Wednesday, August 25, 2004

CMW Awards

Great news - one of my songs, "I Go Bananas," is a finalist in this year's Children's Music Web Awards in the "Best Song For Young Children" category! Congratulations to all the finalists - they can be viewed at the link above. Cross your fingers for me!

The CMWA are unique in that actual kids do most of the judging. Also, they are non-competative. Songs and albums are awarded if they score high enough, regardless of how well the other entries do. So in a given category there might be 20 winners or no winners at all - depending on the general level of excellence of the entries.

The first round of judging involves families. Those entries that make the cut go to the finalist round, which is judged by classrooms.

More classrooms are needed right now! Go to the Children's Music Web site to learn how you can take part!

Friday, August 20, 2004

New CD Begun

Howdy, Friends and Fans,

I have begun work on a new CD. I spent most of yesterday on it, making simple demo recordings so I can see how the various songs might fit together.

Last night I met with John Howk, a guitar player I worked with a couple of times last semester. Since many of the songs I want to record just wouldn't sound right without the audience participation, John is helping me put together a band for a live performance.

The plan (it's still early now - this could change) is to get four players together for rehearsals and then put on a show or two in November with tape rolling.

The new CD will include tracks from the live shows as well as some songs recorded at home in the studio. I have a list of 17 songs I'm considering. I don't want to say what they are because some of them will inevitably get dropped from the list, and others may still be added at this point. I'll just say that I'm selecting songs based largely on your requests. I'll finally be recording many of my "greatest (unavailable) hits."

So please stay tuned - I'll keep you posted here about progress and about when and where those live shows will happen so you can attend and be part of the new CD!

And if you want to request a certain song for the CD, just click "Post a Comment" below, and request away!

Monday, August 16, 2004

Oklahoma! (The Musical)

Ever seen one of them ballet dudes dancin in cowboy boots?

As a wannabe writer of musicals (embarking upon my first attempt soon) I have been frustrated lately to live in the middle of the country, about as far as I can get from musical theater goings-on on either coast. However, we've got something special right here in Oklahoma that they ain't got in New York or LA!

I took my family to see Rodgers and Hammerstein's Oklahoma! at its national home at the Discoveryland! theater in Sand Springs this weekend, right here in Oklahoma. If you live in the state and you haven't seen the show yet, shame on you! If you live fer away, it's worth some travelin.

Oklahoma! is considered to be the first true American musical; a groundbreaking show after which all that followed were patterned. This is because it was the first that was more than a mere review, in which a collection of songs are presented around a theme, loosely tied together with dialog. Oklahoma was the first to use the songs to tell a story, setting a new standard for musical theater.

The songs of course are fantastic. All are very memorable and catchy. Oscar Hammerstein's lyrics are clever beyond compare. The Discoveryland! production, which has run for 29 years, is fantastic as well. The performance was polished to a sheen, with all the lines delivered to their best advantage. The actors squeezed every drop of humor out of the song lyrics and script. There were many belly laughs from the audience. Lisa and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

The production is all the much better by virtue of being staged in an outdoor amphitheater. The set is nestled among actual trees. Horses and carriages (including the famed surrey with the fringe on top) enter across a wooden bridge and exit into the woods behind the barn. Cicadas provide soft background music during sections of dialog. At one point as Curly and Laurie sing about the stars above, the stage lights dim and the actual articles twinkle down on the audience below.

Lisa points out a further advantage to the outdoor setting - refreshments! We had ice cream, popcorn, and soda pop during the show, just like at the movies!

It was cool to hear the song "Oklahoma" it it's original setting as part of the show. I've heard it a billion times (since it is our state song) and the audience always claps and sings along and it's all quite spirited. But it was nice to hear the song without the clapping, and enjoy the intricate arrangement and the lyrics within the context of the story. (Of course the song was reprised as an encore so the audience could clap and sing along one time as well!)

The Discoveryland! experience is more than just the show; it's a whole evening of fun and entertainment. You can opt into the cowboy dinner, and there are two half-hour pre-show acts: native american dancers and cowboy singers. We did the dinner, which was good, but the lines were so slow we missed the dancers. The advertised opening time is 6:00, but if you want the dinner get there well in advance because you will have to stand in a slow ticket line before going in.

Evalyn (3 years old) enjoyed the pony rides while we waited in line for our food. She enjoyed the singing and the horses in the show, but well before the end of act one she became squirmy and wanted to leave. We persevered however, and her interest perked up during the dream sequence, which is a ballet that becomes a bit scary as Laurie gets shoved around by Judd and his cronies. Evalyn became a bit concerned at that point (Why are they doing that to her!?) but we assured her it was only a dream, and we drew her attention to the real Laurie, who can be seen the whole time sleeping on the porch.

