Earth Day – Celebrating the Planet and remembering John Muir with a song. “Come Back Home” by Jonathan Sprout

Photo by Lisell Ashock

Photo by Lisell Ashock

“In every walk with Nature one receives far more than he seeks.”
John Muir

Happy Earth Day!

Where I live there are tons of Redwoods. They stand tall like soldiers commanding their territory. They are mighty, and I am completely drawn to them, taken in by their majesty and beauty. As I walk through preservations and national parks, I always find myself wondering what the trees could tell us if they were able to speak. I Imagine they would be some of the best historians and storytellers.

I’ve been to the Muir Woods National Monument, a Redwood forest named in honor of John Muir. It’s incredible and I would recommend this site to everyone. It should without a doubt be a bucket list item! It’s a sacred place and the size of the Redwood Trees is mystifying (as are the banana slugs!). There is so much peace and though there are usually people walking along the trails, taking pictures, there is a great feeling of peace and so much room for contemplation. There is even a Cathedral Grove which asks people to be silent and simply observe the beautiful sounds of nature. It truly is amazing how much you can hear. Life in the forest is abundant and as I walk through or sit and listen, there is a great feeling of interconnectedness.

As they day unfolds and Earth Day activities ensue, I have another song for you about an American hero who, along with Rachel Carson, made a significant impact in the way of wilderness preservation. John Muir, founder of the Sierra Club, is known as the most influential conservationist and naturalist in America. Muir went on many adventures through the woods, observing the beauty of the natural world around him.

Jonathan Sprout, an award-winning children’s musician and historian, has produced 4 albums filled with songs inspired by American Heroes. Sprout’s American Heroes #3 album includes a song written in honor of John Muir. “Come Back Home” was written in the first person as though Muir himself were singing about the mountains, his dreams of exploring, climbing, and protecting them.

As I was talking with Sprout about the inspiration for this song, I found out that there was a period of time that Muir went blind. This was something I didn’t know and I can’t imagine based on all that Muir has written about with regard to his observations. Below Sprout shares some thoughts and facts about Muir which is followed by the audio clip of “Come Back Home.”

John Muir knew how to look for gifts in life, even in his darkest moments.

In his twenties, he was a nature lover and successful inventor who could probably have become wealthy if he’d wanted. At the age of 29, tragedy struck. Or did it? He was bent over a bench, working on one of his inventions when a file flew up into his face, punctured and eye, and blinded him in both eyes.

For four weeks, he lay in bed with his eyes bandaged, having no idea if he’d ever be able to see again. With plenty of time to think, he made a promise that if ever again he could see, he’d forget about his inventions and instead devote the rest of his life to “the inventions of nature.”

Later, surprisingly, he regained his sight.

“Six months after the accident, he left his house and went for a walk. A 1,000 mile walk! Eventually, he visited the California mountains where lumber companies were destroying the priceless redwood and giant sequoia trees.      It was time for John Muir to keep that promise.

The way he stood up for those trees inspires me as much as the simple fact that he did. Instead of attacking the greedy lumber companies, pointing out what was wrong, he chose to write about how beautiful and inspiring these trees are. His optimistic, poetic, and uplifting magazine articles and books stirred others from far and wide to meet, sympathize with, and fall in love with these giant trees. New activists stood behind Muir, and their combined efforts (mostly with the Sierra Club which Muir co-founded in 1892) stopped the destruction of the trees.

The accident with John Muir’s eyes brought great gifts to the rest of us. John Muir’s optimistic view of nature’s beauties helped redefine the ways we now view nature.

Personally, John Muir’s life has greatly influenced mine. I now own and live in a low carbon footprint home with a well, septic system, and wood burning stove. The solar panels are coming soon. I’m told by the park rangers out there in California there are redwood trees growing in every state. I’ve tried unsuccessfully to grow them from seeds. But how cool would it be to have a redwood tree growing in my Pennsylvania backyard! Perhaps this year, I’ll try again. Anyone know where I can get some seeds?


More about Sprout

Singer-songwriter and recording artist, Jonathan Sprout has dedicated the past 21 years to creating meaningful and captivating music for children. Sprout began this journey in 1994 after reading the results of a nationwide poll detailing children’s top 10 heroes, which included cartoon characters such as Bart Simpson and Beavis & Butthead along with several professional athletes whose off-field antics were anything but heroic. This made Sprout question, “who are our real heroes and why are we not teaching our children about their importance?” That’s when Sprout’s idea to write and record songs for children about real heroes was born.

