Sunday, July 03, 2011

Play it Again, Sam

When we perform at schools and summer camps, our fans like to hear their favorite songs repeatedly. Instead of our latest and greatest compositions, they ask for the ones they know, like Hello, My Name is Joe or Be Banana. Consequently, we sing those two songs every day and have done so for the last twenty years. This is neither a bore nor a chore for us. We understand the audience’s desire to hear their favorites because we enjoy repetition, too. No matter the age, the refrain is the same – please play it again!

Over the the last year, we have been playing at two preschools regularly. During that time, Beth and I experimented with variety and repetition. At the end of the school year, we met with the owners of the schools and one hundred teachers to assess what was most beneficial for the children in terms of learning and enjoyment. With few exceptions, we received the same advice, “Please play what the kids like over and over again. We’d rather hear the same songs six weeks in a row than hear a variety of songs every session.” 

This desire for “sameness” is true outside of music. If you’re a fisherman, you have your lucky spot on the lake and you probably like to use the same lures you’ve always used. If you like Chinese food, I’ll wager that you order the same dishes each time you call for takeout. And don’t you sleep on the same side of the bed every night with your favorite pillow tucked under your head just so? The conclusion is simple: humans are creatures of habit. No wonder kids like to hear their favorite songs again and again.(Notice my use of the words “their favorite songs” instead of “our favorite songs” in the last sentence.)

I am a passionate fan of Donald Fagan’s album, “The Nightfly”. I’ve listened to it thousands of times and it never ceases to please me. This album is one of MY favorites. Do you have a song or CD that pleases you like that? How wonderful that we all have our own favorites, songs that are like best friends. Truly, it’s one of life’s greatest pleasures.

So, when you're tired of singing “Wheels on the Bus” to your preschoolers or acting out “Baby Shark” with your summer campers, know that their experience might be the highlight of their day. We all know those feelings, but do you remember how special and intense they were when you were a child? Then why not repeat it!

“If music be the food of love, play on.”  (W. Shakespeare, Twelfth Night)


Beau said...

Nice post Scott. I will remember this every time I play Wheels on the Bus or Old MacDonald to my girls, which I do almost every day. At 2 they pretty much want to hear the same songs over and over, similar to how they want to be read the same books over and over. I just try to come up with ways to engage them with the songs so each time is a little different.

BTW, I agree, The Nightfly is one of my all time favorites and rivals or exceeds any Steely Dan album depending on one's preference.

Keep up the good work.

Scott Bierko said...

Thanks, Beau. I remember the days of reading and re-reading books with Helen (16) and Steph (12). Your words brought back some wonderful memories.

Earl Leonard said...

Hi Scott, I haven't been playing kids music anywhere near as long as you, though Im not as a far off with other sorts of music (started playing regularly when young but only switched to focusing on kids when I had kids... which I guess is probably typical?)

Anyway... aside from maybe one song, the kids I regularly play for don't seem to like the same songs as each other, (probably because I haven't written any real standouts yet rather than them all being winners or something).

So I have to constantly play different sets week to week in order to play most of the different kids different favourite songs regularly, and keeping track of who likes what and playing them all equally is what's giving me problems!

Did that issue arise with you with the school feedback you were talking about?

Scott Bierko said...

Hi Earl. You bring up a good point. How can we use the benefits of repetition when kids are requesting different tunes?

Beth and I leave a window open so that teachers and kids can make suggestions, but the decision on what to play and when resides with us. We're the facilitator/experts who are in charge of the overall direction of the program.

So, if I know that we want to do 6 songs that week to fulfill our "mission", I hew pretty close to that regardless of a child's attempt to highjack my plan. Of course, I'm looking on how to make it up to that child by giving him another kind of opportunity to be involved. Perhaps, I'll ask him a question or have him hand out the shakers. In most cases, they are asserting their desire to be recognized and it doesn't mean that they need to have their request fulfilled.

Hope that helps!

MIchelle Ami said...

I'm Lester the nightfly
Hello Baton Rouge

loved this album,too.

MIchelle Ami said...
This comment has been removed by the author.