Monday, November 14, 2005

Family music

On Saturday, we went to a concert. And when I say "we" I mean the whole family (well, minus Boo) and our neighbors, JB, Susan and Julia (Julia's a little younger than Austin).

We went to see Dan Zanes and Friends at the Somerville Theater. It was great! They seemed like they were having a great time and both kind of throwing things together and also palying well together. Some songs were played by just Dan and a ukelele and others featured Barbara Broussard (who has a beautiful voice) on guitar, a drummer, upright bassist and an accordianist who also played the musical saw (!). Special guests included a man who taught Dan songs at his boyhood camp in New England (he wrote some new verses about the outrageous fees that Ticketmaster charges) and Father Goose!

Susan said she hadn't seen so many adults have so much fun in a while. Everyone was dancing in their seats and singing along -- and they knew all the words. I pointed out that we've all probably heard Dan's cds more than we ever listened to Springsteen, Depeche Mode or whatever we were into when we were young, dedicated fans.

Anyway, I thought I'd take this occasion to mention some of the music that our whole family loves.

Dan Zanes and Friends, Rocket Ship Beach This is the first cd of Dan's newest career. He led the Del Fuegos in his youth, and then, after "settling down", started playing old Pete Seeger songs for his daughter, the songs he remembered from growing up. I didn't realize this was the first cd but I bought this one because of the song selection: "Keep On the Sunny Side", "Sunny Side of the Street" and then realized that these aren't even my favorites on the cd. Our family has learned an old standard "Bushel and a Peck" and when Austin was singing it for Nana and Grandpa, we found out that they knew all the words, too! Dan's original song "Hello" is also terrific. And the Caribbean tunes, "Emmanuel Road" and "Brown Girl in the Ring" are infectious, although it may take a while to figure out the words.
One great thing about Dan Zanes is that he really pushes the idea of making music with the family in the album notes and at the concert. At one point, he even told us (I'm paraphrasing here), "It looks like you need lots of fancy instruments and microphones and wires to make music, but you don't, they just make you louder. All you need are some voices," and then they sang a song unamplified, with a handheld drum and an ocarina for accompaniment. This is also reflected on his website where he gives the lyrics, chords and even melody samples of all the songs on his cds that he either wrote or are in the public domain (songs under copyright, like "Bushel and a Peck" are not included but the lyrics can be found elsewhere on the web and the music is actually in a children's book I saw last year).
Bottom line: Folk-y standards with some cutesy interstitials, gives me the feeling I'm educating the kids through the American songbook.

They Might Be Giants, No! This is strange because it could simply be a They Might Be Giants album but on this one they push the boundaries in weirder ways. There are some great danceable tunes ("Jon Lee Supertaster" is a personal favorite, and "Clap Your Hands" is fun, too), and some beautiful, singable melodies ("Where Do They Make Balloons?" and "Lazyhead and Sleepybones") and then some bizzare-o stuff ("Grocery Bag", "I Am Not Your Broom"). One of the strangest songs I have ever heard is "Violin." Sample lyrics:

Violin -lin -lin, Violin -lin-lin, Violin -lin-lin, Vi-o-o-o-o-o-lin
Mop. Mop mop mop mop. Mop.

I used to hate this song and skip it in the cd. But then it grew on me like a fungal infection and I started singing along with it. And then I realized I was hooked when Austin said, "Remember that song? Remember that man said 'Speck-a-duh'? 'Speck-a-duh-duh-duh'?" I thought I was going insane, but suddenly it hit me and I said, "You mean, 'Speck of dust dust dust, Speck of dust dust dust, Speck of dust dust dust, Oh-oh-oh-oh-oh!?" Yes, Austin just spontaneously remembered that song.
Bottom line: Typical TMBG, love 'em or hate 'em.

There are a few other cds that Austin requests. One is Sleeping Beauty. He calls it the "horsey song" because when we asked him what it sounded like, he said (of the third movement, I think) that it sounds like horses jumping on rocks.
Bottom line: It's fun to ask kids to interpret music; in this case, it led to an appreciation of Tchaikovsky.

Bob Marley's Legend Legend is of course a classic, but one that resonates with the kids at a young age. Mari bounces up and down when she hears the bass and Austin particularly likes "Get Up Stand Up", I think because he recognizes the words and thinks of it as one of those songs with a dance built in, like "YMCA" or "The Macarena" or "The Hokey Pokey."
Bottom line: you have it anyway, put it on and chances are the kids will love it, too.

Israel Kamakawiwo'ole Facing Future. Late Hawaiian superstar Israel Kamakawiwo'ole had a beautiful voice, and was perfectly accompanied by his uke. This cd reminds us of Austin's birth. When Julie was pregnant, we started regularly listening to George Knight on his WBOS radio show, Sunday Mornings Over Easy. "Somewhere Over the Rainbow" is his sign off song. Austin was born on a Sunday and in one of Julie's last lucid moments before labor, I turned on the radio and we heard the song. Thanks, George!
Bottom line: Too much synthesizer on some tracks, but the essential Iz is beautiful.

If you have suggestions for other music that kids and adults enjoy, please write a comment.

1 comment:

Baldwin said...

Hey! Nice blog.

If you haven't gotten it already, TMBG's "Here Come the ABC's" is a huge kid favorite in our car. The adults loved it too, for the first 239 playings. Kinda hit the wall at #240.

"Bed Bed Bed" is also very good and surprisingly effective at calming us down for bedtime.