How We Discovered Kindie Music for Our Child, then Joined the Movement (Part 3)

Our toddler daughter displayed sheer delight at the songs Amy and I had written together; she constantly requested them in the car. We had all the convincing we needed that our songs could belong in the realm of the kindie music we were enjoying as a family. Our instincts told us to seek out the wisdom of people with a successful track record of creating music for kids

We presented some of our songs to more experienced children’s songwriters from the Children’s Music Network for critiques. The opinions of seasoned kids’ entertainers who weren’t “too close” to the project, as Amy and I were, would prove valuable in reconsidering what to keep in our songs and what to change. We went through multiple rounds of critiques and re-writes with Katherine Dines of Hunktabunkta Music to bring out the sense of wonder in the song “Peek-a-Boo Moon” and bring the playful side of the concept to life.

Educational songwriter Monty Harper, who is very accomplished and prolific when it comes to songs about science and research, was a natural choice to help us improve upon “Glass Bottom Boat.” He pointed us toward the verse we had written that worked far better than all the other verses, and suggested we re-write all the other verses to be consistent with (but not identical to) the best original verse. The result was a song that would introduce kids to more of the wildlife in the river and more of a sense of movement.

Songwriters Dave Kinnoin and Leslie Zak would provide us some valuable direction and encouragement on “A Bowling Party” and “Mimi the Ladybug”, respectively. We chose Dave for “A Bowling Party” because good sportsmanship was a key to that song, and Dave was resonating with young audiences with his songs about developing good personal character.  Likewise, Leslie had a strong reputation for songs that celebrate nature, which was central to “Mimi.”

Jason Didner and the Jungle Gym Jam

Passing the torch: all Jungle Gym Jam members past and present

We had tightened our songs with the help of our mentors. It was time to put the band together. I felt it was important to present a band that could emotionally connect with the kids in the audience. What better way than to enlist a childhood friend who brought back golden memories every time I glance his way from the stage? There was one right choice for drummer: Ross Kantor!

When thinking about harmony vocals, Meg Beattie’s glowing voice and ingenious harmonic instincts came to mind immediately, as did her warm and supportive personality. Meg had always made Peanut feel happy and safe in our social encounters, and I envisioned that feeling projecting from the stage. So we reached out to Meg to harmonize and play acoustic guitar in this band.

We were still in need of a bassist. Fortunately an online service was there to help match bands with local musicians: Within minutes of searching for bass in New Jersey, I was looking at a profile of Judy Helbig. When I pressed Play on her demo track, I felt the power of rock-n-roll move me as her cover of Jefferson Airplane’s “Somebody to Love” came packing presence and energy through tinny computer speakers. An audition quickly confirmed that Judy made us a complete band. Judy had crafted bass lines that prove what it is to be a master of her instrument  – a steadiness that holds the band together rhythmically, yet with a sense of adventure to explore the whole range of the bass’ expression, the sense of playfulness we wanted to express with every part of the band.

This lineup is what you hear on our first two singles, “Five Sea Lions” and “Peek-a-Boo Moon.” Four more tracks are due out with this collection of musicians. We went on to perform a full-band acoustic show and an electric concert. Each involved over 2 hours of material. We squeezed the most music we could out of everybody’s busy schedules.

Meg left our band and the kindie world to engage kids’ music in a different way – as a teacher at Montclair’s new Kidville location. This would require a full-time commitment that couldn’t coexist with being in an independent band at the same time. We’d miss Meg, but were determined to find a singer/guitarist to carry the torch along. After a thorough search of BandMix and YouTube, we auditioned some worthy candidates and chose Casey McCleary, a true disciple of 60s music, from doo-wop to folk rock, with a hippie spirit. Her musical sensibilities are guided by Peter, Paul and Mary as much as The Platters;  she’s all about the harmony. A believer in the healing properties of music, Casey leads drum circles and performs as a solo acoustic act for children with special needs. Her induction into the band involved a crash course in learning a full set of our originals in time for the 4th of July Picnic. But where she would really shine is with innovating new harmonies to new songs I started introducing to the band after Casey joined.

I’m eager to continue sharing with the band the songs Amy and I have been writing, and then putting those songs out there for the kids of the world (and their grown-ups!) We plan to release a full-length album this fall (we head into the studio tonight with the new lineup!) and have a nice mix of solo, duo and full-band performances coming together. There’s also some out-of-town travel in the works. You know the history now; we’ll learn the band’s future together as it comes to be every day. A million thanks to Peanut for inspiring this marvelous reinvention of our family and setting us on a musical mission, along with friends old and new!

How did you get to where you are in pursuing your passion? Who helped you? Who were you helping as you found yourself on your path? Whose opinions have you sought out or received, and how did you use them? What obstacles made your endeavors what they are today?

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