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The Muse's News

Issue 1.5 - August 1998
ISSN 1480-6975


In This Issue:


ISSN 1480-6975. Copyright 1998 - Jodi Krangle. For more info about placing ads, send an inquiry.
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Editor's Musings:

This month's issue is geared towards songwriting for children. I hope you'll enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed putting it together. A really great bunch of people made this issue possible.

Doug Barr has been performing and composing songs for children for a long while now. Since I was familiar with his songs, when I found out he was online, I simply had to ask him for an interview. He kindly consented and I think the result is quite an informative and fun read.

Kathryn Obenshain has contributed this month's article about how to write songs for children. As a writer of numerous childen's songs herself along with being the producer of several musical plays for kids, she's uniquely qualified to offer advice.

Terry Kluytmans is the proprietess of "KIDiddles" - a truly remarkable web site containing children's song lyrics and much much more. (A review of the site is included in this month's "Muse's Clue") She has kindly contributed a review of some songbooks for kids and most definitely knows what she's talking about.

I should also mention that next month, one lucky subscriber will receive a copy of Harriet Schock's long awaited book, BECOMING REMARKABLE - an excellent book for anyone looking for a little more inspiration and constructive advice. Keep your eye out for a review of the book coming soon and keep watching the web site for news of more book give-aways!

The theme for next month will be musical theatre. If you would like to contribute to it in any way, please contact me asap by e-mailing to editor@musesmuse.com .

And now, on to the newsletter!

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Songwriting Book Reviews: by Terry Kluytmans

Children's Songbooks:

I love children's music. So does my 4-year old daughter, Tiana.

Its history and folklore... The way it so readily allows kids to grasp the concepts of language and math, or the difference between right and wrong, good and evil... The whimsical silliness of it all.

So, when Jodi asked me if I'd be interested in writing a review of a children's songbook for the Muses News, I jumped at the chance.

Then I sat down with my collection of books (about 100 and growing), and tried to figure out which one to profile. Tough choice. REALLY tough choice. Different books have different appeal -- all for varying reasons.

Some address a specific theme -- like "Sing a Song of Safety", a 1937 songbook by Gerald Marks and Irving Caesar (re-released in 1989 by Amsco Publications, a Division of Music Sales Corporation, ISBN 0-8109-3800-6), which contains safety songs that are, in many ways, as timely today as when the book was first published.

The "Wee Sing" series of books, by Pamela Conn Beall and Susan Hagen Nipp (published by Price Stern Sloan), offer collections in a number of categories: Bible songs, folk songs and sing-alongs, nursery rhymes and lullabies, and so on. When comparing content, variety and quality to price, these can't be beat. Many of the books contain a nice mix of fingerplays and songs, so children can grow with them.

Nancy Cassidy's "Kids Songs" series of books and audiocassettes, from Klutz Press, are also excellent. Bright and colorful, with a nice mix of original and traditional numbers, the spiral-bound books wear well and kids like the fun illustrations found within the covers.

Then there's Canadians Sharon, Lois & Bram's "Elephant Jam", published in 1989 by Crown Publishers, Inc., New York, ISBN 0-517-57377-6. It contains new songs and old, traditional and not-so-traditional, silly songs and singing games, as well as songs from around the world -- including a whole section devoted to French numbers.

In addition to the more contemporary publications noted above, I spend a lot of time browsing in secondhand bookstores for older songbooks. Many of my 'finds' are from the mid- to late-1800s and into the early 1900s. Rich in culture, heritage and history, speaking to the political and social issues of the time, they provide an interesting timeline from the past to the present.

If I had to single out one of these as my favorite -- or my daughter's favorite -- I couldn't. They all fit the bill at varying times, depending on our moods, and the type of song we feel like singing.

That said, a common thread in most of the songbooks discussed here is that they contain a variety of songs, on a number of topics, and many of them offer activity-type songs that allow the children to get involved in the music. And that's what it's all about, right?

******

Terry Kluytmans is a single mom who lives on Vancouver Island, BC, Canada, with her daughter, Tiana. Her Web site, KIDiddles, is devoted to the topic of children's music. It contains the lyrics to over 500 songs, games and fingerplays, as well as album reviews, artist interviews, and more.

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Musical Notes: Songwriting Contests & Market Information

For Up-To-Date listings, please go to:

http://www.musesmuse.com/contests.html

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Songwriter In Profile: Doug Barr

Question:
How did you get involved in writing and performing children's music?

