Today is a special holiday in which we honor and pay tribute to the brave men and women who serve/have served our country. The band of brothers and sisters that put all of themselves into protecting and fighting for freedom and justice.
In honor of Veterans Day, I am proud to present a guest post by Derek McGee of the band Funkinships. Derek is an Iraq war veteran whose reintegration into regular life was made easier with the help of music, and a friend by the name of Charlie Chamberlain. The two men met aboard the Mystic Whaler, a sailing classroom on the Hudson River. Together, along with the crew and some friends on board, Derek and Charlie created Funkinships, and subsequently released their debut album, Post Folk Absurdist.
Derek’s guest post highlights the significance of being a part of a pack. The powerful effects of strength in numbers, both actively and emotionally. The strength of your crew, your band, is what gives each individual member strength, especially out on the battlefield. It’s a piece that will resonate with many, whether you are honoring a veteran you know, or simply observing the day with your own pack. As a bonus, check out “Chicken Flap Fly” at the bottom of the post.
Veterans Day is different for veterans than it is for the rest of the country. For most it is a chance to show appreciation to the men and women who served in the Armed Forces, but for those who served it is a time to reflect on our time serving. I will tell you what this looks like for me. I miss my herd. Humans are a social animal. We belong in herds, tribes, packs, clubs, or platoons. Whatever you call your group, you need one. That was one of the hardest parts about getting out of the military. I was suddenly on my own. I have a fiancé and as of 6 weeks ago a daughter, but I still miss the completeness that only a herd can bring. Today, my herd is the band Funkinships. That includes anyone singing or playing along. Funkinships has a fluid membership.
We all want to belong to something larger than ourselves.Making music with the people around you lets you do more than feel like you are a part of something bigger — you can hear it.You can hear how you fit into the whole.
When I came back from Iraq the second time I bounced around looking for a herd.I tried finance.That didn’t work.I joined a sailboat crew — that worked but I couldn’t do it forever.Then one day on the boat I met Charlie Chamberlain, a musician.Together we wrote songs (even though I had no musical experience) and held a band rehearsal with some other volunteers on the boat.I got that same sense of contentment I did bunking with my platoon in the train station north of Fallujah, Iraq.
So, this Veterans Day I will look through the old photos and reach out to my fellow Marines like I always do.But I will also put on the Funkinships CD and sing along.And while I am thankful for the veterans of this country, like everyone else, today I am especially thankful that there are people willing to sing along with me. Because I need a herd.What is your herd?
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.
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!
Happy New Year! I’ve been tinkering for weeks about whether to put together a “best of” list. Lists have never been my thing, but this week when I pulled up past interviews, reviews and music, I was quickly reminded that 2015 was in fact another incredible year in kids’ music. So, let’s do this thing!
The list below represents a sampling of the 20 best albums from 2015 plus one from 2014 (because I included my picks for the Fids and Kamily Awards which considers albums between October 1, 2014 and September 30, 2015) and a few honorable mentions. The albums are presented in no particular order, and are personal favorites of mine and those of my 7-year-old daughter Emily. They appeal to families who love music, the adventure of finding more of it, and parents who want to foster a love of music in their own kin. This, for me, is the big enchilada. It’s what I enjoy most about being a part of the industry and covering it for you.Take 10 minutes and sample a few songs on each album. I promise you’ll find more than one to love, regardless of your age.
[Flight of the Blue Whale] is eccentric. There is a meticulousness in the overall composition that captured my attention, in addition to the variety of instrumentation. Waltzes serve as segues, buoyantly carrying the listener along, while nontraditional objects are used to emphasize critical pieces of the story, e.g. Drinking glasses sonically illustrating weightlessness as a baleen whale takes flight.
Imagine if you were to open a National Geographic Kids or Ranger Rick magazine and there was music playing on each page. Animal Tales takes the pages of these beloved magazines and brings them to life with soundtracks cleverly matched to a variety of animal personalities. Each song is rich with fun animal facts, infused with the artists’ lovable sense of humor and clever ability to play with words and phrases, making it one of the most listenable and entertaining albums out there.
The musical variety of Big Block SingSong is tremendous and the lyrics are insightful and amusing, A block with a German accent singing in euro-funk style about hair; a monkey snapping off bluegrass-y lyrics about a “Two Banana Day”; and, with a catchy indie-pop backdrop, caveman named Dave pointing out that an erupting volcano is a hot mess. These are just a few of the priceless gems you’ll find in this collection.
I love when kids wear their dress up clothes in public like it’s just another day. The matter of fact way they own whatever identity they take on is so amazing to watch. Almost 7, and in first grade, my daughter doesn’t seek to dress up as much anymore, but she used to dress up all the time: The Hulk, a blue bird, a Bob Marley medical doctor mashup. And it didn’t matter if we were walking down the street, or going into a restaurant, library or post office. It was all the same. Playing dress up gives kids such an amazing outlet to explore their imaginations, expand their creative minds, and even connect a little more with their own feelings and emotions. In their latest single, “I wanna be a giraffe,” Andrew & Polly capture the essence of all of this.
