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.