Since then, Jonathan Sprout has written over forty songs and has released four American Heroes albums about some of the most remarkable men and women in American history. His albums detail the amazing stories of legends ranging from Pocahontas to Neil Armstrong. With the help of author-lecturer Dr. Dennis Denenberg, a noted heroes specialist, Sprout “chose people who lived and breathed elements of good character and are good examples that children can understand and emulate.” His list of heroes includes politicians, athletes, scientists, feminists, civil rights leaders, and many other admirable individuals.

Interview: Warren Brown and Adam Goddard creators of Big Block Singsong

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Toronto-based visual artist Warren Brown and composer Adam Goddard (aka Goddard/Brown) are the craftsmen of an animated series called Big Block Singsong. Their catalogue of videos includes fun 2-minute episodes featuring colorful singing blocks, each one having its own distinct personality: A block with a german accent singing about hair, a monkey singing about a “Two Banana Day” and a cave man pointing out that an erupting volcano is a hot mess are just a few of the priceless gems you’ll find in their collection.

Touching upon topics such as animals, sleep, and social emotional themes like conflict resolution and being brave, these highly original and well-produced shorts are aimed at educating and entertaining preschoolers. Although, their clever sense of humor will quickly catch the attention of older kids and adults, both lyrically and visually. They also integrate musical styles such as hip hop, funk, classic rock and even European techno. The first episode I watched with my 6-year-old was the undeniably awesome Princess and from that moment on we have been completely hooked!

Since these episodes currently air on the CBCDisney Jr., and Nick, Jr. in the UK, some of you may already be familiar with the magic of Big Block Singsong. For the rest of you, let me introduce you to the supreme rulers of this big block empire.

In our interview below, Warren and Adam discuss the creation of Big Block Singsong, how their production process is unlike that of a traditional TV show, and why humor is an essential part of their process.

Make sure to read through the interview to find out about their Vol 1. DVD and Greatest Hits album.


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KCG: What is your background and how did you come into the concept with Big Block Singsong?

Warren: Adam and I both grew up in Grimsby, Ontario. Even though we went to the same nursery school and high school we didn’t really know each other back then. I left Grimsby and ended up being a creative director, animator and designer at an animation studio in Toronto. I worked on commercials and motion graphics, and also developed kids’ TV shows. Adam and I reconnected after a mutual friend invited us out to lunch and we talked about the need for some solid music for the kids’ shows I was working on. We ended up working on a couple shows together before I left that studio. Adam was already a freelance composer so we continued to work on things and eventually found a studio space together. We came up with this idea for a simple singing face character shortly after. That was the beginning of Big Block Singsong.

Adam, what is your musical background?

I would say I have an eclectic musical background. As a kid I took piano lessons but also picked up as many other instruments as I could. I played in a band and eventualIy went to university where I studied classical composition and orchestration.

How did you decide on the final concept of singing blocks?

Warren: At first, the idea was a fullscreen singing face. We did a couple of small tests to see if it would work, and found a real connection when this big face sang directly to viewers. We wondered what would happen if we put the rectangular face on a block character. It opened up the possibility of a world, and became the concept for Big Block Singsong. The faces are always the same dimension, the blocks are the same dimension and working with those parameters opened up a lot of possibilities.

Tell us about the first episode?BBSS_101_Monkey_03

Warren: Our very first episode features a monkey singing about having a hard day in the jungle. The idea came to us when Adam and I were in the studio. I brought in two bananas for my lunch and asked Adam if he wanted one. He declined and as I walked out of his recording studio I said, “I guess it’s gonna be a two banana kind of day.” Later that day Adam came back with a guitar and played the “Two Banana Day” chorus. It all made sense.

How do you work together to develop the songs and the characters?

Adam: It’s a pretty homogenous process. We start off conceptualizing together. We come up with a lot of funny ideas and cool words that make sense and work well with the concept. There is a certain point where I’ll go off and write some lyrics and maybe come up with a rough idea with the guitar. Warren then takes it and animates it. We do everything back and forth the whole time until we are both happy with what we’ve got. Our process is unlike the traditional way of making a show where things are done separately.

BBSS_108_Octopus_02Warren: An idea comes maybe from a song or band we’ve been listening to or an era of music we like. We could be into funk one week and want to do something with ‘70‘s funk or we start with a concept like feelings, hairdos or body parts. Sometimes we’ll think about a character first, like an octopus, and work out what an octopus might sing about.

How does this differ from your previous experience in kids’ TV production?

Warren: My experience in traditional kids’ TV production is that you do everything first except the music, which is typically left for the very end, and then someone comes in to score it. Adam and I wanted to see what kind of project we could come up with if we brought the composer in right at the beginning.