Polly adds: This song is sung by a giraffe – but also by us, obviously! It’s a little absurd but we feel this way all the time. At first, the giraffe is feeling awkward and exposed out on the savannah. After trying out a few disguises, the giraffe realizes how much fun it is to try new things – we can imagine a great montage in which the giraffe stands in a dressing room trying on lots of different costumes while singing, “I wanna be something else! I wanna be something else today!!!”
There are so many different ways to dress, so many different jobs and hobbies you could have, so many different ways to talk and think and look and feel. The giraffe likes imagining all the possibilities – we do, too! So the giraffe realizes – “I wanna be like you… And I also kinda wanna be me, too. There’s just so many ways to be – I wanna be a lot of things.”
Trying out the new things helps the giraffe realize – you don’t have to just be one thing. And you can change whenever you want. At the end of all that, it’s easy for the giraffe to say – “I… I wanna be a giraffe!”
So grab your best dress-up clothes and get ready to sing-along!
Vered Benhorin of Baby In Tune has been featured here on Kids Can Groove before and it’s always refreshing to hear what she has to say. Her recent album, Hello My Baby, released earlier this year (and winner of a Parents’ Choice Gold Award), still offers a sense of comfort and support for me as a parent. This is in no small part due to the fact that Vered is regularly talking to and listening to what families through her workshops and classes. She also explores her work in her own life as a mom of three.
During the production of Hello My Baby, Vered was pregnant with her third child. This presented her with a unique opportunity that brought a dynamic perspective into her work. In today’s guest post, Vered writes about her experience with her daughter when they traveled across the country to celebrate the release of Hello My Baby. Though the below post largely chronicles her experience with her baby, Vered also touches upon what I grapple with a lot – my identity as a mom, and my identity in a greater sense related to my profession/work and my personal ambitions. It’s a delicate balance and it’s reassuring to know that others feel the same way. Vered is a no BS writer. I love how she shares her thoughts honestly and with a sense of humor, which is an essential tool for parenting.
Visit Baby In Tune to learn more and read additional posts by Vered. If you are in NYC you can find info on how to attend/hold a workshop or class, as well as view videos of her in action.
Last April I went on a west coast tour. Like a rock star I strapped on my guitar, packed my amp, my microphone, and my cutest dresses. I also packed diapers, a carseat, a stroller, bottles, endless onesies, rattles, snacks, and wipes. A little less like a rockstar I trekked through the halls of the airport wondering what I had done.
I decided to take a 5 month old roadie because leaving her with my husband and two sons was not an option. Somehow it also didn’t seem like an option NOT to do the tour. I had just released my second album for families and wanted to get it out there. But anyone who has a baby knows that while jetlag is an annoyance for grown ups on their own, it is hell on earth with kids.
So every night as we played together in the dark at 3am I kicked myself for being hard-headed, overly motivated, unrealistic. But as we fell back asleep snuggling together in the cold AirBnB bed I held my little portable heater and felt her sweet breath on me, the breath of life itself, and we fell asleep smiling.
As I ran out at the end of shows to nurse her and lugged her carseat from place to place I felt annoyed and exasperated. And as I looked into her eyes and she flashed me a smile between shows I felt energized to do the next, and the next.
For me, having a third baby almost felt like a professional decision. I rationalized that I HAD to have the baby in order to give me material for another album. I had to experience a baby again in order to gather more first hand research for my classes and feel more inspired. I know that sounds a little crazy – having a baby for professional reasons? Normally a baby is nothing but an obstacle.
I feel lucky that my career has been able to develop with my life choices. As a single woman I wrote about romance and existential angst. As a mom my songs became about my experience as a parent and my perception of how my babies felt. I was also able to implement my studies in music therapy and psychology to help parents and teach them how to use music to bond with their babies. My life as a mom integrates really well with my life as a therapist/musician, but there is no perfect union.
To push my luck, I took my daughter with me to a bunch of workshops that were with babies her age. As a group leader my job is to facilitate discussion, be very aware of the group’s emotions and be able to support them through music. With my baby there at times I felt like I was less available to really listen fully to the group members. And yet at the same time I could identify completely and that helped me bring in the right songs, ideas and exercises for each class. Even in the most seemingly perfect situation the needs of the child conflict with the needs of the job.
So now that my baby is 10 months old I look back and ask myself – has she actually helped me professionally? I think the answer is the same answer any mom would give. Yes, she has inspired me. She has broadened my perspective in so many ways, and has contributed to my creativity, both as a therapist and a songwriter. But when I am with her I don’t want to be working. I don’t even want to be writing a song. Most of the time I just want to be hanging out, watching her play, following her lead, mirroring her vocals.
Every now and then it all comes together. That’s when she sings with me on the subway on our way to a group, or she inspires a new song (stay tuned for the song about our west coast tour) , or she teaches me something new about what babies need at each age. In those moments I am so happy that I have the chance to take my kid to work and even to make my work about my kid, even if she adds a whole lot more work.
