Thursday, May 05, 2011

Kindie Music: The Hipsters vs. The Hippies?

The children’s music business is going through a renaissance of sorts. All over the USA, musicians are entering into the fray with a CD in their hands, an animated video and a dream of becoming the next big thing. There’s even a new label attached to the biz to help re-define the genre: kindie music.

I actually like the name kindie and some of the folks I’ve met in the field are pretty cool, too. The name is a clever amalgam of the words kindergarten and indie music. Smart, huh? The important thing I need to tell you about kindie, however, is it sure ain’t your mom’s children’s music. Many of the new artists are rock bands whose goal is get you and your kids up and dancing. They often play loud and fast, so you may want to bring some ear plugs with you if you're over 40 and out for a Sunday concert with grandma.

Less you think me prudish, I need to introduce  you to something else that is happening out there in our field. The purveyors of this music (artists, DJs and the mommies that push it in the blogosphere) aren't happy with developing a new kind of music. No sir. Make no mistake - they would prefer that the folk school of children’s music be put out to pasture, buried and forgotten. The most radical among them feel that traditional children's music is boring and irrelevant to today's kids and families. I've read and heard enough to know that their goal is to dominate the landscape. It's like an attempted coup d'etat of a musical genre.

Okay, time to take a breath.

As a professional Teaching Artist, I have mixed feelings about this new wave of kindie music apart from the radical nature of some of its proponents and their potential threat to my career.  Actually, I’m happy when new musical forms are explored with kids. Doors have to be opened. Sometimes, things should evolve in the Arts. I have no issue with a little shaking of the trees in children's music and adding some value to our place in society.

But I'm worried. Why? Because few people are talking to one another about what’s best for kids and learning. Is loud, fast rock the best delivery vehicle for emotions to children 0-5? As an educator and a parent, I'm willing to consider new ideas, but some of the bands and producers of kindie have not considered it from a developmental perspective. To them, it's about careers, money and fame. Personally and professionally, I'm not down with that. As the old saying goes, "Let's not throw the baby out with the bathwater." We can evolve, but let's keep what works. And folk music works, especially for younger children.

I am a “big tent guy".  I believe that children should be exposed to all forms of music and that no one music is the only music for kids. That said, I have a particular passion for folk, folk-rock, jazz, country and other forms of music that move at an easygoing pace. To me, those styles are simply the better vehicle for delivering smart, poignant or funny lyrics that are appropriate for young children. I listen to rock, rap and other forms of music, but I use them very sparingly in our shows.

A mentor of mine once said, “Faster, louder and funnier are always the way that some people will try to make children pay attention and make more money, but it’s not what is best for children.” And while I have no argument against a set that includes a couple of songs that encourage kids and parents to dance and get their ya-ya’s out, in the end I prefer music that speaks to the heart, encourages learning and discovery and teaches us all the importance of being gentle with one another. In these times, we need that more than ever.

My hope is that our genre will experience an evolution that adds value for the kids, parents, teachers and musicians. My experience tells me that we will not get there without communicating with one another, so please feel free to share your thoughts and continue the dialogue. Please explore the frontiers of music to consider other forms of music beyond folk, but please keep in mind that those of us who use it love this music and believe in its ability to introduce children to the joys of music. There's lots of time for loud rock and roll, especially in a child's adolescent years. Perhaps if you're born to rock, you might explore that age group. Kids could use something before Eminem and you might be the one to create it.



Liz Buchanan said...

Thanks for this reflection, Scott. I generally offer very upbeat, interactive music with young children, and often kids start dancing to my music, but I agree that loud rock bands may not be the best match with kids 5 and under. I just attended my first Kindiefest so I haven't gathered evidence about whether some people in the Kindie music biz would like to shut down the rest of us. Not sure they could do that if they tried. I continue to have a "big-tent" attitude about it. Kindiefest still invites Laurie Berkner into the fold and my music sounds like hers (according to people in the know). Will keep pondering all this, as I'm sure you will, too.

Doug said...

Hey Scott....I had no idea there was yet another war on! I hope that I will forever believe in my guiding principal.....that there is room for everyone, and therefore room for all different kinds of music. There is a time and a place. I am a tried and true folkie, but folk music can be fast and dancey too. I have no need to compete with a band with electric guitars, and they have no need to compete with me. I'm not doing what they are doing, they aren't doing what I am doing, but we can all share the same audience....I believe in win-win.

Great post....

David said...

Great piece, Scott. You said a lot of things that I want to express about this topic. One thing I would add is that the "rock band playing for kids to dance" model is also missing a vital aspect of older, folkier kids' music: participation. One of things I value most in children's music is the interaction, and kids jumping around the whole time isn't enough. When kids and parents are singing along, providing ideas for zipper songs, and doing finger-plays and sign language as well as getting up and moving, there is a level of engagement you don't get with a mosh pit. And I wouldn't restrict this criticism of Kindie Music to the 0-5 set - I think that participation is important for all ages.

Barbara Siesel said...

Great comment! Very thoughtful. I do think that there is a dis-connect between what works for children and some choices made. It's very important for children to be exposed to all that is available, as we never know what music we play for them will plant a seed and create a life-long love of music. What disturbs me most is a narrow view of anything. We are all guilty of myopic thinking, because when you are dedicated and love something it's hard to understand that others might not be so crazy about it! The question should be, what do we want as a society culturally, what do we want our kids to know? In a real sense, what kind of musicians do we want the next generation to be? What kind of musical consumers? How do we get kids interested in the arts? This is part of our job in working with children and I would hope that we can all respect and be interested in the wide and varied music that so many artists are offering to children (and adults too). Whether Kindie Fest does respect all forms is unclear to me yet, but...see above- there is still time to expand the umbrella!!

Mister Billy said...

I am one of the “hip, loud, fast and up to date’ writer, producer, performers…and I have NEVER, EVER called folk music out of date, out of touch or called for its head on a platter. There is room for all of us, I offer another choice.

I love the blog and agree with most of it. I would like to add however that if an artist wants to make music to dance to, not to “lift our voices and sing together” (I hate singing at concerts and even in church…I want to be sung to, others feel the same way), or make fun and silly stuff with no educational value at all I say go for it. I have made many, many, many educational CDs and done even more educational concerts and to be honest, I’m a little tired of it. And I think that kids need a break from everything being a lesson or learning experience…can music just be fun?

Way back before all this “KINDIE” stuff began, I tried to make music that sounded like the music children’s parents listened to…I still do. Reason…kids imitate their parents and older siblings, if they listen to rap or punk the smaller kids do too….they can’t escape it, so I try not to fight it.

Having said that, I do feel that the official “KINDIE” hotshots have gone over the line making bad choices on blogs, tweets, facebook, websites and more. Often taking potshots at anything or anyone that does not fit into their world view, often using offensive language (dropping “F” bombs) in public postings and such…not cool.

The average age of parents at my shows is 20-40 I think. Funny thing, most of that span listens to the same musical stuff more or less. I think folk, jazz, blues and other roots and ethnic music now falls into the category of musical enrichment, like going on a field trip or visiting a museum. Don’t kill the messenger (me), this is just what is happening, open your eyes and smell the coffee.

At my shows (and I assuming at shows where jumping and dancing, etc is king) artists such as myself watch big smiles on children having fun getting a physical workout (something else being cut at schools)…so, anyway…can’t we all just get along?