Answer:
In the late 70's my then-girlfriend was a ECE grad working in a day care.  I'd been down to LA a few times trying to 'peddle' my adult music-demos but it was the disco age, (and i wasn't quite as good as I thought I was), so i came home and started volunteering at her day care to sing for the kids.  It was fun. I decided to do more volunteering but first i had to learn, so - I dropped in to the music for children program at the North York Public Library Bayview Branch and watched an expert. Sharon Hampson, later of Sharon, Lois and Bram.  Soon after, Sharon was resigning her classes to record their 1st SL&B album.  Guess who she called to take over her classes?  Hey!  A paying gig.  i did well.  Kept the enrollment growing for the next four years, learned the craft of interactive singing (and songwriting) for kids, branched out and recorded my 1st children's album, PLAY ALL DAY, in 1985.

Question:
What do you think are the differences and similarities between making music for adults and making music for children? How do you make those differences work for you?

Answer:
Good question.  Main thing:  in children's music you can be as stylistically varied as you want.  In adult's, you need a "sound' or a "style" that is somewhat more consistant and identifable. Especially if you're after a record contract.  I find this quite liberating when writing for children because you can follow the muse anywhere it takes you without conditions or censorship of ideas.  It's more fun because you don't worry about sounding 'profound' or 'topical' lyrically.  I only wish my adult writing was as 'good' as my children's writing.  With the adult, for the reasons mentioned, I 'think' too much.   With children's it's more like 'Cat-In-The-Hat' word association which brings up very funny imagery somethings.  

Question:
Can you tell me a little bit more about the thought processes you go through before you start writing a kids song? You mention writing about kids' fears and helping them to laugh about them.  Are there any other "tricks" you find work really well?

Answer:
Start with a good title.  It will suggest a direction.  For example, here are some new working titles for my next album which I haven't written for yet:

1/  Sophie in the Sunlight
2/  Sleepy Tooth Susan
3/  Crack in the Wall 

Question:
Do you remember a performance and/or song of yours that was really successful and do you have any thoughts on why it was successful? Likewise, how about performances and/or songs that really bombed?  (We all have off days, right? ;))  What do you think happened?

Answer:
I get it.  This is a "best  experience/worst experience question. Okay let me think ...

The best?  Got it!  Many years ago we played at a school.  well, the teacher had been playing my tapes in preparation for the concert.  Our signature song is called "Dinosaur Chomp!  2 or 3 other artists cover it, but i wrote it.  It's a big favourite so when we sang it during the show, 300 school kids sang along word for word.  They were louder than we were. It was pretty exciting.

It is a successful song because, as well as being repetitious and about dinosaurs, it's a 'well-intentioned song' about kids getting EATEN FOR LUNCH!  Now, I believe fear and comedy are closely related in the child's unconscious.  Someone once told me the there are seven primal fears in a child's unconcious.  The 1st being the fear of being eaten.  That's why I wrote that song. That's why it's a big hit I believe.   I wish I could remember the other six.  I'm sure they're in my subconscious.

The worst?   That's easy.  I was playing solo at a day care. Surrounded by kids and parents when i played a very energetic song and i stood up when - my guitar went flying out of my arms and landed right on a little kid's head.  He started crying and wailing saying "Doug Barr hit me with his guitar".  He was alright.  Just scared.  I don't blame him.  I felt terrible.  The show went on but never quite recovered.  Lesson, wear a guitar strap at all times or ... put bicycle helmets on your listeners' heads.

*******

A twenty year veteran of the children's music business, Barr has written, produced and recorded three fine children's albums and his songs have been 'covered' by many Canadian artists including Sharon, Lois & Bram, CBC's Mr. Dressup and Markus.  Doug enjoys radio-play both in Canada and in the US. where Metro Kids Magazine in Philadelphia says, "This Canadian children's artist is worth the search ... kids love it!"

Doug Barr is the President of the independent record label, Lowansa Records Inc.  A consumate children's performer, Barr has in recent years, added writing for television and film to his list of accomplishments. On 02/17/97 Star Trek Voyager aired Doug's concept within the story titled 'The Darkling' and he continues to pitch story ideas to Star Trek Voyager and Star Trek Deep Space Nine, on a regular basis.

Barr brought his band to television in a TV Special entitled DOUG BARR'S MUSICAL, MAGICAL DAY produced by Nova Motion Pictures Inc. and it has received national airplay on The Family Channel, YTV's Ants In Your Pants, foreign airplay in the U.S. and Far East, and reached the Top 20 list in videos with Quality Books in the USA.  A permanent fixture in the Canadian children's music industry, Doug Barr and The BIG BOY BAND continue to tour children's music festivals across Canada.