A sweet little reggae song by New York based, Mariana Iranzi. Iranzi’s golden voice happily bounces along in this simple and interactive video for “Los Politos,” a song from her second album, Hola Hello. This is great for all families, especially those who are bi-lingual or are working on Spanish as a second language with their children (I’ve had a few families ask for recommendations).
July 14, 2012 marked the 100th anniversary of Woody Guthrie’s birthday and just a few days before that Smithsonian Folkways released ”Little Seed: Songs for Children by Woody Guthrie” by Elizabeth Mitchell, the only CD of Guthrie’s children’s songs coinciding with the Woody Guthrie Centennial. This is Mitchell’s third release from the Smithsonian Folkways label and her sixth children’s album to date. “Little Seed” is a mix of 8 previously released tracks and 5 newly-recorded tracks by Mitchell which sound great laid out on one album together.
The songs covered on “Little Seed” stem from two of Woody Guthrie’s children’s albums, recorded in 1947, called “Songs to Grow on for Mother and Child” and “Nursery Days.” Like Guthrie, Mitchell is a folk frontrunner and icon in her own right, being the first female artist signed to the Smithsonian Folkways label and certainly one of the most beloved artists within the kid’s music scene. So it is with little surprise that Elizabeth Mitchell released a children’s album in celebration of Woody Guthrie’s life. And, while all of her music in the last 10+ years has been directed towards children and families, her sound is highly portable and could very well crossover into the adult arena without a snicker or sneer.
In comparison to the otherwise dusty recordings of the Guthrie originals, Mitchell brings color and life to her re-imagined versions on “Little Seed.” Not to mention she very easily glides through some complex tongue-twisting lyrics, which happen to remind me of a few Dr. Seuss books, making it even easier to follow along than some of the originals. Mitchell’s voice is soothing and clear like a serene lake and refreshing like a cold glass of water on a hot day.
“Little Seed” contains regularly covered classics like “Riding In My Car” which features Mitchell’s niece’s sweet little voice singing along and laughing about a frog riding in a car, and “Bling Blang” which is brought to life by the upbeat rhythm of some chest thumps and knee slaps. There is also an ode to the wonderment with which a child experiences while riding on a carousel in “Merry Go Round” which personifies the experience of riding a pony and reels us into the innocence and wonder of a child’s imagination. The lyrics so sweetly and vividly bring the pony to life as Mitchell sings /come lets rub the ponies hair…/now let’s climb on the ponies back…/pick up my reins and buckle my straps…/it’s faster now my pony runs/up to the mooon and down to the sun/my pony runs to the music and drums/around and around and around/now he runs as fast as the wind and gallops and trots and dances a jig/ my pony is tired and wants to slow down/around and around and around.
Mitchell is not alone in the arrangement and production of this album. As in previous albums, her daughter Storey and her husband Daniel Littleton join in with additional vocals and instrumentation. I particularly like the dimension Littleton’s voice adds on “Why Oh Why” and his guitar solo on “Who’s My Pretty Baby,” which happens to be a beloved Elizabeth Mitchell classic in our home.
Additional artists like Dean Jones from Dog On Fleas, as well as Clem Waldmann, a recognized percussionist from Blue Man Group and his wife Kristen Jacobsen also join in broadening the depth of the sound, further bringing Guthrie’s songs to life. The addition of the the balafon, played by Dean Jones, and the flute played by Clem’s wife Kristen Jacobsen in “Sleep Eye,” one of my favorites on this album, brings a playful element to the song. Also notable is Clem Waldmann’s percussive accompaniment on “Rattle my Rattle” which is funky and adds more space to the updated version; whereas Guthrie’s version feels slightly more rushed in order to keep up with the complexity of his own words and much like a baby shaking a rattle.
“Little Seed” was a sentimental project for Mitchell as the discovery of Guthrie’s children’s album “Songs to Grow On for Mother and Child” is what inspired her to start making music for children. She has done an excellent job of capturing Woody’s sweet, loving and sensitive side in her celebration of his life.
The album is 29 minutes long, available for purchase or download through Amazon and is packaged with 20 pages of liner notes containing snippets of lyrics and beautiful photos of Mitchell and her family; it’s a beautiful keepsake for already devoted fans, as well as, newcomers. The booklet also contains a bit of historical fact and references for literary works that have been published on Woody, as well as the song “This Land Is Your Land.” Mitchell not only includes this song on the album, even though it was not intended to be a children’s song when Woody first wrote it, but makes a point of singing three verses that are often left out in more recent versions of the song.
Should you wish to download the album and liner notes, you can find them at the Smithsonian Folkways website, which also offers the option to buy the CD. Either way, it’s an excellent sampler which will invite your family into the beautiful world Mitchell creates through her music. These are classic little ballads that should be passed down (and most likely will be) through generations, as Woody’s songs have thus far.
Recommended for ages 0 – 5, however, older ones will most likely enjoy trying to keep up with Mitchell as she sings some of the quick repetitive verses.
Below is a video released a while ago created for an HBO animated family series.