Under the Hat: Mindful of Your Audience

Music in Motion

The immediate and primal power of music to illicit emotional response is hard-wired into us as humans. Whether we’re conscious of it or not, we listen to music for many different reasons. Some music makes us feel happy, while some music makes us feel melancholy. Some makes makes us feel like taking a nap, while others make us feel like jumping up and down. 

As a songwriter, the capacity to create a physical reaction in the listener is exponentially greater than as a composer. Why would that be the case? The answer is that lyrics work in tandem with music to add another layer of emotional impact which can be experienced by the listener.

When I’m writing songs for kids and families as Mister G, I’m mindful of my audience in a different way than when I’m writing for grown-ups. Will the music be good on a long road trip? Will the songs used in the classroom by teachers as teaching tools? Am I trying to help kids learn Spanish? Or English? Or both? Am I trying to teach kids something about ecology and conservation?

Regardless of the intent, my priority is making sure that kids and their parents are having fun. After all, if kids are having a good time learning becomes natural and transparent, rather than drudgery or a chore.

As a performer who has written lots of songs, part of the fun of playing in different venues is choosing tunes that are well-suited to the environment. Last week, I played three concerts at the Theater in the Woods at Wolf Trap Performing Arts Center just outside of Washington, DC. Needless to say, it was a good opportunity to play my song “Bugs” for thousands of screaming kids. Check out this video from the show and you’ll see what I mean:

“Bugs” contains the lines:

Bugs, bugs everywhere

Bugs in your shoes, bugs in your hair

For kids (and their parents), the prospect of finding bugs in either their shoes or their hair is scary but also strangely exciting. When playing the song live, I have the kids scream when I sing the line, “bugs in your hair,” as that enables them to release some of the anxiety associated with unexpectedly finding bugs on your body. I also tell the kids to jump, since the fast tempo of the music combined with the lyrics makes the crowd want to move.


ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Mister G (Ben Gundersheimer) is an Amherst College graduate who spent 20 years as a singer/songwriter/producer in the adult music world prior to earning a Masters in Elementary Education at Smith College and transitioning to making music for children.  His most recent release, CHOCOLALALA, a collection of original, bilingual (Spanish/English) songs for children, won a Parents’ Choice Gold Award and is on the Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album of 2012. A leading figure in the kids music world, Mister G’s 2011 bilingual release, BUGS garnered numerous national awards and was dubbed “irresistible” by People magazine. www.mistergsongs.com

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