Folk and Rock continue to interest Barr as he keeps his hand in performing original and 'cover' tunes in resorts and clubs throughout Southern Ontario. http://www.indecanada.com/kids.htm

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Muse's Clues - Web Site Reviews by Jodi Krangle

Children's Music Web
Conceived and designed by: Monty Harper & PJ Swift

Created with the goal of being "the world's most complete public resource on children's music" on the web, the Children's Music Web certainly does its darndest to deliver.  The site includes lists of children's musicians and resources, a newsletter, concert listings, a public forum and more. It's arranged to provide useful information for educators, parents, musicians and kids alike.  The site is easy to navigate and the links are current, fun and informative all at the same time. If you're a musician that writes children's songs, an educator that teaches music in the classroom, a parent looking for more songs to sing to your children or a kid that's looking to communicate with other kids around the world about musical issues, you'll find this web site invaluable.  Sites like this are what the web should be all about.  Drop by and you'll see what I mean! This is another "must see".

KIDiddles
Created & designed by: Terry Kluytmans

Just looking at this site, you can see how much love and time has gone into creating it. The graphics load quickly but are bright and colourful and full of crazy cartoon characters sure to delight young and old alike. Navigation is easy and there's so much information contained within that you could spend hours just looking around. KIDiddles has links to children's songs (teach them to your kids, learn them and sing them to your kids, or gain inspiration by seeing what others have done and try writing some of your own! When you've done that, send them back to Terry so that she can post them for other people to learn. Keep the cycle going. ;)), links to the performers and songwriters that have contributed those songs, an online store where you can find children's songbooks, music and storybooks, a mailing list, fun & games for kids of all ages, children's stories that are told and contributed to and so much more that you simply have to see this site for yourself. You most definitely won't regret it. WARNING: If your children are near the screen when you drop by, be prepared to be without a computer for quite some time. ;)

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Feature Article: Writing Children's Songs
By Kathryn Obenshain

Today, the biggest market for popular groups like the Spice Girls is with preteens, so most "children's songs" are intended for children younger than 10 years old.  Exceptions are songs and anthems for children's choirs (up to age 12-14) and songs included in musical plays for elementary schools. The most obvious differece in writing for children, rather than adults, is in the TEXT.  Lyrics for adult songs are often very free both in meter and in rhyme scheme, but children respond best to songs in which both are regular and pronounced. A repeated phrase or chorus is effective. Children love humorous songs and appreciate such devices as alliteration and plays on words.  Just as adult song lyrics need a "hook" to catch attention and make the song memorable, so do children's songs.  The writer may use "big words," as children generally enjoy using them, so long as they are "singable."  It is generally better to avoid deep or emotionally charged subject matter, but if it is used, the writer should be very sensitive in handling it.  This is especially a concern in writing anthem texts, to make sure that the theology implicit in the lyrics is in keeping with the beliefs of that church.  For example, a phrase like, "God is watching you," is often frightening to young children and many churches would object to it.  LENGTH of the song is another difference  children's songs should be short.   If there are several verses,  a repeated chorus may be used.  Even better, write one verse, then give suggestions for children to create their own additional verses.  8-12 measures may be long enough for a song for preschoolers, who will enjoy singing a favorite song over and over.  MELODY, too, should be kept simple.  A common mistake is to pitch children's songs too low or two high  although many children do have very high voices (as in trained choirs) many others have much more limited ranges.  Generally, a melody roughly within the compass of Middle C to the C an octave above is safe.  The key of E-flat is a very comfortable key for most children, in which case the melody might go as low as B-flat below Middle C, but it is best not to write pitches any lower so that children don't growl unmusically in their "chest voices." The use of classical phrase structure will help make the song easily learned and remembered. The importance of METER has been mentioned in connection with the text and a strong and "catchy" rhythmic pulse will intensify this effect.  In short, the successful children's song will be brief, with catchy rhythm, singable melody and appealing lyrics.

(Please note that these suggestions apply to songs for children to sing themselves; songs for adults to perform *for* children would not necessarily have the same vocal restrictions.  I will be glad to answer questions or give more information if I can.  E-mail kobensha@runet.edu.)

******

Kathryn Obenshain, Professor Emeritus of Music, Radford (VA) University, has published three collections of songs for children plus many individual songs and anthems.  She has written and helped produce over a dozen musical plays.  Her most recent work is a children's opera, THE CAT WHO WALKED BY HIMSELF, which was premiered in Nov., 1997, by RU's Opera Ensemble.

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" O N   S I T E "   F E A T U R E D   A R T I C L E :
SONGS ARE LIKE CHILDREN - by Jerry Flattum

Ok. I'll admit it's not really about songwriting for children, but I happen to think this is a wonderful example of a songwriter's personal journey, and as such, well worth taking a good hard look at - no matter what the age of your target audience might be.


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Contact Info & Credits:

Jodi Krangle ...........EDITOR
Kathryn Obenshain ......GRACIOUS PROOFREADER
Bryan Fullerton ............SYSTEM ADMINISTRATOR

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