goal was to smile, play my best, and roll with whatever came my way. In the end this attitude served me well even though, at times, I felt alternatively lost and overwhelmed.

The main playroom at Miami Children's is a third floor, outdoor, screened-in "gym" of sorts. They had it decked out with cardboard cut-outs, food stations, streamers, and a make-shift stage for the performers and karaoke. As is typical for a children's hospital playroom, the walls were painted with cheery murals and there was a large play structure in the middle of the rubber floored room. I was scheduled to open the party with a 15 minute set. Before taking the stage I was introduced to my escort for the evening, one of the "Teen Counsel" volunteers. She was shy, but friendly and as it turned out, she was once a long-term patient in one of the wards we visited.

Because of the large size of the room, and my desire not to repeat the "naked" feeling that I had at the Joe DiMaggio event, I brought along a small, suitcase sized P.A. so I could have my backing tracks and microphone. It's a bit of a Rock and Roll cliché, but no one wants to be the opener in festival show for this very reason... I played my set for the caterers and a few of the volunteers. Eventually, a mother and her wheelchair-bound daughter arrived and they got a personal performance. They were demonstratively grateful, and I always enjoy a well-received serenade. At the tail-end of my final song I got the "wrist watch" sign from my escort, so I quickly packed up my things for the next adventure. Sadly, this was the last time I would need all this equipment and the rest of the evening it served as a giant burden that I had to maneuver around doorways, through narrow hallways, and past I.V. stands!

The next stop on our tour was the PICU (Pediatric Intensive Care Unit). On our way, I was becoming increasingly less confident in my escort. "I'm not really sure where we're going," she exclaimed as she lead me out of the main party area. There were moments of wandering the halls punctuated by uncomfortable elevator rides, eventually we found our destination and after a sheepish, self-conscious introduction by my teenaged escort I began my first in-ward performance.

To set the stage, I was in an intensive care unit, which meant a scene similar to something out of an E.R. episode. There was a big open wing with several beds, many busy nurses and doctors, large, noisy pieces of equipment, and several patients and families in need of ongoing, intensive care while I performed. These poor children were in visible pain or in various states of consciousness, and to my shock, were all, on average about 13! There I stood with my acoustic guitar and my guitar-patterned aloha shirt thinking to myself Oh, No! I can't very well play "The Dinosaur Song" to these kids!

To break the ice I attempted to meet some of the kids on the ward. I'm comfortable interacting face to face with kids of any age, but I quickly realized how much of our small talk revolves around health. "Hi, I'm Nick, how are you?" (cringe!) "What's your name?" (did I just really ask that to a girl with a trachea tube? Double cringe!). I hadn't prepared any "grown-up" music and had to think on my feet. I did every Beatles tune I could pull off the top of my head, all the while getting the distinct impression that my music and false cheer only aggravated my audience. This was the longest 45 minutes of my life in recent memory. I watched the patients being poked and proded uncomfortably, being swarmed by nurses. I watched them struggle in fitful states of sleep. By the end, I had to force back tears, and nervously said, "Thanks for listening" as I was lead out of the PICU wing.

For those of you who are still reading, thanks for hanging in there! It got a lot better from then on. I do admit that I was ready to head for the door after this experience, but I am so glad I did not. The rest of the night was an inspiring and fulfilling experience that I wouldn't trade for the world. I went on to play for the patients in the neurological ward, the infant ward, and a separate, smaller playroom.

We were joined by a much more self-assured and ebullient member of the Radio Lollipop team as well as Cookie Monster and Elmo, and this rag-tag bunch helped me find my ideal audience. I was able to play all my prepared music to great reception and as the evening stretched on I was regaining my composure and energy and my false cheerfulness gave way to a true smile that went from ear to ear. I was thrown aback by having to perform in a hospital mask in one room. This was new to me, and it was tough to both sing and keep it around my nose at the same time. I did also wind up in one room with four generations of a Cuban family where the grandfather kept shouting spanish requests at me that I had to politely decline, but all in all, I left feeling inspired and honored to be a part of this event.

Kid Quote of The Day: "After you I said," ushering my young student up the stairs to the music studio. "Well, I guess since it's just us boys here, and there are no ladies here. I guess it's alright for me to go first." ~Paul (age: 4)

Friday, August 7, 2009

Facebook, (it isn't just something you get as Freshman in college)

Happy Friday. As many of you know, I have been working at a wonderful music school called Live! School of Modern Music for the past few months. This summer they've been hosting a Rock and Roll Camp for kids 7-17 years old. I just got back from a great performance that was held at the Cisneros Foundation in Dowtown Miami.

This is the second time that I have had young bands that I lead perform at Cifo (as it is called). Today the attendance was high, the crowd was excited and the performances were strong. I've been performing on stage since I was these kids' age and I tend to forget how much the nervous energy can effect you. When it's me in the spotlight, I'm pretty calm. I worry more about finding parking and setting up then about the show itself. However, watching the 7-8 year old rockers who I've been working with for the past two weeks take the stage to play was a nail-biter! I think they got some great footage, and I'll keep all my bathtub singers posted once the videos go up. 

(here's the performance from a few months back with my "teen" band "Winter Suns")

On an unrelated note. I have recently started a Facebook page for In The Nick of Time. We've had a strong Myspace presence for a while now, but I can tell the tide has turned and Facebook is the social media site du jour (I still refuse to Twitter). I recommend becoming a fan if you are interested since that is the easiest way for me to update folks on my upcoming events. Websites, Blogs, Facebook oh my. I'm definitely feeling a bit overwhelmed by keeping up with all of these promotional tools, but it's worth it when I see the web traffic that it brings. One of these days I'll have a press agent who is in charge of all of this!

Kid quote of the day: "You did a great job Jane!" I said with an enthusiastic smile. "Yeah, I have been singing this song like most of my life; three or four years." ~ Jane (age 7)

Thursday, July 16, 2009

It's Family Time

Greetings from the Bathtub. I am excited to present some new music for your consideration. After hearing a feature on NPR about Ziggy Marley (son of Reggae legend Bob Marley) and his new kids' music CD, I contacted his P.R. department and they were kind enough to send me a copy of Family Time:

Ziggy has been making kids' music for a while now, most notably he wrote the theme song for PBS's Arthur cartoon. I've seen his name on several compilation CD's and before Family Time he did a remix album of his father's songs specifically targeted for the smaller set.

To my knowledge this is his first full-length offering of original music for kids' but I hope it won't be his last! I have to go back and reconsider my Top Ten Kids' Music Album list because Family Time definitely deserves a place of honor in the annals of Kids' Music. The comparisons between Ziggy and his father Bob are inescapable, but despite the uncanny similarity in singing voices, Family Time has a vibe all it's own. Those fans of traditional Reggae won't be disappointed though.

Family Time features some great collaborations with singer/songwriters such as Paul Simon, Willie Nelson, Jack Johnson and Toots Hibbert. Ziggy also teams up with some other big names in the kids' music scene such as Elizabeth Mitchell and Laurie Berkner, as well as other members of the Marley clan. The partnerships on the album seem so organic and well-suited, like old friends who got together to jam and Family Time was the result. I am partial to "Cry, Cry, Cry" and "Stand Tall" (which takes on new meaning when you consider the small stature of Paul Simon). Ziggy and Elizabeth Mitchell voices blend so well that I find myself playing "The Wings of an Eagle," again and again. Sadly, the duet with Willie Nelson is a bit underwhelming. The song "This Train" is a good tune, but for some odd reason they have Willie singing too low for the notes to carry. His usual relaxed, nasal-sounding delivery isn't there and to boost his grumbling notes they overcompressed his vocals such that only the consonants come through in the final mix. The duet with Laurie Berkner, "Future Man, Future Lady" is the only song on the album that falls short for me. I have to admit that I am a bit prejudice when it comes to Laurie Berkner. I like the sentiment of the song (saving our environment), but the music does speak to me like the rest of the album.

An additional feature of Family Time are two stories written by Ziggy Marley and read by Jamie Lee Curtis that complete the track list. It's been trendy for celebrities to pen children's books (thank you Madonna, Rosie O'Donnell, Maria Shriver and Jay Leno). Celebrity may mean that you can get an agent and a book deal, but it doesn't mean you're good at writing children's fiction. This is not the case with Ziggy and Jamie Lee Curtis, I have really enjoyed their work and the stories on this album have a great message and lyrical writing. Ziggy Marley really covers all the bases and presents a wide-ranging album that should please the whole family.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: Ziggy Marley's music is all too often criticized as sounding just like his Dad, but not living up to his legend. For sure he's got some great big shoes to fill! With this album and his other kids' music ventures I feel that Ziggy is distinguishing himself from his father, and finding his own niche. In my experience as a performer, nothing gets the crowd moving like a Reggae tune. The vibe is perfectly suited for kids' song writing, and for getting the parents to groove along. I can't understate how much I appreciate and enjoy this album, and I bet you'll appreciate it and enjoy it too!

Kid Quote of the Day: "Hold on a sec." Henry stopped playing the piano and reached into his pocket, producing a garage door opener which he put up to his ear. He whispered inaudibly for a moment, covering his mouth and then replaced the remote. "Sorry, I got a call. That was someone who works. That was someone who works with people. That was my boss." ~Henry (age 4)

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Real Victims of this Economy

Greetings from the education desk at Singing in the Bathtub. I am writing today after hearing some dismaying news on NPR about the struggling state of California and the result it has had on the education system there. For those interested parties here is the link to the article:

I don't want to go into too much depth, when the article does a much better job of outlining the issue, but I would like to share my own reflections after hearing this sobering news. L.A. did something great for the struggling inner-city, they created a new model for the public school system, employed young, enthusiastic teachers (where the "old guard" would not tread), and experienced modest successes. Now, their hands are tied by a bankrupt state gov't, and the new generation of teachers are being forced out for those displaced and under tenure (not to mention the future generation of educators who are just getting out of school to find no work).

My mom would be appalled, but let me just say THIS SUCKS! I am in the same boat here in South Florida. Miami/Dade county has put a hiring freeze on all public schools, Broward county has just laid off 14% of it's work force. I have applied for my teacher certification in the hopes of moving beyond the freelance lifestyle that has made the past few years so trying. I have elected to be certified to teach elementary music, but knowing that arts teaching jobs are as rare as hen's teeth, I also was hoping to be your everyday, average elementary school teacher. Looks like this year will be a wash.

I have seen so many arts teachers cut from school budgets like so much worthless trash, now it seems the meager dream of being a general ed. teacher is out of reach for those just coming into the field. Who are the real victims of this economic downturn? The children! My sister made a similar joke after getting out of school, but I'm thinking of making a sign to hold up in on coming traffic:

"B.A. from a top liberal arts college
M.M. from a top conservatory
Over 10 years of experience with children
Will teach for food!"

Bumper Sticker Quote of the Day: "It will be a great day when schools have all the money they need, and the army will have to have bake sales to buy bombs!"

p.s. If any school out there is looking for a unique fund-raising idea, contact my blog about creating original CD recordings for sale. It's healthier than chocolate and much less expensive than wrapping paper!

p.p.s. Just a reminder... I am still waiting to hear from the following states:

New Mexico
North Dakota
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia

Drop me a line and you could be next contestant in the Great 50 State Coconut Groove Giveaway (see contest details below)