Friday, March 27, 2009

Ripping off the Band-Aid

For the past three months I have been writing about the impending closure of the Arts Academy of Hollywood. This week, the inevitable happened and they closed they're doors for what I can only assume is forever. These past months have been like slowly ripping off a Band-Aid. Thankfully the Exploring Arts preschool and S.T.A.R. afterschool programs will continue at the
Young Circle Arts Park facility in Hollywood. Sadly, I have had to take on other employment while the AAOH was teetering on the brink, and I won't be able to continue conducting my reviews with the S.T.A.R. kids, at least for this year.

With that said, today I am going to get started on a list of reviews that I have been holding off on with Ellis Paul's freshman children's music offering, Dragonfly Races.

This, Parent's Choice Silver Medal, album from a folk artist who I recall from the Vienna Kaffe Haus in Westborough, MA when I was in high school, is a finely crafted and performed work. I would expect nothing less from this veteran performer. 

Upon listening to it (for the first time, in the car), I was immediately struck by the first track, Wabi-Sabi, and it's crisp sound and funky beat. I was expecting something more along the lines of the title track, Dragonfly Races with it's delicate strumming and finger picking as well as the warm vocal harmonies. Paul has a gift for the storytelling aspect of folk song writing which is clear throughout the album, but particularly in songs like, Abiola (which is something of a different take on Abiyoyo perhaps?) and Million Chameleon March.

As an educator, here is my feedback:

I am often skeptical of the "Johnny Come Lately's" of the the kids' music scene. Not because folks like Dan Zanes and They Might Be Giants are selling out shows around the country while I'm working three jobs as a teacher to make ends meet, but because there is a certain wisdom that comes with working as an educator and interacting with groups of children on a daily basis. 

I say this because I think that not all the songs on Dragonfly Races are appropriate for the same age range. Children as young as five will hear a recording like You are my Sunshine and likely respond, "That's baby stuff!" (while the parents will be touched by this sweet moment between Father and Son). Conversely, a song like 9 Months to Fix the World has some very heady concepts. It's not a kid's job to fix the world. As an adult I appreciate the sentiment and the imagery of a man fixing the world for his unborn child, but the underlying message is that we're living in a pretty broken world. Why trouble our kids' with that image? Songs like I Like to Swing are much more appropriate for kids' understanding and interests. 

All in all, Dragonfly Races was a joy to review. I applaud Ellis Paul for his first foray into the world of kids' music, and look forward to his next release in the genre. 

Kid's Quote of the Day: "Nick, I don't think they will ever fire you, because you are very nice." ~Michael (age 8)

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

The Happy Gene

March has been quite a busy month, packed with performances and events. This past weekend I was excited to see the Birdhouse Factory at the Broward Center for Arts, but I also played a concert at a private party for families with children who are diagnosed with Williams Syndrome. This event was one of the most unique audiences that I have ever played for, and quite possibly the most inspiring and enjoyable!

I was told by the party's host, as I was packing up to leave, that Williams Syndrome is a rare genetic disorder that is often called "The Happy Gene." Though this fact was shared with me on my way out, it was apparent when I walked through the door. I was greeted by smiling faces, palpable excitement to see my guitar and banjo, and many friendly questions. "No, I am not in the Jonas Brothers, though I am named Nick," "Yes this is a guitar, I also have a banjo to play," "Yep, this is my guitar shirt. I wear it to all my performances... pretty cool huh?"

The audience was a mix of parents and children (which is typical), but the kids ranged in age from 2-22 (not typical). Some of the younger audience members seemed a bit upset by the loud singing and high-energy dancing and covered their ears. I am used to this reaction from children who are sensitive to sound or motion, and don't take offense. Surprisingly, the die-hards who were dancing and singing until the final number were the teens and 20 year olds. This group of families living with Williams Syndrome, who meet regularly, are called the Smiling Faces Network. It was an honor and a pleasure to play for it's members and a real inspiration to make music with such a great crowd.

Kid's Quote of the Day: "Here's a puzzle for you. Now when you travel, you can have something to do." ~Emily (age 12) who handed me a smiley-face, tile puzzle after my performance.

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Reviews Are In, and The Circus is Coming to Town

Greetings. I've got two subjects to touch upon tonight. I just heard back from Felicia at Go Graham Go that her review was up and the latest giveaway has begun. She posted a video of the man himself, Graham, enjoying the music:

Alison and I were talking about "Seven (is my lucky number)," and it's catchy simplicity. Eric (my brother in-law) is worried that Miles will only be able to count to 7! I hope Graham doesn't suffer this fate.