When you had this concept developed did you test it out before releasing it?

Warren: We made about five test episodes with different characters. It was an interesting concept that was making us laugh.

One day we were contacted by a curator we knew who was putting together a group art exhibit based on animation as art. Adam and I jumped at the opportunity to put up these test episodes of Big Block Singsong we were working on. We mounted some TVs and headphones to the walls and played Big Block Singsong off of DVDs. People would put the headphones on and stand a foot away from these big singing faces. We were right there in the gallery and could see people’s reactions. Everyone seemed to laugh and smile, both kids and adults.

Later that year one of those test episodes screened at the Ottawa International Animation Festival. At the festival, we showed someone from the CBC the idea and they really liked it and wanted to see it as a kids’ TV series. We didn’t really have an audience in mind back then. That’s when we decided to focus on making music and animations that speak right to preschoolers with hopes that parents enjoy it too.

Are you working with different networks or just with the CBC?

Warren: We’re an indie studio. Adam and I produce the show. Adam makes the music and I design and animate. Big Block Singsong is commissioned by the CBC in Canada. The creative head of kids’ programming there, Kim Wilson, approves our episodes for broadcast but she’s really more than that. She’s our editor, guiding us, making sure we’re speaking to kids. We also have distributors who took the show to Disney Junior in the US and and Nick Jr. in the UK. That was a big leap.

So you have a good amount of creative freedom? 

Warren: We do all the creative and production work in our studio which is really nice. We have a long schedule which lets us produce the episodes more like an album rather than a traditional TV show. That way we get to really develop each episode.

You guys are both dads. How old are your kids?

Adam: I’ve got a 10-year-old.

Warren: I got a 4-year-old and a 5 month old.

Have they inspired ideas for the show?

Adam:  Oh for sure! Both of us are inspired by our kids in a lot of ways. There has been a few specific things that my son has said that’s really stuck. Warren and I will be laughing about the idea and then it ends up finding its way into an episode.

You balance the humor nicely in a way that appeals to both children and adults. Do you make each other laugh when you are working through ideas? 

Warren: It has to be funny to us. If we’re not laughing when we’re working on something, kids probably won’t find it funny either.

Adam: It’s quite surprising because we’ll sometimes get to a point where our lyrics are looking pretty good. We’ll go off and record them and realize that there’s just something in the delivery that’s missing or when it’s paired up with the music it falls a little flat. Then there are other times when unexpected things we’ve just taken for granted are the funniest part of the track.

Warren: I also want my 4-year-old son to get the jokes or words we use in the lyrics. If he doesn’t understand it I want it to be interesting enough that he’ll ask about it. I’ll hear him using those little jokes or wordplay in his own life when he’s playing with his friends or talking with us at dinnertime. Music connects with a lot more people and a broader audience than just regular TV. I think that’s why we have kids and parents who like our music, grandparents who like it and why we have 30-somethings that tell us they have our album on their phone.

You address social emotional topics in an accessible way that doesn’t feel preachy. “Better Way,” for example, encourages talking it out to resolve conflicts because “taking a frown and spreading it around won’t solve a thing.” What is your approach when touching upon feelings or social emotional topics?

Warren: Adam and I naturally go to sillier characters when we’re coming up with ideas. “Better Way” was a challenge. It was suggested to us that bullying was an important topic for everyone, especially kids. We always want to be fun and want kids to feel happy watching the show so we thought about how to flip it so that it has an empowering message.

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The same approach applied to “Brave.” That song was originally about being scared. We wanted to present it with a positive message, encouraging kids to be brave, instead of presenting something frightening like a boogeyman in the room. We think about what we’d say to our own kids or what we tell ourselves quite frankly.

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Are there plans to create more of a narrative where the blocks talk to each other or is the focus going to remain on singing?

Warren: There will always be a focus on songs for sure. In some episodes there are moments when the characters have a little back and forth, just a couple lines during a pause in the song. We see those moments and think about what having dialogue between the characters would look like. Right now, we approach the show like a band makes an album. We create a bunch of songs and that ultimately makes up a season of the show.

When you’re developing these characters, do you relate to or envision yourself as each one?

Adam: I have to. It’s funny, once in a while Warren will come up with a sketch and right away I’ll hear a certain voice or delivery or attitude that just comes naturally. It’s a bit embarrassing when Warren comes into the studio and I’m belting out in full blast “I’m a spider!”

Warren: We’re in character because of the voice, we’re in character because of the attitude of the music and that helps a lot compared to my other animation experience. Once we know the personality and quirks of a character they end up with a certain way in which they present themselves, whether it’s a monkey or a kooky spider.

