Video premiere: “Hold On To Your Dreams” – Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips

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As parents, we want our children to dream big.

Telling my daughter “the sky’s the limit” feels powerful. Honoring her ideas and imagining all the possibilities with her creates moments that I hope feed her soul and open up her field of vision to look beyond the obstacles. And if an obstacle pops up, my wish is that she’ll know it’s neither the end of the story nor the end of the world. It’s just a bump on the road to reaching her goal.

The real reward, after all, isn’t “winning” or “nailing that project” but what we’ve learned along the way. How we pushed through the moments of frustration and desperation. And how we got stronger and more self-assured for all the sweat and angst. That’s what I want my daughter to know. It takes patience to fulfill your dreams and take action on brilliant ideas and it just isn’t easy sometimes. But the gold at the end of that rainbow is worth it.

LA-based group Mista Cookie Jar and The Chocolate Chips (MCJ) are one of the biggest champions of bringing positive messages into households. This family ensemble is eager to reach young, developing minds and to inspire thinkers, dreamers, and those of us young at heart.

Today I am proud to premiere the first video in a series of video releases this week celebrating MCJ’s forthcoming album, Music is Everywhere (release date: March 11, 2016).

“Hold on to Your Dreams” is an all-natural fam jam that calls attention to a critical part of the dream equation. The act of encouraging kids to hold on to and follow their dreams is a big piece, and the love and support we offer as parents is the charge in the formula that gives our kids the surge to “keep goin’, keep holdin’ on.” To travel carefully over each bump.

Role models come in all forms and MCJ and the Chocolate Chips are making their mark. In just over a year, they have written 13 songs (one song per month) as well as produced their own videos. In “Hold On To Your Dreams” and with their forthcoming release of new songs and previously released singles this group has become a shining example of what it means to persevere. They have done it as a family, showing that having a solid family foundation fuels the flames that lead to glorious results. And that makes it all worth it in the end.

Keep up with Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips this week through their official site, FB page and Twitter. You can also subscribe to their YouTube channel to get updates on new video releases. Below is a brief interview with Mista Cookie Jar about this week’s plans and a brief behind the scenes look the making and meaning of “Hold On To Your Dreams.”


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KCG: Tell us a bit about how the song and video cam about. How did you start making music with Tembra and Lyrin?

MCJ: Our friend Tembra and her daughter Lyrin have been in the Chocolate Chip crew from the very beginning. Lyrin is like a cousin to my kids, Ava and Lucas. They grew up together. Tembra is childhood friends with Jenna aka Missis Cookie Jar. “Hold On To Your Dreams” has been around for years, honed and crafted over late night jam sessions and bonfires. Tembra and Lyrin moved up to the redwoods a few years ago from LA, so we’ve continued the tradition of family sing-a-longs and camping when we go up north to visit them in. This video captures the spirit of enjoying the wonders of nature in Northern Cali with friends and family. Cell service is terrible so it’s a nice treat to have some phone detox QT with the whole fam bam.

Tembra and Lyrin first appeared in our 2nd album, Ultramagnetic Universal Love Revolution in the song, Shaggy Bee. As you can see, Lyrin has her mother’s talent for singing. We’re so happy this song has received high praise from our fans, and a lot of air play on Sirius XM 78’s Kids Place Live!

KCG: The album and this song particular has a real “lived-in” vibe. I’m sure this has a bit to do with your song-a-month mission and EP release. Can you tell us a bit about your songwriting/recording process?

MCJ: Our new album, Music is Everywhere, has an organic quality to it which I believe is something to appreciate. It’s this soulful approach to playing music that is becoming a rare bird, especially for younger tech-savvy generations. I’m happy to toss my hat in the ring and go back to the roots — especially before I switch it up again with some banging beats!

KCG: What’s in store for this week?

MCJ: Everyday this week, Mista Cookie Jar and the Chocolate Chips will be dropping 5 new music videos – one new on each day – leading up to the world premiere of our 3rd album, Music is Everywhere. This release process was totally inspired by the marketing stunt for Weird Al’s last album release. We wanted to really make the new album an event, ya know? I’m excited to share all the videos! Don’t wanna give too much away, but there is some claymation, some ballet, some live stuff and even cutting edge 360 video technology — you know, where you either have one of those Oculus head sets or you just move your phone around or scroll with your finger to see the YouTube vid in 3D.

The songs on Music is Everywhere have mostly all been released as singles or on an EP during my single-a-month run this past year. But there will be a couple brand spanking new tracks on the record — one of which will be released with a video on the same day of the album release.

Music is Everywhere will be premiering March 11, 2016 on Zooglobble. Stay tuned via the aforementioned links to get the latest and greatest updates.

Interview: Sandra Lilia Velasquez of Moona Luna

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“Panorama is all about a journey. I wrote the songs and lyrics while thinking about real experiences I’ve had but imagining what it would be like if I were to take my daughter along on those trips I took alone many years ago. ”
– Sandra Velasquez

Sandra Lilia Velasquez is a force of nature. Dubbed “SLV,” she’s as driven and passionate as an artist as she is a mother.

Singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Sandra is known in the adult music world as the lead singer of the nationally and internationally acclaimed Latin group Pistolera and front-woman of SLV, her solo effort. She also is the songwriter and lead singer for the bilingual (Spanish-English) kindie band Moona Luna.

Since their 2006 kindie music debut, they have released three highly acclaimed albums. Panorama, Moona Luna’s most recent release, was inspired by Sandra’s journey as a mother, world explorer and lover of travel.

I had a chance to speak with Sandra about the album, and dive deeper into her creative process. What swelled from the conversation was a sheer tidal wave of insight, strength and passion in a way that only Sandra could deliver.

Panorama is available through iTunes, Amazon and Bandcamp. For more information and to stay up to date with Moona Luna, subscribe to their YouTube channel, and find them on Facebook and Twitter.


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Kids Can Groove: Panorama was just released and it’s Moona Luna’s third album. I love how it blends together themes of travel, love and family. 

Sandra Lilia Velasquez: I feel like it’s our best album. I think everyone feels that way about their newest work, but that’s actually how I feel.

With the very first Moona Luna album, kindie music was new to me. My band and I had been playing together for 10 years as Pistolera with a musical vibe very similar to Moona Luna. It was Latin music. It was upbeat. It was in Spanish, but the content was much more adult. Pistolera’s songs are about immigration, feminism, and life issues – things that children can’t relate to.

When I was writing the first Moona Luna album I thought, “Okay, how do I get in touch with my strong, non-political side, kid-friendly side?” I had my daughter as my guide. She was only three-years-old so the themes were geared more towards her age group and her interests. With the second album, my daughter was learning about time, what time is and how to tell time, so the songs on that album related to a time theme.

My daughter is now eight-years-old. The content for Moona Luna has grown along with her and on Panorama it’s clear that we’re not tailoring it to three-year-olds anymore. We’re just playing music and trying to make it sonically fun with singalong parts and fun instruments but it’s a little more of a grown up sound.

KCG: Has your journey of motherhood influenced your journey as a person and a musician?

SLV: Yeah, I don’t know how to separate them. Now that I have a daughter, the reality is that I can’t go on tour for a month. You really learn how to use every moment of every day, whether it’s a moment for yourself or whether it’s moment to spend with your child. As a musician, I really have to plan everything out – working on music certain days or planning what I’m going to do after my daughter goes to sleep. Everything is worked around having a child and I’m sure that this will change as she grows. At every stage you have to keep living your life with the schedule of the needs of the child. I can’t even picture what it would be like to not have a child. I have friends that are musicians that don’t have children and I just think you have no idea how much time you have.

KCG: So true! My daughter is seven-years-old now and it has gotten a lot easier, though now that I have a little more time I tend to reflect on my own childhood and think about how I can model certain life skills for her.  I really relate to the family theme in Panorama. “I’m Always Here” and “Llevame” both have a kind of motherly/parental, reassuring vibe to them.

SLV: Panorama has a very strong family theme. You can’t really separate the family theme from the album. There are some people that play music for children who don’t have children. I always marvel at that because my music is so informed by my experience of having a child. You know those feelings that you can’t really explain to other people or that you could explain but it sounds very abstract? Like what it feels like to be protective of someone eternally. People, they know what that means in the abstract, but they don’t know what that feeling is. So those songs on the album are very much informed by that experience of being an actual mother and watching someone grow.

As your child grows, one day you realize they are becoming like you or you are becoming like your parents. You have this moment of “Wow…”  You really learn by watching your parents be themselves. I don’t think that I actually realized that until I was completely in my 30s. It’s not really about what your parents tell you to do. It’s about how you see them live their lives and you decide if you want to mimic some of those traits.

I write from the experience of being somebody who loves somebody unconditionally and is watching them grow and wants them to want to be independent and wants them to be strong in the world but also wants them to be a good person.

KCG: “Espejos (Mirrors)” is one of my favorite songs and the message in the song really relates to, as you say, realizing your children are becoming like you or you are becoming like your parents. Specifically in the words, “Did you ever wonder why your smile looks like mine? / Just like my mother before me. / Our laughter has the same ring.”

SLV: Mirrors are the things we all see. When you look at your child and see that they have your hands, or your feet or your eyes. And you see how you’re connected with your own parents. It’s almost so obvious to say it but that’s really the root of that song. Espejos is really the things you see in your child that are part of you. You feel like you’re looking in a mirror.

KCG: You are a part of 3 bands (Pistolera, SLV and Moona Luna). Previously, you talked about having a schedule and maintaining a work-life balance. How do you stay true to the work and the process required to fulfill the role of mother and musician while also setting an example for your daughter? 

SLV: I was lucky to have mother who was extremely strong-willed and driven. She is an immigration lawyer, activist and professor. That is why I am the way that I am. When you are young, you don’t understand. I would think, “You’re never around. Why aren’t you here?” Then as I got older, I realized she just loved to work; her job is not just a job, it’s her passion. It’s her career. That work ethic and that kind of dedication to your passion translated into music for me. I’m the same way as my mother. I just go for what I want. My daughter will learn by watching me be myself.

KCG: Does your daughter join you for live performances and is she also involved in music? 

I bring my daughter with me as much as possible. She comes to my shows. She’s backstage with me. She sits in the audience. She’s at the merchandise table with me. If I can bring her, I will bring her. She’s seen me perform a million times now. She sees me practicing. The lesson is if you want to be good at something you have to practice and put in time with it. I was forced to play music as a child and I hated it and couldn’t wait to quit.

I’m not forcing her to be a musician but I want her to practice something. When you’re older, no one is ever mad that they play an instrument and speak two languages. No one ever says, “I wish I didn’t speak another language” or “I wish I didn’t play the violin.” It’s hard to learn anything new but if you can stick with practicing something then over time you do get better and you have this additional skill. Not everyone has that.

