Friday, October 29, 2010

Halloween Fun!

Greetings all! I am excited to have a "video" for my brand-new Halloween song to offer my faithful readers today:

Kid Quote of the Day: "What are you going to dress up as for Halloween?" I asked. "Vampire Hannah Montana!" ~Sidney (age: 5)

(the idea of an undead Hannah Montana is one of the scariest things I can think of)

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Trout Fishing in Miami

I was very excited to read several months back that Trout Fishing in America would be the Halloween performance for UM's Festival Miami 2010. Each year Festival Miami hosts a family act (along with the organization Sunday Musicals for Children). Having reviewed their album Big Round World, and their picture book I Am Chicken Joe, I was very excited to see this duo in person.

I worked my UM alumnus status to sneak in a brief interview with Keith and Ezra after the show. For those who have never heard or seen Trout Fishing in America, they are a study in polar opposites. Keith stands 5'5" tall and has a high, sharp voice. Ezra is a staggering 6'9" and has a deep, low voice. As Keith said, "I was the good kid in school," fixing his collar and lifting his chin, "I was the one who always got straight A's. Ezra," he whispered, covering his mouth with his hand, "he was the bad kid in school!" Their stage act plays on this opposition, and my favorite part of their show was the witty banter.

I asked Keith about how Trout Fishing first got it's start with kids' music. "A teacher," he said. "Were you and Ezra teachers?" I asked. "No, I knew a teacher who wanted to show her students that music comes from people. So, I brought my string bass, Ezra brought his acoustic guitar. We didn't know a single kids' song, so we did a lot of Beatles. We did the blues, some folk, but we didn't know what we were doing." In the decades since this modest beginning the two have developed a fabulous collection of CD's and a great, age appropriate stage show.

I was also curious about their song writing, being that the are a duo where both sing and write. "It's a total partnership. Ezra is more of the music guy. I start with lyrics." "Do you write the lyrics without a melody?" I asked. "Most of the time, If I do have a melody in mind I won't tell him [Ezra] because he'll come up with something better." I also asked them about writing specifically for kids. "You can't play down to them," Keith asserts. "They're really smart. Kids these days are really smart. If you're not being honest. If you lie to them, they know it" (he snaps his fingers). "That's why the educational side of our music isn't overt. It's just around the corner. Like when we were singing in roman numerals [during the song 18 Wheels on a Big Rig]. You can't stand up there and say, 'Listen kids now we're going to count in roman numerals.' You've gotta use humor."

Finally I asked them about working and playing as a duet. "I can't imagine playing as a solo act," Ezra said. "If I'm ever having a tough gig, I can always look over at Keith and it's all good." Keith agreed, "Just to have someone smiling back at you helps keep you going." All in all it was a fabulous show, a wonderful chance to chat with some veteran kids' musicians and hopefully the start of a good friendship with two of the nicest and most talented performers in the industry.

Kids' Musician Quote of the Day:

Funny side note: notice that Keith is on the stage, and Ezra is standing on the ground.

Friday, October 22, 2010


Halloween has always been one of my favorite times of year. I was the kind of kid who had his costume planned on Nov. 1st for the following year. As a music teacher, it means the start of a busy time learning first Halloween, then Thanksgiving, and finally Christmas music back to back to back. Even so, I enjoy it just the same.

This year I've been thinking a lot about the joys of saying (shouting), "Boo!" Kids can't seem to get enough of it. From the smallest toddler to the coolest elementary school kid, startling an adult or catching a fright by shouting, "Boo!" is an experience that needs to be repeated again and again. Most of the songs I have been singing this month have some part where the kids get to do their best ghost imitation.

There is a big difference between the sense of surprise and excitement that comes with a healthy, "Boo," and the fear and panic that can come with more frightening images, sounds, movies and TV shows that come with this season. I fear that too often adults aren't sure where to draw the line. It's a tough task, and I am constantly surprised by what frightens certain children.

For me, as a two year old, sounds (like the jingling keys in the intro to E.T.) would get my heart racing and the tears flowing. For other students I have had, spooky imagery in songs that we sings might trigger anxiety. Costumes with masks are often a source of upset during preschool Halloween parties.