Or a princess.BBSS_128_Princess_02

Adam: Well I did the first take on that one but I didn’t do the final voice.

Warren: We worked with a female vocalist, Stacey Kay, for the tracks where Adam’s voice just can’t get up that high.

You made her a tough princess instead of a super girlie princess. How did that decision come about?

Warren: Adam and I were juggling the idea of a princess for awhile but knew we wanted to do something different, something with attitude.

Adam: At one point Warren used the words “electric pink” and I thought “Ok, it’s done! ‘Electric pink’ is so cool it has to be in the lyrics.” An electric pink tutu had to be in there.

Surprisingly Adam you have a much lower voice than I expected.

Adam: (lowers voice) Really? (Warren laughing)

Adam, are you the voice(s) in all of the songs, with the exception of the ones Stacey sings in?

Adam: That’s right, yeah.

BBSS_103_Hair_03In the “Hair” episode you take on a german accent.

Adam: Yeah

(both laughing)

How did you decide on a German accent for that guy?

Warren: We were talking about ‘80‘s European techno music and laughing about the concept and after looking at our list of topics we said “Hair!” out loud. Adam put on the accent and all of a sudden we had the song.

You’ve been compared to Flight of the Concords. I also hear a little Tenacious D and David Bowie in “Space Friends.” 

Warren: I’m just reflecting on that now. We’re both fans of Flight of the Concords and Tenacious D and obviously music in general. I guess what we like about Flight of the Concords and Tenacious D is they sing humorous songs with a certain determination and intensity.

Here in the studio Adam sings the same way.

What are your musical influences and how do they filter into the music in Big Block Singsong?

Adam: I definitely love all kinds of music and often the styles themselves inspire where we end up in Big Block Singsong. We have a tendency to stick towards tried and true Pop and more classic genres of music. The songs work well when people can identify with them to a certain extent. As far as my own personal influences, I grew up on the songwriting and harmonies of the Beach Boys and the Beatles. I have a soft spot in my heart for a lot of that classic stuff so that definitely finds its way selfishly into the music. I also like the challenge of trying something that maybe I wouldn’t normally gravitate to. It’s a lot of fun to dive in and try something that’s way out of left field.

So what’s next for you guys?

Warren: We’re almost finished 20 new episodes for Season 2 and they’ll be airing soon on CBC and Disney Junior. The biggest thing for us right now is seeing how the audience reacts to them. We’ve tried some new genres and new characters and new topics so we’ll see if this new mix is going to be received the same as our first season. We hope people find their favorites in this one too.


Stay up to date with Big Block Singsong by liking the Big Block Singsong Facebook Page and following along in Twitter

You can purchase Volume 1 of Big Block Singsong on DVD through Amazon and iTunes.

Want to take the songs with you? Purchase the Big Block Singsong “Greatest Hits” Album through Amazon, iTunes, and Google Play.

Click here to watch Season 1 episodes of Big Block Singsong.

Video Repost: “Gaia She Knows” – The Hipwaders

226936_10151490438215708_1350393429_nAnother solid single from The Hipwaders‘ Year Round Sounds, Gaia She Knows,” is a breezy tune encouraging conscious, green living and protection of Mother Earth. Originally released as a single, this track was inspired by a six-year-old named Gaia (named after the Earth Goddess). Gaia approached lead singer Tito Uquillas after a show, asking if The Hipwaders had any songs about saving the planet or avoiding the use of pesticides. Intrigued by the irony of it all, Uquillas was moved to create a song in honor of his earth-conscious fan.

I originally premiered this video for “Gaia She Knows” in 2013, and I am happy to kick off this week (leading up to Earth Day and Arbor Day) by featuring it again. Thanks to the talent of Janet Davies (design) and Planet Sunday (animation), this inspiring story is brought to life. It’s a great song to start a conversation about the many ways we can think locally and act globally.

“Gaia She Knows” is available for download as and purchase through Amazon and iTunes.

Video: “Too Much Junk” – Elska feat. Mikael Jorgensen

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As we approach Earth Day, many of you may be thinking about or getting involved in eco-friendly activities. Each year, Em is obsessed with cleaning junk off the street. The amount of trash and litter thrown on the sides of the streets is very disappointing to her, and I am happy to support that!

So it only seems appropriate to post this video for “Too Much Junk” by Elska. It was released a little bit ago, but I’ve been saving it for this week, in honor of Em’s feelings about cleaning up the streets, and because Earth Day tends to kick my spring fever up a few notches. I start to itch and get restless as I notice that my surroundings are growing bigger with clutter by the day. Or so it seems.