For me, of course, I always laugh at the poetry of the fact that my mother forced me to speak Spanish and to take piano lessons, both of which I rejected at the time and now I’m a musician and I sing in Spanish. I guess Mom was right.

KCG: Was Spanish the primary language spoken in your home? 

SLV: Yes. My mom is from Mexico. My Dad is also Mexican but he was born in California. So, he’s basically Chicano. I was born in San Diego and growing up, my mother basically would just not answer me if I didn’t speak to her in Spanish. My Dad was a little more lenient so I would always go run to him.

KCG: Did either of your parents play music or did you grow up with music played in your home?

SLV: My family is not musical. Both my parents grew up with very little opportunity and they were proud to be able to provide me with an opportunity like piano lessons. My father is an artist, a painter, and was very encouraging artistically. All the walls in my bedroom were murals. He just gave me the paintbrushes and acrylic paint and said, “Do whatever you want.” As an artist, he understands that urgent feeling inside like “I need to go create!” or “I need to go paint!” or “I need to go write a song!” or “I need to go play the drums!” Whatever is your passion, it’s like a drive – a calling – that you can’t just stop. Not every parent gets that.

As a musician, you always hear these stories about other musicians and how maybe they grew up singing in the church or both of their parents are singers. I did not grow up in that kind of family so I feel like I have to work really hard at music because I don’t feel like there was any genetic traits sent down to me to be musically inclined. Both my parents are super supportive, though. They give all my records to their neighbors.

KCG: Was your family into travel?

SLV: Yes! Travel was instilled in me at a young age. We took a trip every year, visiting places like Canada, Mexico, Hawaii. We have albums full of family photos documenting our trips. My mother traveled a lot for work, still does, and my father would always go to the museums in Europe. Everyone in my family loves to travel so it seems like my passion either comes the experiences of taking family trips or it’s a genetic thing where we have this drive to go places.

KCG: As a musician, you’ve been able to tour – nationally with Moona Luna and both internationally and nationally with Pistolera. Was the idea of touring a kind of compass directing you toward becoming a musician and forming a band?

SLV: Traveling is a crucial part of my life. I always have to have a trip planned. Travel is a huge luxury and such a gift to be able to do. I just love going to other places seeing how other people live. Traveling puts you in your place in the world. It’s very easy to get caught up in your world and think about how things are a certain way.

As a musician I get to do two things that I love to do: travel and play music. Travel informs my music and the more you are informed and the more experiences you have it all becomes fodder for writing. You have to have something to write about.

KCG: As you reflect on/were reflecting back on your own travel memories, and also imagining traveling with your daughter, what would you want her to see or hope that she gets out of it? 

SLV: I want her to see that other people live differently. That is the main takeaway from traveling – people have much less and are happy and grateful. Not every kid has an iPad, or needs one. To learn that people are fundamentally the same everywhere is a great life lesson. It opens your mind so much.

KCG: In Old School Way you say “I can take it all,” “I can take it in.” Was there a particular experience tied to that feeling of greatness?

SLV: I’ve been to a lot of different pyramids in Latin America – in Mexico, Guatemala and Honduras. You go really early when the sun is first coming out and it’s pretty magical. At the top, you can see the entire jungle floor and it just looks endless. You don’t see any fences; there aren’t any parking lots. It’s just completely free, open, lush jungle. We have natural wonders here in the U.S. but in terms of architectural relics we don’t so much have that. The Grand Canyon is beautiful but touristy. There are probably parts where you can go and feel like you are the only one. But, you don’t see the parking lots when you are at the pyramids.

KCG: Many of the songs reference walking or things you saw on the streets.

SLV: When I was visiting Latin America, I always just took the bus somewhere and then walked around a town. I am always interested in really being in a place so I never do tours or anything guided. I never rent cars. I usually walk or take buses. In the songs you refer to, I am flashing back to walking around the town square in Chiapas, Mexico, on cobblestone streets. There is no better way to get to know a place than to literally walk around it. You stumble upon things like restaurants or climbing steps to get to a church on top of a hill. It is just very freeing. 

KCG: How did you come up with the name and concept for the album? 

SLV: I’m always looking for titles that are bilingual. Panorama is a perfect example because it’s the same word in English and Spanish. Once I thought of the album’s title, it was just easy to come up with songs that related to the themes of travel and family. The title is like the seed. I also like having a theme with an album, which is something that is recurring with Moona Luna and some Pistolera albums, too, where it’s about a whole experience or a whole journey.

Panorama is all about a journey. I wrote the songs and lyrics while thinking about real experiences I’ve had but imagining what it would be like if I were to take my daughter along on those trips I took alone many years ago.

KCG: What was it like to relive your memories by envisioning them with your daughter? Does it change the experience for you in any way.

SLV: Yes, in a couple ways. First, I can’t do anything dangerous. If I was alone, I might stay in a cheap hostel not in the best part of town. With a child in tow, I would never take those risks. Kids tend to not like lying around in hammocks drinking vodka! I would have to consider things that are also fun for her.

KCG: Panorama is a bilingual album with Spanish songs, English songs and a blend in the same song. Do you feel the language is also a part of the journey? Can families get a sense of a different culture from your album?

SLV: I think the music comes first and people hear the lyrics after. The feeling you get from the music is the most important. I like when people sing along to things they can’t understand simply because they like the melody. I definitely feel like families can get a feel for different cultures from the different musical cues – African rhythms and Latin percussion.

KCG: Panorama has more of a rhythmic sound to it than previous albums. Did you change the arrangements to flow along with the songs?

SLV: The style that you hear in a lot of Moona Luna and Pistolera songs is called Cumbia and that is very popular in Mexico. It’s actually Columbian but it’s very popular in Mexico. Some people hear it as Reggae or some people hear it as Ska. I grew up just hearing that in San Diego because it’s like you just can’t not hear it. It’s not even like my parents were blasting it on their home stereo. You hear it from a car driving by or the people in the restaurant are playing it. I didn’t really notice how much it was played until I moved to New York.

I wrote Panorama with my songwriting partner, Sean Dixon, who has played African music for many years and played bass on the album. Sean is also a drummer so he brought in a different rhythmic element to get me out of my Latin groove, which I could stay in forever, so it was nice.

KCG: What would you like our audience to take away from listening to Panorama?

SLV: Travel is something that is dear to my heart and I feel that to be able to communicate that through an album is really cool because the family trips that you take when you’re kid really stay with you. I feel like a lot of people can relate to traveling with their families. Together, you get to experience something new, something different and maybe you learn something. People always remember being in the back of their parents’ avocado green car. They remember how it smelled how it felt and those are the memories that stay with you.

Also, everyone needs a good soundtrack for the car! If everyone has one favorite song, that makes me feel good.

Video world premiere “Ninja School” + Guest Post by Marsha Goodman-Wood

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Marsha Goodman-Wood is a ninja in disguise. She is a DC-based singer/songwriter who makes music for clever kids with sharp imaginations and active minds brimming with curiosity. Marsha is also a former cognitive neuroscientist. Yep, you read that right. Brain science…pretty cool.

As a songwriter, Marsha brings her educational background and combines it with her experience as a music and drama teacher as well as her role as a mom of three. “I think about all the intense brain development that is going on in my young audiences,” Marsha says. “[My background] also shapes the way that I engage with my audience. Because music uses all our senses, it activates more parts of the brain and creates very strong memories; so music is an ideal vehicle for learning. Just think of the ABCs, and how ingrained that song is in all of us.”

I am happy to present two goodies to you today – the video world premiere for Marsha’s single “Ninja School”* from her debut solo album Gravity Vacation, and an illuminating guest post where Marsha dives further into the whole body benefits of music.

And of course, fist bump to all those ninjas in training out there.

Marsha is currently writing for her next record which she expects to record in 2016 with her recently-formed band, The Positrons. Stay up to date with news about Marsha through her official site, Facebook, Twitter or Reverbnation, and catch her latest videos by subscribing to her YouTube channel.

*The “Ninja School” video was produced by NY-based kids artist and video producer, Patricia Shih, with illustrations by Giulia Neves.



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I’m a cognitive neuroscientist by training, which means I used to study the brain and am still fascinated by how our brains work. I think of music as a great connector that ties together lots of different processes that are happening simultaneously in our brains. It activates our senses, is a total body experience (if you want to be technical, uses both our gross motor skills and fine motor skills), and brings an emotional and human connection. Music is also a universal source of joy!

There’s some fascinating research that shows how music can aid learning and how closely music & movement are tied to language development in young children. Brain researchers have looked at movements that involve coordinating the right & left sides of the body and ones that use our whole personal space, and have found that there’s a strong link between actions which send messages from one side of the brain to the other and the kinds of signals that our brains send from one side to the other when we read and speak. So, when we sing a song like “The Wheels on the Bus” or add actions or dance moves to any song, we’re building and strengthening connections in the brain that are important for language development.

With my music, I think about what kinds of moves I can offer little kids to reinforce those connections kids are forming. When I perform “Ninja School” I ask the kids to show off their martial arts moves (karate chops, kicks, leaps and such). When I can, I like to include something interesting in my songs for older kids or grownups, too, like mixing fun facts into the song so there’s something to take home and think about.  The title track for my record Gravity Vacation has facts about gravity and inertia that kids like to bounce along to, mixed in with some “la-la-las” the audience can sing along with. The bonus, though, is they still absorb the facts so I get the coolest stories later. A mom told me her 3-year-old old daughter explained to her out of the blue one day that we stay on the ground because of gravity!  Another family told me they were sitting around the breakfast table talking about the moons of Jupiter and started checking out NASA info online because the song sparked the kids’ curiosity.

I tend to put positive messages and a little something educational into my songs because kids are sponges. They absorb everything we put out, so why not give them something interesting to think about that they might not have heard before? Mixing in information that sparks their curiosity and complements what they’re learning now in school (or what they will need to learn at some point down the line) is a built-in bonus. Maybe it reaches that one kid who is not connecting with material in the classroom. Maybe it inspires a child’s fascination in science and creates a budding scientist.

Plus, you don’t have to teach a kid to have fun. Music is inherently fun and if you write a catchy tune and make it musically interesting that’s a ton of fun in and of itself. There’s definitely a place for adding in humor, imagination, and silliness in kids music. Helping listeners to explore outrageous ideas is something many artists do well, but I’m OK with taking it to a different place. It’s definitely tricky to write a song that’s educational, yet still fun and not preachy. That’s where I try to go, and I believe people pick up on that and enjoy that about my music.

Some of the other messages in my songs are the kinds of messages that I feel we as parents are trying to share all the time. I loved hearing from the mom who told me her 8-year-old twin boys were always reluctant to wear helmets, but after listening to “Wear a Helmet,” they started enthusiastically wearing them! Another mom told me her 5-year-old was about to show her a new wiggly tooth, but said, “I need to go wash the germs off my hands before I touch my mouth,” since she had picked up the message in “Nobody Likes Viruses and Germs.” It’s amazing to think something you wrote could affect people like that.

I’m not sure where my songwriting will take me. All I know is that I’m on a journey where I’m trying to stay true to myself and write about what inspires me. The great thing about working with kids is that they are full of questions and make you think about things differently. Sometimes their questions spark my curiosity or lead me somewhere new as I try to answer them. I feel that kids can understand anything if you explain it well, so I want to honor their questions with real answers and not assume a concept is too far over their heads. It challenges me to make sure I understand a concept well enough to explain it to a 5-year-old or an 8-year-old. If that leads to a song, it’s a win-win in my book!

Behind the Scenes of The Great Pretenders Club Special with The Pop Ups and Producer Avtar Khalsa

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Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein (aka The Pop Ups) are on a path to reach the stars! Since their 2011 debut, this Brooklyn-based duo has produced four albums, created their first stage show Pasta!, premiered a music video for “Subway Train” at the New York International Children’s Film Festival, received two Grammy nominations, were featured guests on Sprout TV’s “Sunny Side Up Show,” and released their first web series (14 episodes).

Recently, Jason and Jacob expanded further into broadcasting territory with their first full-length digital video, The Great Pretenders Club (“The GPC Special”), which was released in partnership with Amazon and made available exclusively to Prime Members for streaming.

The GPC Special brings the concept of their eponymous 4th album to life: the magic and rewards of pretend play (my favorite kind!). Just like Sesame Street pioneered children’s television in the 1970s, The GPC Special steps up to honor the values of “unplugged” play and education while acknowledging that the delivery of media broadcast is changing.

The parallel between the classic Sesame Street productions and the production style of The GPC Special is pleasantly familiar. The Pop Ups’ attention to detail is stupendous, and each element – use of brilliant color, puppets, music – comes together in a fantastic multi-media experience. It’s clear that The Pop Ups have managed to hold onto the kids within themselves, and by playing at their craft, they not only are practicing what they preach, but inviting us to play along with them.

Although geared toward children, The GPC Special will tickle the nostalgic funny bone of grown-ups who grew up watching Sesame Street. The feature employs the same subtle mature sense of humor that will encourage parents to watch along with their children and take part in the experience.

I recently caught up with Jason and Jacob, and producer Avtar Khalsa, to get a behind-the-scenes look at the process that lead to this milestone. Since The Great Pretenders Club album preceded the creation of the The GPC Special, I asked The Pop Ups some questions about their creative inspiration before diving deeper into the studio experience with Avtar. There were a few surprises I didn’t see coming!

As you’ll read in the interview below, Jason and Jacob are two playful guys who take the study of play pretty seriously. And with a stellar cast and crew, their vision for the next generation was brought to life.

Be sure to read on for access to The Great Pretenders Club badges. Amazon Prime member? Stream The GPC Special and download The Great Pretenders Club album now.


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KCG: Jacob and Jason, let’s start with the concept for The Great Pretenders Club album since that gave way to the creation of The GPC Special. What was the inspiration for The Great Pretenders Club in the first place? Did you have ideas about developing it into a broadcast special from the start?

Jacob Stein: The songs were built around the idea of play, with each one celebrating a different imaginative game or adventure. We were really interested in theories behind play being one of the great tools for learning in the animal world. We spent some time reading and researching papers on the subject. My cousin, Marc Beckoff, is a PhD who studies animal play and he really helped us see the bigger picture.

At a certain point the idea to corral the songs into a connected piece called The Great Pretenders Club became one of those obvious moments in art, which you could never have predicted but which also feels undeniable once it appears. We’ve always dreamed of making a TV show, and this felt like a natural place to take the album concept.

P1010505KCG: Did acting out the scenes in the studio bring you closer to experiencing your music?

JS: We wrote much of the album in a beautiful field in the woods of Cobbleskill, NY in the Catskills mountains, a 10-minute walk from any phones or internet or even electricity.

KCG: Was being on set similar to being on stage during live performances? Though both productions are theatrical in nature your live shows are just the two of you and your puppets.

JS: For the acting production, it’s just so different. We built a big set and we had a big crew of puppeteers, producers, PAs and sound and camera people, and wardrobe and art departments. The list just goes on! Sometimes we had as many as 10-15 people on set for any given shot.

What was also different about this production was that me and Jason were not doing all of
the puppeteering ourselves. We got to watch our very personal characters take on a new life in the hands of extremely talented puppeteers Paul McGuinness and Matt Atcheson.

KCG: Did you have favorite roles/parts?

Jason Rabinowitz: When I get blown off screen by the storm in “On Air,” I jumped into a metal file cabinet. That was exciting! I liked being the conductor, honestly.

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KCG: Avtar, how did you first get involved with The Pop Ups?

Avtar Khalsa: They were looking for a Producer for their web series last year, and my name showed up on c4042714-970b-447f-acd0-8a8db4d111b7a list of recommendations. The band’s Manager Jon McMillan and I had worked together peripherally on another project years back (The Railroad Revival Tour), so when he saw my name he got in touch right away. I went down to The Pop Ups’ studio in Brooklyn to discuss the project and see if it was a good fit. When I walked into the room and shook their hands I immediately sensed their eagerness to to make something really great. I could tell something incredibly special was happening there in their little studio space, and I wanted to be a part of it!

There are many bands that make music for children, and there are many people who make cartoons and put on puppet shows, but they were doing it all together, in such a unique, thoughtful, imaginative, and brilliant way. Fun and relatable to kids, yet educational, and something their parents could enjoy too. And the music is amazing, those catchy songs really get stuck in your head!

KCG: Is this your first production for children’s media? 

AK: I mostly work on commercials, and some have been geared towards children, or had children in them, but the work I’ve done with The Pop Ups is the first I’d actually call children’s media.

KCG: Is this your first time working with puppets on camera?

AK: Yes! In production we need to be able to adapt to any situation, and it’s always a constant636fb7f6-2857-44f6-9194-84dac51863d9 learning experience, but I never thought I was going to be learning about the importance of the puppet wall, or the perfectly placed googly eye. It was great watching the first rehearsals with their puppets Up, Down and Chef Olivia di Pesto. Seeing these characters come to life was a true joy.

The first time you meet puppets in person you kind of fall in love. There is something so magical about them. As someone who grew up watching Sesame Street, it might partly be nostalgia, but they immediately bring a smile to anyone’s face, and lighten any situation. Every time I would mention to anyone that I was working on a shoot with puppets, their eyes would widen and they’d say, “I love puppets!!” Because I think everyone does.

KCG: Where did you draw inspiration from for the making of the GPC Special?

AK: After the web series was released I had been in contact with The Pop Ups about some music videos they wanted to make. By the time I was brought on to produce them, they had morphed into The Great Pretenders Club Special. Most of the creative and storyline was already in place. It made sense that they were making it into more of a show then just individual videos. I personally think they should make an episodic TV series, it would be a perfect fit for what they do, and a great way to inspire young children around the globe.

KCG: The album’s concept is based on encouraging and rewarding imaginary play. Did you find this to be challenging or easy to convey on screen?

P1010845AK: The Pop Ups are naturals when it comes to this. They have a complete grasp on how to relate to and catch the attention of young minds. They know how to entertain them, spark their imagination, and to teach them life lessons without them even knowing they are learning. Jason and Jacob have every scene planned out in their mind, they know ahead of time – frame by frame – how they want the video to be shot, acted, art directed, and edited. Everything is well thought out, and their creative vision is very clear.

The biggest challenge, I think, is getting their ideas organized and down on paper so they can be properly conveyed to the crew who has to help make them come to life!

KCG: How did you create the orchestra segment? What was the process behind that and the “Jake Maker”?

AK: First we had to build a Jacob Maker. Our Production Designer Melissa Chow is also,
it turns out, a magician. Once that was built, we just had to put Jacob inside and pull the lever. The rest is science! And green screen.

KCG: What was the most memorable moment(s)?

AK: The chicken soup/spaghetti scene was a lot of fun to make, as was the picnic scene. They both required a lot of choreography and comedic timing to get things just right. But I think the guys nailed it.

We also really loved having DJ Gia stop by the shoot. After days of shooting with our adult crew, it was nice to have a child on set doing her thing. She’s a seasoned radio DJ, but it was her first time on a film set, and she was a little shy at first. Seeing Jacob ease her out of her shell, getting her to laugh and feel comfortable was really cool. The band genuinely loves kids, and I think they really get them, and can get on their level and relate.

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KCG: Did Chef Olivia make meals for the crew?

AK: When Chef Olivia di Pesto isn’t filming cooking shows, she’s doing press events, book signings, or private events for foreign royalty. She’s a busy cat, so we felt really lucky to have her stop by for a picnic with the band. She didn’t have time to cook for us while she was there, but she did bring the crew tuna sandwiches for lunch. They were delicious!

KCG: Did you show early footage to kids and their families? What was some feedback you received?

AK: Jason’s daughter Ruthie has always been a good test audience. I wasn’t there when she watched it for the first time, but I heard she was in complete awe, and Jason was pretty excited about her reaction.


Amazon Prime Members can stream the The GPC Special here and The Great Pretenders Club album here.

Computer/Laptop – Stream the GPC Special from the Amazon Video Webpage.
Iphone/Ipad/Android device – download the Amazon Video App to stream and even download the GPC Special.
Roku/etc – Stream the video from the Amazon Video App.

Watch music videos for “Bird and Rhino” and “Let’s Pretend We Forgot” now.

Want to play along? Download The Great Pretenders Club badges by printing the templates below or downloading them directly from The Pop Ups official site.

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Behind and Beyond the music 2015 edition: Stories, features, interviews, guests posts from 2015.

Friends and random acquaintances routinely ask me, “Why do you listen to kids’ music?” I’ve asked myself the same question many times.

In poking through my Top 20 albums of 2015, an answer snuck up on me: the joy of music discovery. To be presented with and to explore new music is exhilarating – like discovering a whole new color or flavor. Sharing this passion with my daughter Emily (now 7 years old) is great fun and such a bonding experience. She is growing, and the music is growing with her.

For me, music discovery is more than just the songs at face value. It’s uncovering the stories behind the music; it’s connecting with the music makers and understanding the magical, teeny bits of real life, of real people that make the album art come alive. The artists that make up the kids’ music genre are welcoming and supportive and it’s been a pleasure to dive into what drives their creativity and thus, bring their stories to life. Continue reading

Connecting through stories: Sharing Holiday Traditions

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For the past couple of years, our family has been taking little weekend trips during Thanksgiving. Our extended family is scattered throughout the United States so we typically focus the rest of our holidays and travel efforts on visits with them. This Thanksgiving, we spent some time at Legoland in San Diego. While we were waiting on line for the 4D Legends of Chima movie, we met a family who has been coming to Legoland every Thanksgiving for the past 12 years. Chuckling, as he was talking about family holiday plans, the dad said “I know we’re crazy but we love it. It’s just what we do.” What he said didn’t strike me as crazy, though.

Family traditions are special and memorable, and quickly become beloved habits. They form bonds, are reliable, and give children a sense of ownership and something to look forward to. It made me happy to think that traveling with just my husband and my daughter could turn into a special holiday tradition for us.

Our family celebrates both Chanukah and Christmas. Chanukah brings songs of peace and celebration as we light the menorah. With regard to Christmas, we prep in our own home by playing the CD A Charlie Brown Christmas as soon as our tree is up. No decorating takes place until the music is playing. It’s simply something that sets the tone, and gets us in the mood for the holidays. We also visit with our extended family for Christmas, and watch as Em wakes up to find filled stockings and gifts under the tree. In the evening, we launch into a post-dinner dance party battle. It’s a rager and it’s so fun! No surprise that music is the centerpiece of our holiday celebrations.

Sharing stories of tradition and hearing from the family during our Legoland trip, added a feeling of connection and another element of joy for me this holiday season. It was a nice reminder that amidst the hustle and bustle of it all, there are sweet, sentimental moments to be grateful for. Besides, it’s always fun to hear other people’s stories.

As an addition to holiday music posts, today’s post features friends and artists sharing their holiday traditions from their own childhood, things they do with their families now, and of course some music. Continue reading

Interview: Matt Baron of Future Hits

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In general, I think people consider learning through music as a fun way to learn, and often frivolous. I don’t want to look at what I’m doing with my students always as fun exercises. I think it’s inherently fun because it’s getting the kids to think by using songs as a springboard for a lesson, but the meatiness of the corresponding lessons really challenge and ignite the kids’ thinking.

Matthew Baron (the one in the middle of the bottom row) is a Chicago Public School ESL Resource teacher and the founder of Future Hits, a Chicago-based Kindie band and educational project that enhances learning through meaningful songs for children and their families, as well as elementary aged students.

At a time where education has come under much scrutiny due to the complexity of the new Common Core standards, Baron has combined his talent as a musician and an educator to produce over 50 songs to date, all of which have served as crucial aids in the classroom.

Future Hits’ most recent album, Today is Forever, contains a collection of songs – in English and Spanish – whose educational nature will go unnoticed at first. When I initially played the CD, I was taken by Baron’s voice, which is very similar to Stephen Malkmus’. The lyrics are relatable and I felt an instant connection to the indie sounds of the music. There was no indication that the songs were crafted to encourage proper pronunciation, literacy, phonics and many other divisions of Language Arts and Reading.

I have always wanted to be an educator and love hearing about creative ways to use music as a teaching resource. So when Today is Forever crossed my path, I was moved to learn more. I had a great conversation with Baron who goes deeper into Future Hits, as a project and a band while also explaining the many fascinating ways he integrates his songs in the classroom. He also touches upon how Dave Matthews Band encouraged singing, the new album and new curriculum he is working on that will be available online as a .PDF and mp3.

Whether you are an educator or parent, or if English or Spanish (or both) is spoken in your home, I highly recommend giving Future Hits a spin.

Today is Forever is available through Bandcamp, iTunes, and CDBaby.


KCG: Tell us about Future Hits?

Matthew Baron: Sure! I am an ESL Resource teacher, and Future Hits is a project I started as a way for me to come up with lessons that meet the needs of all types of learners.

In March 2011, I was in an alternative Masters Program for Education, and one of my key assessments was based on an in-classroom assessment. A first grade teacher who had a group of ESL students in her classroom gave me her class’s spelling words for the upcoming week, which contained long “o” words featuring “oa” and “ow” spelling patterns. With 10-12 feature words in front of me, I decided to write a song called “Yellow Boat,” which ended up being on our first album, Songs for Learning. During my assessment, I brought the song and a lyric sheet to the classroom, and gave the kids a spelling quiz. It was a smash! My assessor loved it, the teacher loved it, my administration loved it, and they all encouraged me to continue to do similar songs and exercises.

As time went on, I developed the lessons more fully. I don’t always work with spelling words; sometimes it’s vocabulary, or writing strategies like persuasive writing, “if/then” statements, or compound words. I also come up with different exercises like finding adjectives or underlining nouns, and other anchor activities like word sorts and charades. Each song’s content can shift into higher order of thinking questions, which I label as “Brain Teasers.”

At times I let kids illustrate their comprehension. So if a kid is young or has writing challenges or doesn’t know English yet, they can draw what they hear from the song first as opposed to writing it. This is an effective and joyful modification for diverse learners and English-language learners.

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KCG: How did you decide on the name Today is Forever for your second album?

Today is Forever comes from something one of my student’s said. One day after school, I overheard a seven year-old boy say to his mom when he got picked that “today is forever.” I just thought that was such a great phrase. It’s very profound, simple, and open to interpretation

KCG: Your previous career was in Sales. Going from Sales to Teaching, how would you describe your experience as an educator? 

A friend and mentor of mine told me while I was still in my education masters program: “Being a teacher isn’t just about having interesting conversations with students, you have to actually teach to the standards.” I look at my role as an educator as not necessarily doing interesting things with kids as a first priority. My first priority is to teach them what the state and the country standardizes. I think about how I can teach kids in an interesting and impactful way. In general, I think people consider learning through music as a fun way to learn, and often frivolous. I don’t want to look at what I’m doing with my students always as fun exercises. I think it’s inherently fun because it’s getting the kids to think by using songs as a springboard for a lesson, but the meatiness of the corresponding lessons really challenge and ignite the kids’ thinking.

