I'd like to think I had a small hand in my 5-year-old daughter being able to sing along to "Do You Remember Rock 'n' Roll Radio?" by The Ramones and Led Zeppelin's "Immigrant Song." After all, I've spent well over a decade writing about music and recognize the importance of music education for young kids, so there aren't too many hours that pass when music can't be heard wafting through our house or car. But truth be told, a farting, sarcastically funny green ogre probably has a lot more to do with her taste in music than I do, thanks in part to scores of soundtracks from children's movies like Shrek, Curious George and Over the Hedge that feature catchy and, in some instances, kick-ass rock 'n' roll.
As much fun as it can be watching your kid try to play air guitar to Wolfmother's "Joker and the Thief," thankfully some of these recordings also offer more than just a good time. For example, on Sing-A-Longs and Lullabies from the film Curious George, Jack Johnson revised the lyrics of "Three is a Magic Number" and sings about the new "3 R's": Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.
In addition to movie soundtracks that offer a refreshing break for parents who are looking for alternatives to Elmo or The Wiggles, there are actually lots of options available and from some unusual suspects.
Over the past few years, more rockers than ever before seem to be doing the kiddie gig, including folks like They Might Be Giants, Farmer Jason Ringenberg (of Jason & The Scorches) and Asylum Street Spankers. In fact, one of the more popular fellas on the kid scene today has to be Dan Zanes, originally from the popular '80s band, The Del Fuegos. There are also plenty of compilations out there featuring everyone from Moby and Cake to Joe Henry, Lou Reed, R.E.M., Nada Surf and Dar Williams among many, many other artists who you might not expect (see the For the Kids series).
As trendy as the market for children's music has become -- and it doesn't just begin with toddlers, newborns can get in on the action too with lullaby renditions from a multitude of artists and genres including The Beatles, Bob Marley, Coldplay and Nirvana -- Charlotte has plenty of fun and hip options of its own.
Once a year, John Tosco takes a turn at entertaining the young'uns at the Tosco Music Party for Kids (held each March at ImaginOn). Last month was his fifth annual show and one of the funniest to date. In addition to sing-a-longs led by the Tosco Music Party Sing-a-long Choir that features local musicians like Donna Duncan and Jason Atkins, short sets from Jerry Chapman (best known for his days in Life in General) and Big Bang Boom (a Greensboro band led by Ben Folds brother Chuck) highlighted the show ... oh, and the free kazoos from kazoo king Rick Hubbard were really cool too.
The Queen City is also home to the creative talents behind Raggs, a popular new PBS TV series about five colorful dogs that play rock 'n' roll music and together, discover the power of friendship. They're also giving the Aussie Fab Four, The Wiggles, a run for their money down under as Raggs is currently one of the most popular shows in Australia.
Husband and wife Fred and Becky Story, founders of Concentrix Music and Sound Design, have penned over 200 original recorded songs for the show. In addition to the work they do on Raggs, Concentrix has created music for shows on ABC-TV, A&E, Discovery Channel, Food Network and various PBS outlets.
When asked to compare, Fred says composing music specifically for children is no different from creating music for adults in one sense: know your audience and speak directly to them. "Of course, given their early stage of cognitive development, we have to keep things a little simpler for the kids," he explains. "That being said, we try to never 'write down' to kids. They're very impressionable at that age, so we feel a strong obligation to give them a kernel of something with lasting value."
Another local on the Raggs team is Gina Stewart, who a lot of us know from the band Volatile Baby. Stewart provides the speaking voice of Trilby, a pink pup who likes music and fashion. As an actor, Stewart appreciates the consistent work Raggs offers and admits she loves seeing kids carrying a stuffed Trilby toy. "It's pretty rewarding to feel like you've helped to create that 'personality' or friend for someone," she says.
It's with Children's Theatre of Charlotte where Stewart is able to lend more of her musical talents; writing and producing music for lots of the group's productions including The Secret Garden, Go, Dog. Go! and Bridge to Terabithia.
Although Stewart is currently working out of town and can't be part of the production, Children's Theatre is currently going retro-hip and doing their own part in pleasing some parents by presenting Schoolhouse Rock Live!, a stage adaptation of the classic Saturday morning cartoons that were popular during the mid 1970s. CTC artistic director Alan Poindexter calls it a true musical revue and hopes the show will not only entertain the little ones but also spark the interest of adults who don't have kids. In fact, for the first time ever, CTC will present a showing for ages 21 and up.
"We really wanted to do something so more adults could experience Children's Theatre," he says. "It's professional theatre for the entire community." He also notes the vital role music plays in all of their productions. "Music is a huge tool to be used in the theatre and it's something people respond to," he adds.
Stewart affirms music's power and influence, "Music teaches you to be open to changes. It teaches you 'rules' but it also teaches you to break the rules sometimes," she says. "It teaches you to think outside the box. Maybe it's just me, but I think in every aspect -- from politics to banking -- we need that kind of thinking."
Children's Theatre of Charlotte is presenting Schoolhouse Rock Live! through May 4. The "Rock the Schoolhouse" Party for 21 and up will be presented Saturday, April 26. All performances are at ImaginOn. Call 704-973-2828 or visit ctcharlotte.org for more details.