For “Too Much Junk” Shelley Wollert (aka Elska) teamed up with Mikael Jorgensen, the lead keyboardist and pianist for the band Wilco. Together they have created a fresh new track that is filled with the same dreamy electro-pop signature to Elska’s sound. The song and corresponding video present a wonderfully minimalistic perspective in that Elska’s voice is prominent and the only thing surrounding her is the beautiful Icelandic landscape. It’s a perfect metaphor for the reduction of clutter. And as Elska sings “I don’t need a lot/ no not a lot” I feel moved to breathe in the openness of my own space by cleaning out all of my own (and my daughter’s) junk.

Now, since this video was released during the wintry months, there is snow. I realize that many of you have your sights set on greener pastures (and flowery spring colors) so I offer you this: Watching Elska romp around in this wintry wonderland reminds me of how fresh the air feels when you give yourself the space to take it all in.

Plus, I love how she dances at minute 1:13! Adorable. Seriously.

Enjoy!

You can purchase the track, and find more Elska at her official site.

“The Siblings Shake” – Happy National Siblings Day with The Mother Company And Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band

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It’s hard enough navigating through this world as a single child, and just when you feel like you’ve got a handle on things a sibling comes into your world and changes up the dynamic. I have heard from many moms with multiples how intense the fighting can be at times. On the other hand, there are beautiful moments where siblings just hug it out like crazy and play together like the best friends.

The Siblings Show,” the latest installment in the “Ruby’s Studio” series, a multiple award winning show produced by The Mother Company, aims to encourage harmonious relationships between young siblings. Through animation and problem solving skits The Siblings Show offers relatable scenarios and tools to help siblings learn to understand and express their feelings, embrace teamwork and celebrate family. The show also addresses topics such as birth order, adoption, and anxiety around a new baby. Em has been very outspoken about not wanting a sibling for fear of losing time with us so being able to watch something that speaks to her and can comfort her is reassuring.

In honor of National Siblings Day, The Mother Company released a video performed by Lucky Diaz and the Family Jam Band for the song “The Siblings Shake.” As expected, Lucky and Alisha pour their infectious, sunny personality into this song with a bit of whimsy and humor. It’s hard not to feel the love when watching these two!

The Mother company is an awesome group of moms and experts who aim to provide rich entertainment to young children, and advice for parents. In addition to their latest installment, they also offer episodes empowering kids in areas of friendship, being the boss of their own body and safety. There is something for everyone in the family! Visit The Mother Company’s site and check it all out.

You can learn more about “The Siblings Show” and purchase the full-length DVD here.

Can you KaraOkee? Sing along with the Okee Dokee Brothers!

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The Grammy winning (and 2-time Grammy nominated) adventure dudes have a present for all of their fans! The Okee Dokee Brothers recently produced KaraOkee videos for songs from their Grammy winning album Can You Canoe? and their recently Grammy nominated album Through the Woods. 

The KaraOkee versions of the videos feature the same HD footage from the Brothers’ Mississippi and Appalachian Trail adventures along with lyrics and a bouncing ball (or hat or tree or boots) to guide you along. It’s a lot of fun and a nice way for families to spend time singing along together.

So, can you KaraOkee?  Join the band and, as Joe and Justin say, “Don’t be afraid to sing out of tune!”

Below are some of our favorites. Be sure to visit The Okee Dokee Brothers’ YouTube page for more KaraOkee fun!

Watch This: Twinkle Time – Kidz Rock feat. Mista Cookie Jar

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Los Angeles-based Twinkle Time and fellow SoCal artist Mista Cookie Jar join forces for a new song and video.

Together MCJ and Twinkle bring celebrity style and commercial production value to the screen with a little help from all-star producers Matthew Gerrard (Kelly Clarkson, Big Time Rush, High School Musical and Hannah Montana), Peter Amato (Miley Cyrus, LeAnn Rimes, Ricky Martin) and James Dallas, who has had had his songs placed on the George Lopez Show, Bring it On, The Bratz, and co-writes/produces with Twinkle for the “Bilingual Pop Music Show for KiDS, Twinkle Time!”

If we were teleported inside a disco snow globe, it wouldn’t be as much of a rush as what’s happening in this video. Kidz Rock is like a whirling, swirling, EDM, pop, hip-hop, confetti explosion!  Or, as lyrics say “This here’s a kidpaloooza  where the  music don’t stop.” Next stop: Disney channel!

“Kidz Rock” is the first single from Twinkle Time’s 3rd album due late summer/early fall, 2015.

You can listen to and purchase the single here.