The potential to be creative together was a spark in our marriage ready to ignite at any time, and Amy and I were throwing all kinds of sparks as new song ideas for our daughter seemed to come from everywhere. I couldn’t tap out the ideas on the iPad as fast as they were coming. “Oh, look Peanut,” I’d say, “there’s the bowling alley. Someday you’ll have a party there” – Boom! A Bowling Party song was ready to rock! “Wow, Peanut’s watching her cousin crawl under the glass table like it’s a glass bottom boat ride!” – A little research and a Glass Bottom Boat song was on its way. “OK Peanut, you can play my guitar with the pick; just don’t put it in your mouth…” and The Pick Song came into being.
This was the beginning of a project to share our own celebration of song and learning with our daughter and all the kids of the world who’d like to hear it (and their grown-ups too!) but our past experience making music for school kids helped. Since I picked up a guitar in my teens, I had always set aside at least one day a year to perform for my Mom’s elementary school classes and take questions and requests. When I married Amy and she got into teaching I made sure to take two days off for that purpose – one for my Mom’s school and one for Amy’s. When she took over the French program in pre-school, we would translate kids’ songs we knew into French, or make up new songs with a verse in English and a verse in French. We enjoyed making this music and our ultimate goal in children’s music at the time was to produce CD’s specifically for Amy’s classroom.
Now, as we were rediscovering our own creative power and imagining a way forward with it, we were also getting to know about the players in kindie music. I had joined the Children’s Music Network and started to make some contacts and learn about a whole universe of artists making authentic music for kids that respected their intelligence and capacity to soak up new experiences. One band was very familiar for different reasons: They Might Be Giants, long known for their quirky and eclectic tunes in the 80s and 90s, had made a series of extraordinarily catchy and pleasing albums and videos for kids on the subjects of the alphabet, math and science. Dan Zanes, formerly of college mainstays The Del Fuegos, had also made the move from a successful pop/rock career to a way of making children’s music with integrity. Lisa Loeb and Elizabeth Mitchell also reinvented themselves to make music intended for families.
My networking and research brought us deeper into a universe of music for families and new names began to appear repeatedly and a wealth of songs became available to discover for our daughter, now a toddler. We’d repeatedly hear of The Not-Its, Joanie Leeds, Recess Monkey, and Milkshake. Their music carried a ton of energy and musicianship with lyrics easily relatable in a child’s life. We were a long way away from “Old McDonald” territory.
One band really stood out for us as an example of pouring absolutely everything into delighting kids: Princess Katie and Racer Steve. They brought precise, diverse and adventurous musicianship and enhanced it with colorful characters that are extensions of the singer and guitarists’ personalities. Katie was always an admirer of the way Princess Diana transformed royalty into a symbol of compassion for those with less and engaged the fantasies of little girls along the way. Steve developed a persona around his passion for the race cars he builds, capturing the imagination of little boys (and some future Danica’s too…). There were skits in between songs; full-blown cartoon characters were realized. The music was accessible and funny for kids and adults. There were songs about honesty and kindness, interspersed between clever wordplay in “Sand in my Sandwich” and the rich imagery of “We Dress Ourselves!”
We now had some important influences, models of how a kindie band could enhance family life. We had a growing songbook of originals and covers. Our daughter would frequently request our new original songs, so we knew they were working. At this point, we needed some guidance and we needed a band. The quest for mentors and musicians had begun.