On an unrelated note, The Birdhouse Factory circus show which I worked on this fall is coming to the Broward Center for the Performing Arts. They are still trying to fill seats, and I've been talking with Chris, the director and creator, about doing a Q and A for my students. So, anyone out there in South Florida should contact the Broward Center and get tickets. Info on the Q and A will follow as soon as it is set.

That's all for this evening. My wife just got back from NYC so the funny kids' quotes will have to wait until next time.


Thursday, March 5, 2009

Thursday Hodge-Podge

To say that it has been a busy couple of weeks here at the Singing in the Bathtub home office would be an understatement! My new-found love for "Mommy Bloggers" continues to blossom as the first of many CD giveaways was shipped out this morning. Thanks again to Potamus Prefers for breaking ground on this new phase of promotion for In The Nick of Time.

As a follow up to the lovely review and exciting giveaway that Potamus Prefers hosted, Go Graham Go has decided to take the next swing at a review/giveaway. In addition, Felicia the author of the blog, sent me some interview questions to which I subsequently filmed the answers. I wanted wait until she posted it before I did the same, so here it is:

Tracey and I filmed this last week in and around Plymouth Preschool where I spend my mornings. I am happy with the results, though a real video camera is on my wish list (we filmed this right on our digital camera).

Radio Lollipop. I finally made contact with Radio Lollipop the organization that provides music and entertainment for the Miami Children's Hospital. I am sending them a copy of Coconut Groove and my hope is to get involved with some of the events that they host at the hospital, continuing the charitable arm of In The Nick of Time Music. 

Upcoming Reviews:
I have three albums of music on my desk waiting to be reviewed. The Arts Academy of Hollywood is still struggling along on life support, and I hope that I can get to these reviews with my music class.

The Dragon Fly Races by Ellis Paul. This the Boston-Based Folkie's first foray into the world of Kids' Music. It has a shiny silver emblem from the Parent's Choice Foundation, so I am excited to see what the students think.

Funky Kidz by various artists. I was pointed in the direction of Lauren Busch Singer by a mutual friend. She is the creative mind behind this amazing compilation of classic kids' tunes performed by the best of the New Orleans' music scene. 

American Hero's #3 by Jonathan Sprout. This was a new name in the kids' music scene for me. Another recommendation of Lauren Busch Singer. Upon first inspection, it looks like it will be perfect for my elementary aged audience, since it has a slightly more mature subject matter (icons such as Milton Hershey, John Muir, Thomas Jefferson and the list goes on). I have to say that Jonathan Sprout is an awesome name for a kids' musician! I love the name Deysher, but few people can pronounce it correctly the first time, and it doesn't have the same visual quality.

So there you have it, stay tuned for these reviews in the next week or two. If you don't have my CD yet, throw your hat into the ring at Go Graham Go. I'll be sure to let you know as other giveaways begin.

Kid's Quote of the Day: "You sure got lots of fur on your arms Mr. Nick." ~Patrick (age 3)

Sunday, March 1, 2009

Heather on Earth

This update is a bit delayed, but I wanted to tell all the readers here at Singing in the Bathtub about a unique experience I had with a great organization called Heather on Earth. I had received a call for musicians interested in playing at an event at the Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital in Hollywood FL several weeks ago. The turn around time was just a couple of days, but I jumped at the chance to get involved since I have been hoping to do some volunteer work at hospitals in the area. 

Heather on Earth is a foundation that is dedicated to bring the healing power of music to sick children around the country. Founded in memory of Heather Simone Fessler a young girl who loved music, but sadly passed away in 1985, Heather on Earth utilizes the skills of many talented musicians in many different hospitals and communities. Below is a video from the CBS Sunday Morning show highlighting the amazing programming that Heather on Earth provides.

I was able to get in touch with Geri Fessler, the founder of Heather on Earth, at the eleventh hour and made arrangements to visit a party they were hosting at the hospital that very afternoon. As it turned out, I was due to be in Hollywood to do the Trout Fishing In America review in my classroom and to play a gig at Funtastic Friday later that day! The timing was perfect, and Geri took delight in the fact that I was able to come just "In The Nick of Time!" Only a few children were healthy enough to make it to the playroom, but those who did, clearly had a great time. Hopefully, I'll be able to work with Heather on Earth again in the future.

Inspirational Quote of The Day: "If children have the ability to ignore all odds and percentages, then maybe we can all learn from them. When you think about it, what other choice is there but hope?" ~Lance Armstrong