KCG: How do you cover making music for families versus writing for your students? Is it hard to separate the educator part of yourself versus artist/musician?

When I write music for kids, I take a look the focus words (word families and vowel sounds mostly) I get from the general classroom teachers, sometimes there are 10, sometimes 20, I look at them on a page and think “what could this song be about?” For example, a new song on our yet to be released 2017 album is called “Mood Change,” and It teaches about long u (“ue” and “oo”) words. Solely based on the focus words I got prior to writing the song, it occurred to me that this could be a song about a kid who’s feeling depressed after school and what he can do to feel better. So it has a general appeal. It’s one of my favorite Future Hits songs because it’s based my experience as a kid and an adult; it explains how I think negative thoughts, and how I must act to get myself out of that thinking.

KCG: Does that process shift when you write specifically for students, and with the Common Core Standards in mind?

I start as a means of simplicity to help students understand sounds and then work with the focus words. Once I have the first iteration of a song, which incorporates the focus words, I think about how I can write lessons that go along with it, and that can help me teach to Common Core standards. In “Mood Change” I thought through how I could talk about settings that affect a child’s mood, like being at the library,  pool, or zoo, and that wasn’t intentional. My only intention was to talk about double o words, and the short double o sound, which is pronounced “ouhh” as in “look” and “cook.” Then I added in a lot of double o, long o sounds like “oo,” as in “zoo” and “pool”, which allows me to use the song in an expanded way in terms of kids differentiating the sounds that “oo” can make. I always tell them that the English language is very strange, and unlike Spanish, has very few rules, so we must remember why letters sound the way they do in every particular word.

KCG: In addition to encouraging pronunciation, what other Common Core standards do your songs address?

The songs have also worked to support key Common Core areas such as inferences and figurative language. Our song, “On Stormy Mornings,” for example, has literal lyrics (“On stormy mornings /  I get a late start”) and figurative ones (“My room is so dark / I sleep like a rock”). That line is also an idiom, something that is essential for ESL students to learn. Altogether those three things are where I align to different Common Core standards and different writing levels. This is what’s so great about being a resource teacher; I never considered literal or figurative language for “On Stormy Morning” until a teacher said we’re doing literal and figurative language and asked if I had any songs that would work to teach this. 

One day, I did an exercise with my students that I didn’t intend. In “On Stormy Mornings,” the word “parched” appears. The lyric goes, “My mouth is so parched / before it gets wet.” The kids didn’t know what the word “parched” meant, so we broke down the exercise. I only had them read that one line, “My mouth is so parched,” and then we sang it once. I explained to them that if they aren’t familiar with what a word means, a great reading strategy is to read around the word they are not sure about. I told them that to read a little before the word or a little bit after to gain better understanding. Together we then looked at the next line “But before it gets wet, and a girl’s hand shot up and she said “Parched means dry!” I asked how she knew that, and she said “Well, before my mouth gets wet, it’s dry.” So that’s Common Core-aligned strategy, letting kids gain strategies to read text closely to gain richer understanding. This turned out to be a great unexpected lesson.

KCG: SEL (Social Emotional Learning) is also a hot topic. In my daughter’s school they have specialists come in to teach various aspects and scenarios to the kids to encourage better interpersonal (and personal) experiences within the classroom and outside of it, like on the playground for example. Does you also write songs that align to SEL standards?

Each song has an SEL standard affixed to it, and can be used to teach SEL in a real way that aligns to standards. How the SEL standards arise is from working backwards. For example, I don’t say I’m going to write a song about honesty. Instead, I look and see that there is a standard about trust or honesty, and I think about how a particular song I’ve already written can express the meaning of trust. This makes the process more simple, instead of having all of these parameters around how a song must be in order to meet educational goals. I can look at each song and notice at least one SEL theme, and from there I find actual standards and use the songs to teach them.

KCG: Do you consider Future Hits to be an educational band? 

I was very intentional about having Today is Forever straddle both elements of the band’s goals, which is to be an educational band, and also to be a band that people can enjoy whether or not they are tapped into the educational component.

The title of our first album, Songs for Learning, is sort of a wink and homage to Brian Eno’s Music for Airports because I was listening to that album a lot around the time I was working on that album. With Today is Forever, we’re a little less overt with the educational nature of this album. For example, on the back cover of Songs for Learning, there are asterisks that denote how songs are aligned to Common Core and social emotional learning, whereas with Today is Forever, we put the educational charts in the liner notes.  Aligning our songs to educational standards is essential for us, but I wanted to convey that the record can stand alone as an album that people can listen to and not necessarily use just for educational purposes.

KCG: Why do you describe Future Hits as “the heartfelt (yet secretly educational) music project for kids, families and teachers”? It seems like “secretly educational” is a disclaimer to avoid any stigma or disapproval from the general public about what your music might sound like. 

We got a tagline (“fun (yet secretly educational)” from a review in Time Out Chicago a few years ago. We can be fun at times, but fun isn’t how I would describe us.  I do think every thing we do is heartfelt, and so that’s why I substituted that word in there.  I don’t think we need to hide the “secretly educational” piece, it really does just describe what we do. When I explain Future Hits’s music to people, I tell them it’s educational, but it’s not directly instructional like “hey kids we’re gonna learn bout the long “o” sound! Here we go: “oh, oh, oh, oh!” Continue reading