Music Review: Kid Pan Alley: Nashville CD

Here’s some children’s music with a bit of twist.

Kid Pan Alley is an organization that grew out of an elementary school songwriting residency project. Paul Reisler, a songwriter and composer, co-wrote more than 50 songs with 600 children in Rappahannock County, Virginia. The songs were good enough that he was inspired to have professional musicians records some of the tunes, culminating in the Tidal Wave of Song CD.

The cover artwork on the Kid Pan Alley: Nashville CD.
Today, Reisler’s Kid Pan Alley works with kids in schools and children’s hospitals to compose songs, teaching youth that "they can be creators and not just consumers." It has collectively co-written more than 600 songs with 12,000 children.

Songs are written in one or two class sessions through a group process, coming out in a variety of genres, and they are performed and burned to a CD at the end of the class.

It strikes me that songwriting should be taught in all schools.

If you give kids paint, they will create something they know, something they’ve seen. They won’t create a Van Gogh. If you give them a pencil and tell them to write about their mothers, they won’t write about love and how much they miss her. They’ll write about the concrete things she does.

Songwriting taps into so many important areas—creative writing, poetry, introspection, feelings, abstract thinking and inspiration. And to take those elements and weave them with melody and harmony? Whoa. Even adapting lyrics to popular music which kids already know would be impressive. The organization’s mission statement (middle of page) lists many additional admirable qualities of songwriting.

Kid Pan Alley’s latest CD, Nashville, started with professional songwriters going into elementary schools and collaborating with kids to transform their ideas and words into songs. Then the Nashville Chamber Orchestra worked with the students and the songwriters to develop the arrangement of each tune. Finally, professional singers recorded the songs.

Nashville is filled with a great mix of musical genres and subject matter.

Kids provide background vocals on some of the songs, but it’s
artfully subtle. You won’t notice Naomi Craig’s 3rd grade class at Dan
Mills Elementary singing background vocals in the infectious first
track, Bouncin’ Off the Bottom. That’s good because I doubt they have professionally trained voices, but you can be sure those kids hear themselves.

By the way, Bouncin’ Off the Bottom really is infectious. The first few mandolin riffs hit me hard (listen online).
The song itself is about a child who gets sad, mad and mopey, but does
things to rebound (bounce off the bottom) to be happy again.

The second track, Little Drop of Water, is an exception to
the quiet use of children’s vocals. Al Amore’s third grade class at
University School Nashville shouts its refrain, "Great big world!
Little drop of water’s got a long way to go!" But I’m sure that professional singers sound the same as you or I, or my daughter, when we shout the loud portions this
song. The lyrics are about the life of a drop of water:

"Bursts from a cloud, plops on the ground
Squishes in the mud until the sun goes down
Gives a drink to the grass, covers it with dew
Dries back up into the sky so blue

Surfing on a wave, swimming and a wishin’
Jump into the bucket of a boy going fishin’
Poured in a puddle, running down the drain
Back into the ocean from which it came."

Now, I would be dishonest if I didn’t express my one misgiving. One song on the CD shocked me. My jaw was dangling as I listened. Download it All for Free (a sarcastic title) vilifies file sharing with such lyrics as, "Who would that really hurt, when everybody’s out of work."

If you believe as I do, that research shows file sharing increases legal music sales, and Digital Restrictions Management measures pushed on us by media companies only harm legitimate paying customers, then you’ll want to exercise your Fair Use rights,
assuming they still exist at the time you are reading this, by burning
copy of your purchased CD for personal use, minus that song. (And you know what? I don’t even use file-sharing software. I just wouldn’t use this song to teach my daughter about copyright or what it means to be an author of a creative work.)

Kid Pan Alley: Nashville has 17 other great songs worth paying for. File-sharers are probably the people most interested in buying this CD because, better than anyone, they understand diversity in musical taste. No one is served by labels that pigeonhole a person as a "rocker" or "rapper" or "country fan." When you venture outside the boundaries of how you’ve been categorized by music companies and radio stations, you realize you have a sophisticated palette that enjoys a little bit of everything. So, give Kid Pan Alley a spin, via whatever means you shop for music.

[This CD was submitted for review by the publisher.]

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