Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In Defense of Children's Music

A few years ago I met Livingston Taylor after a show he performed at the Mall of New Hampshire.  I purchased one of his CDs and told him that I was a children's musician, to which he blithely responded, "There's no such thing as children's music. All music can be for children."  At the time I was somewhat taken aback.  After all, I've always felt that music written for children should be child-centered, with lyrics about a child's world. I don't know about you, but I don't know of too many adults who have gone bug hunting or enjoyed princess stories or used their imaginations to swim in jello unless they were with kids.  And while I do think that most music can be shared with children, and they may enjoy it, I suspect that they enjoy it more when it's about something they can relate to, just as with adults.

But lately I'm beginning to think that Livingston Taylor was prophetic, because I keep reading the blogs of children's music "pundits" who rhapsodize about children's music "that doesn't drive parents crazy" and children's music that "doesn't make parents want to pull their hair out."  And recently I had a video rejected by "" because the guy who runs it said, "I just don't see much here for the parents."  Well EXCUSE me, silly me!  I thought this was about the KIDS!!

It used to be that if  a child loved something, the parents loved it too because it made their children happy.  But now the tables have turned,.  Now, it seems, a kid can't love music unless their parents love it too.

When Emma was little someone gave her a set of cassettes by "Judy and David" that featured endless hours of traditional children's music like "The Noble Duke of York" and "Old MacDonald."  Was I crazy about them?  Not really.  But Emma LOVED them so we played them over and over until the tapes wore out.  I used to take her and Louisa to concerts by Maine's Rick Charette.  Did "Alligator in the Elevator" offer something for me?  Nothing but the pure joy of watching my kids, and hundreds of others, sing and dance around like fools.

Still, the trend in children's music today is toward music which has to appeal to parents as well, so you get a lot of "indie" rock music (now called "kindie") that makes parents feel "hip" and like they are raising cool kids who are "hip" as well. I'm not sure but I think this may have started with "KidzBop," those insidious renditions of pop songs "sanitized" and sung by kids that have sold a jillion copies.  Then along came the musicians with "rock cred" who'd had indie rock bands but had now turned to writing music for kids.   That's great!  There's room for everybody here.  But where is the variety?  Where is the gentle, foolish, silly music that only kids love? Don't kids get to have their OWN tastes?  Their OWN things that are special just for them?   It seems these hipster parents will never expose their children to "Old MacDonald" unless it's done rock-style.  Frankly, I'm a little worried about Winken, Blinken and Nod, to be honest.

I guess I'm making a case for my own music here, which has always been about the kids.  There have been some parents who have told me they love my music as much as their kids do, and while I appreciate that,  there have been some parents who have told me they are sick of hearing my music, as they laugh and say how many times they've had to listen to a particular song in a row. I'm okay with that, too.  I'm aiming at the kids, and if they love it, then I'm doing my job.

There are many wonderful children's musicians out here who are the farthest thing from "kindie" but have made zillions of children happy....people like Barry Louis Polisar, Bobby Susser, Joanie BartelsMarla Lewis, Steve BluntKatherine Dines, Mr. BillyPatricia Shih,   and many more that you can find out about at the Children's Music Network (  We can't let their art, their truly child-centered art, be lost in the "kindie" trend.  So yeah, I love rock music for kids and would probably be getting my kids into the music of Justin Roberts if they were still the right age, but we'd also be listening to the artists I mentioned above.  Because while some children's music can appeal to parents, it really shouldn't HAVE to.


steve said...

Thanks, Judy. Livingston Taylor is a wonderful musician, but he was wrong. I agree with you that there is a place for "children's music"--compositions with words that kids can relate to. My daughter and I spent many happy times with some of yours: "Ladybug, Ladybug," "Swimming in Jello," "Jump Rope Queen," etc. Thanks for all the terrific music!

Unknown said...

When I first started doing music for kids I was always flattered when parents liked my stuff too. I have always tried to be hip, but mostly for the kids. I felt a bit alone as a kids Rocker...I was never accepted by the kindie club and always felt like I was missing out. Now. Realize that the kindie gurus are the ones missing the boat. I will do my best not to get too hip to see the trees in the children's forrest. Gotta go do something that my kids like now...