Often a child's response to a brush with the scary is a strange fascination. I recall a boy who would ritually draw swirling dark patterns, labeling them "Voldemort" (this was even before the Harry Potter movies). His imagination couldn't let this image go. It took this particular boy a while to move past his fear and start drawing robots and dinosaurs again.

As a lover of everything Halloween, I really enjoy sharing this excitement with my students. I always endeavor to keep my Halloween activities and songs spooky but not scary. It can be a fine line, but it's important for a child's sense of safety.

Kid Quote of the Day: I have come across some funny and clever Sesame Street clips on YouTube lately. Parodies of Madmen and Old Spice commercials show that Sesame Street hasn't lost it's edge in the 40+ years it's been on the air. Here's my recent favorite:

~Willow Smith a la Sesame Street (age: 9)

Friday, October 8, 2010

The Softer Side of Kids' Music

On the eve of John Lennon's B-day, it seems fitting to review some music by an artist who kicks off his new CD with the Beatles' classic Hello, Goodbye (though I guess Paul is officially responsible for writing this one).

David Tobocman's latest release is entitled Lemonade School and features 10 originals plus the previously mentioned Beatles tune and the Mr. Rogers classic, It's You I Like. It's a bold move to open your album with a cover song from (arguably) the greatest music group of the 20th century. I think Tobocman does an admirable job. I enjoy the ukulele foundation, accordion and slide guitar accompaniment. I do miss the "Hey la, Hey-ay lo-a" coda though. As for the Mr. Rogers song, it has a nice James Taylor-esque vibe which is both pleasant and soothing. I still prefer Mr. Rogers simple, piano-only delivery. Sadly, he's been pulled off the air, but watching his interaction with Jeff Erlanger on the original show still brings a tear to my eye.

As a friend of Mrs. Rogers, who is the loveliest and most supportive woman, I am sure that she would be tickled to hear Fred's music re-imagined this way.

Now, on to the rest of the album... I called this post "The Softer Side of Kids' Music" because Lemonade School has a smooth, sometimes jazzy sound that to me is reminiscent of the soft-rock radio classics I remember from the 70's and 80's. With a backbone of skillfully played piano, this album features dense textures and great harmonies. Even songs with titles like "Mom is a Rockstar" or "Soul of a Rebel" have more of a Steely Dan and Doobie Brothers feel than AC/DC or Pixies vibe (like the Not-Its! or the Jimmies).

Tobocman's voice is crisp and he has an enunciated delivery that makes each word clear. With a hint of country twang, there's an honesty in his voice that I respond to. Fans of the, younger, Livingston Taylor will feel right at home. My favorites on the album are "No Time Like The Present" which is an easy swing standard of sorts, and Yeasayers which features Tobocman's flair for old-school rap.

The Mike Brady Wrap-up: By now I feel like I can safely say that I see certain trends in kids' music. There are many groups out there trying to give a bit of a harder edge to the Barney's and Wiggles of the world. I think that Lemonade School bucks this trend, and creates some memorable tunes in the process. As a multi-instrumentalist and self-producer, I have great respect for what David Tobocman presents. The arrangements are dense and pleasing, the songs are tuneful and sweet. If we in the kids' music market are trying to entice the parents as much as the kids, I think Tobocman has a good angle. I hear strains of a lot of the music I enjoyed growing up in the age of "Yacht Rock." It's a testament to this industry that artists are producing music that fits into so many genres. Parents, take your pick!

Kid Quote of the Day: As we finished our class, and the children were filing out of the choir room, one small girl lingered behind. "Mr. Nick, are your going to stay here?" she asked. "Yes, I have another class coming in just a minute or so," I replied. "Are you going to sleep here?" she said with curiosity. "No, I sleep at my home," I answered. "Oh, I have a home too!" ~Sara (age: 3)

(guess that's why kids are so shocked to see me at the grocery store... In their mind I don't exist outside of the classroom).

Friday, October 1, 2010

Parrot or Pirate

Yesterday things got a little deep. It's Friday, time for some fun.

Thanks Flannery Bros!

Kid Quote of the Day: "What is your name?" I sang, pausing to point to the next child in the class. "I can't really talk right now, my voice doesn't work." ~Miguela (age: 4)