During the intermission, Evalyn got rid of some energy running up and down the walk to the parking lot, and she settled in nicely for act two. She came home with a souvenir horse puppet (we named him Curly) who this morning was still singing bits of songs from the show.

So should you take your kids? There are some fight sequences and some startling gun shots, though a gun is never shot at a person. There are also some bawdy bits, but those are likely to go over a youngun's head. The story is mostly about mushy love stuff so some kids may not get into it. But I recommend it for any kid who loves music and can sit through a long movie with no trouble. And of course it is a must-see for adults. We plan to go again in a couple of years when Evalyn can appreciate it a bit more.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

On the Road - Muskogee Farmer's Market

Muskogee Farmer's Market 4 of 7
Originally uploaded by Monty42.
Well, today was the last show on my calendar for quite a while. I'm going to take a little vacation and then I'll be starting on some projects at home (more on that soon I'm sure). This will be a welcome change of pace from near constant performing over the past four months!

I was in Muskogee today at the farmer's market behind the library. The weather was perfect! Warm, but not hot, with a nice breeze. I was in the shade of the tent, with my new Bose sound system gently spreading sound in all directions. I could really tell a difference with it outside - folks could hear more clearly and that makes a big difference with my songs which are all so lyric oriented.

But the best thing about the morning was the crowd - I had a very attentive crowd, which is rare at an outdoor event. Parents and kids alike were participating and having fun. I did two 50 minute sets and one 30 minute set and in all that time only repeated one song (Grandma's House Tonight). I really enjoyed streching a bit and singing a few songs I hadn't done in a while. It was a very fun gig!

I also met "Honky Da Clown" who was on hand making balloon sculptures for the kids. He is based there in Muskogee. If you ever get a chance to see him, go for it - he's amazing with balloons. He takes the art and craft of balloon sculpture quite seriously, as I do the with children's song lyrics. I saw him do things with balloons I've never seen before. Very cool.

I also met up with an old friend - if you've seen my scrapbook online, one of my favorite photos shows me at the Muskogee library with a two year old fan and we are both wearing our cowboy outfits. The theme that summer was western. Well today, six years later, we met up again. I got to sign a copy of that original photo, and we took a new one together. Fun, fun fun!

Thanks to the Muskogee Area Arts Council and the Oklahoma Arts Council for making this one possible!

Thursday, August 05, 2004

Just Plain Folks Song Contest

Hey, I just found out one of my songs was nominated for a Just Plain Folks Music Award. JPF is a worldwide music community and they are in the middle of the biggest music award program I've ever heard of. After a year of judging, the nominees have been revealed. There were 140,000 (that's one hundred and forty thousand) songs entered from 85 countries. In my estimation, there are around 1400 song nominees in 48 categories, one of which is children's. That puts all the nominees in the top 1% of entries, so it's a big honor to be nominated, even if the song doesn't go on to win an award.

The song of mine they picked for a nomination is "Tropeo the Pirate." It's on my Take Me to Your Library CD, and it has long been my dad's favorite of all my songs.

Congratulations to all the nominees in the children's category! Here they are (in alphabetical order):

Song Title

4 Little Girls
Steve Weeks
Steve Weeks
Alphabet Songs Vol. I

Barney Saltzberg
Barney Saltzberg
Where, Oh, Where's My…

Beethoven's Wig
Perlmutter, Beethoven
Beethoven's Wig
Sing Along Symphonies

Each to Each There Own
Nachtrieb, Zesiger
Anne Nachtrieb Zesiger
AESOP for all ages

Fishing In A Wishing Well
Scotty & Lulu
Scotty & Lulu
Fish Food

Five Minutes More
Bill Harley
Bill Harley
Hear & Gone in 60 Seconds

Gootcha Gotcha Giggles
Rachel Sumner
Rachel Sumner
Join The Parade

Harriet the Spy
Two of a Kind

He Looked So Good
Nachtrieb, Zesiger, Dean
Anne Nachtrieb Zesiger
AESOP for all ages

It's a Drag to be a Dragon
Morgan, Hordinski
Zak Morgan
When Bull-Frogs Croak

Miranda Magoo McPhatt
Cary Cooper
Cary Cooper
Gypsy Train

More Than Just A Minute
Justin Roberts
Justin Roberts
Hear & Gone in 60 Seconds

Maryl Skinner
Maryl Skinner, Michael Monroe
Antler, Bear, Kazoo…

Only Four
Laurie McClain
Laurie McClain
The Child Behind My Eyes

B., J., C. Barber
The Barbers
Bouncing Shoes

The Grandparents' Song
Shana Smith
Shana Banana
Song in my Pocket

The Popcorn Song (live!)
Shana Smith
Shana Banana
Song in my Pocket

The Pox of Chicken
Zak Morgan
Zak Morgan
When Bull-Frogs Croak

They Got Feet
Carver, Welbourne
George Carver / Papa Mali
Down at the Zoo

To the Ball
Decter, Nachmanoff
B. Decter and D. Nachmanoff
Another Big Day

Tropeo the Pirate
Monty Harper
Monty Harper
Take Me to Your Library

What Kind Of Cat Are You?
Billy Jonas
Billy Jonas
What Kind Of Cat Are You?

Sunday, August 01, 2004

Fatcat and Fishface

My daughter Evalyn (3 yrs) has been listening and listening lately to "Fatcat & Fishface, horrible songs for children," the 1997 debut CD from a New Zealand duo called Fatcat and Fishface. (How did we happen onto this? By volunteering to judge the CMW awards!)

Evalyn absolutely loves this CD and practically has it memorized. She pretends to be "Fatcat" to my "Fishface" and we sing the title song together. She loves to discuss which song comes next, and notices little things about the arrangements, like the abrupt ending to "Flyby," which makes her laugh out loud.

This CD is probably not for everyone. There are some gross things in it, which sound worse than they are when put in print, but here goes. "Little AnimalEater" is a song about a house cat, but this is no cute kitty. This cat hunts, "crying out for blood and bone!" Some cat owners will definitely relate. Being about a cat, this is one of Evalyn's favorite songs on the album. The natural violence does not seem to bother her.

Another song that might gross you out is "Flyby" which is about a house fly, "Looking for a place to lay her maggots." She buzzes around trying out different foods and ends up doing a tap dance in the fridge. It's hilarious, if the image of laying "maggots" doesn't freak you out.

Then there are some really creepy cuts. They come three in a row near the end. "Joe" is catchy nonsense about a monster, sung in a scary voice. "Sing Along" is a short piece with a whispered voice, inviting you to "sing along" but to what? Then "Impossible Dancing Song" is someting of a chant with a weird rhythm and Halloweenish voices going on in the background. Evalyn thinks this one is scary. These three are the most experimental pieces on the album. I like them, but they probably won't appeal to everyone.

Finally, the singing voices on this album do take some getting used to. Fatcat and Fishface are two female voices (the names of the artists are not revealed in the CD booklet). They rarely if ever sing naturally. They use falsetto, nasel, gravelly, and other affectations for various effects. Add to this a thick New Zealand accent ("Lie - zee, lie - zee, maybe ahll - neever mind" = "Lazy, Lazy, maybe I'll - nevermind") and there's a lot to get used to for an American ear.

Now, having said all this, I highly recommend this CD. Get it and listen to it three or four times before you pass judgement.

The instrument parts are sparse, with electric guitar and organ on most tracks, supplimented with bass, percussion, and vibes. But they are very well arranged, with just the right amount of counterpoint to the voices, and are clearly performed by talented musicians. There is nothing here that is musically uninteresting or cliche. It's all fun to hear.

The songs are simple but never simplistic. The melodies are catchy and original and range from etherial ("Pretty, Sweetie, Happy, and Lucky") to raucous ("Little AnimalEater"). The lyrics take an overall darker tone than most children's fare, but there is plenty of humor ("Flyby," "Favourite Undies"). Definitely there is nothing cutesy or sugary here!

Many of the songs depict a gritty view of a child's world. In "Pick Me," the singer laments, "They never pick me. The ones who do the picking never see who I be. They never pick me." In "Lazy," the kids are just being lazy, so much so that the song peters out at the end with the very gravely voices of singers who can't be bothered to breathe before singing.

The songs never moralize. You just get little vignettes of what is. In "Lazy" there is no consequence, just the attitude. In "I Never," two childen fight with cliche'd threats and accusations, but no resolution. "You Are What You Eat" plays around with words, but never makes the odious point that you should eat healthy foods. I like this approach, and I think older kids will appreciate it very much. The writers keep it light and let you draw your own conclusions.

This is a very creative and unique album. It's an adventure, and it's one you'll be glad you undertook. Lisa and I don't mind that our daughter wants to hear it over and over - it's one of our favorites too. So get the CD and listen until you love it!