Monday, August 19, 2013

Twenty Years of Music Play

I sometimes tell people that I began calling my songs “music play” when I realized that I was interested in more than just performing songs for children.  I wanted some way of expressing that the songs are created as an invitation for children and the adults that care for them to play together. 

That’s true, but the full story is a bit more involved.

I invented the term “music play” when my producer (and good friend) Steve Rashid tried to –in the nicest way – help me understand that my songs could really be improved with a bit of….well… writing. 

Our discussion began with a consideration of the title song of my first recording , Jim Gill Sings The Sneezing Song and Other Contagious Tunes:

Please don’t feed me black-eyed peas.
You know what they will do.
For if you feed me black-eyed peas
I’ll have to sneeze.

(and the children shout)

(The verses repeat with “macaroni and cheese” and “chocolate chip cookies.”)

Steve sat at his piano and said, “The sneezing itself is not part of the melody.  And the piece stops and starts and stop and starts.  There is no consistent rhythm.   Don’t take this wrong, but it’s not really a song.”  He then demonstrated some ways that we could “musicalize” the sneezes and employ other techniques to craft a more traditional song. 

He was right…….if a person is thinking “musically.”  But I knew that “The Sneezing Song” was, in its simplest form, a favorite in the play groups that I led each week for children and families.  Children loved the anticipation before the big exclamatory sneezes.  In fact, that was really the point.  It was a game.  A waiting game with some simple rhymes.  And the simplicity allowed children of all abilities to be a part of the play. 

I told Steve that I could imagine that his ideas would make the piece a better song, but that I was afraid it would take something away from the game.  And, for me, conveying the play was the point. 

I finally said, “That’s the point with all of these songs.  They are really music play.”

Steve and I have developed a great partnership, beginning with that conversation 20 years ago.  We have both developed a sense of when, in a recorded piece, the music is the primary means to get children singing and dancing along.  Steve’s expertise is required in those instances.

And we have come to recognize when the play is most important and it’s best to keep it simple: