A fun holiday tradition, caroling events are wonderful intergenerational events that explore choral music with your family and friends. With many songs sung during the holiday seasons rich in history, there is much to learn, plus it’s good for your health and wellness! Download our Nov/Dec issue of Learning Ahead: Cultural Itinerary for Western Massachusetts to discover more about these annual events.
It’s no secret that music is good for your brain. A Chorus America study found that, while participation in a chorus has benefits for everyone, it seems to have a particularly meaningful effect on children. Children who participate in a chorus were found to achieve more highly in school compared to classmates who weren’t involved in chorus – a statistical representation of the deep learning that chorus participation promotes.
In addition to the learning-based benefits of singing in a chorus, being a part of a singing group helps to ward off chemicals that can cause depression and loneliness. Generally seen as a major benefit for adults, the natural production of extra endorphins and oxytocin (a chemical that decreases stress and anxiety) as a result of singing certainly has benefits for children, too. A singing child is likely to be calm and happy more often than not thanks to the chemicals that choral singing helps to release in their bodies. Read the rest of this entry »
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. Read the rest of this entry »
In the 30+ years that I’ve been playing music professionally, I’ve been lucky to have many incredible experiences performing all around the world. There are lots of variables that go into creating a great show: the venue, the crowd, the sound, and of course, the rapport with other musicians. It’s a rare occasion when everything comes together, but when those magical moments happen it’s powerful for everyone fortunate enough to be in the band or in the audience.
Recently, in New York City, I played a concert that immediately found a spot high on the list of my all-time favorite gigs. The sold-out show was at a great theater (Symphony Space) on Broadway and my backing band was a group of phenomenal children. The kids who played with me are the stars of the hit Broadway musical “School of Rock.”
In many ways, working with Brandon, Evie, Dante and Ethan was similar to rehearsing and performing with grown-up pros. I sent them mp3’s and chord charts of the songs before we met, and they showed up prepared having done their homework. We had one short rehearsal and then played the show. Read the rest of this entry »
DRAW THEM IN: A Rock Poster Retrospective Bingo! Gallery at Shire City Sanctuary April 1, 2016 through April 30, 2016
For 21 years DanBlakeslee‘s mysterious rock posters have been hanging on record store windows, telephone poles and cafe walls. Every bulletin board becomes a gallery, transporting the viewer into his wondrous, strange landscape. He is also the artist behind “Heady Topper” and “Focal Banger” beer labels for The Alchemist Brewing Company.
This groundbreaking exhibit, DRAW THEM IN: A Rock Poster Retrospective at the Shire City Sanctuary, will showcase 100 of DanBlakeslee’s work spanning two decades. Off kilter and whimsical, his pen becomes an acrobat, bombarding each page with expressive line and type. The artwork can be iconic, conjuring up new, bizarre creatures of the old forms, with a nod to Art Nouveau, Art Deco, and Fillmore poster artists. Viewers will delight in the masterful blending of art and music woven throughout the work of a brilliant local artist.
Goshen Rocks: Youth Arts Expo Empowers Teen Artists through a Collaborative Network
Teens in western Massachusetts have outstanding skills, knowledge, and creativity to offer to the world! Celebrate their interests and accomplishments at Goshen Rocks: Youth Arts Expo, a collaborative showcase of music, poetry and visual art – all created and performed by local teens!
The Arts Expo is organized through a collaboration between Graffiti Cat Zine and People to Watch: The Next Generation – both are teen initiated arts-based resources that build creative community by connecting local teens with community venues and outlets for sharing their work. In keeping with this mission, Goshen Rocks offers the first event of its kind to western Massachusetts: not only does the expo combine visual, written, and musical creative work, it is the first community-based teen-specific creative event of its kind.
Hilltown Family Variety Show
Insect Episode with Jeff & Paige
Go on a musical hike with guest DJs Jeff and Paige to explore insects. Through music and story you’ll learn: how to identify an insect, how insects connect with animals, how insects help humans, and how humans can help insects! Jeff and Paige will play some of their favorite songs as well as fun tunes from other children’s musicians and from a few adult acts. Make sure you have room to dance as you explore nature and science with Jeff and Paige. – www.jeffandpaige.org
Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am January 30th & 31st, 2016
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio Northampton, MA
Featured Video: “A Conversation Between an Entomologist and an Insect”
When you listen to music, multiple areas of your brain become engaged and active. But when you actually play an instrument, that activity becomes more like a full-body brain workout. What’s going on? Anita Collins explains the fireworks that go off in musicians’ brains when they play, and examines some of the long-term positive effects of this mental workout.
One of the greatest things about being a songwriter is freedom. While there are countless opinions on what constitutes a great song, at the end of the day there are no rules whatsoever.
From a musical perspective, any genre is fair game. Want to write a ska song today and a bluegrass tune tomorrow? Go ahead. How about a ten minute classical inspired epic, followed by a ten second snippet? That’s fine too.
It’s likely that the music you write will be a reflection of the mood you’re in. For example, if you’re happy chances are you’ll pick a faster tempo than if you’re sad. If you’re feeling silly, the lyrics you write will surely be different than if you’re feeling down. The sky’s also the limit when it comes to topics: pretty much anything that you find interesting can become the subject of a new song.
In that respect, songwriting is a great mirror to our emotional state. While many people journal, songwriters tend to document their feelings through a combination of words and music. Some examples of this approach would include Joni Mitchell, James Taylor and Ani DiFranco, Other songwriters choose to invent characters and scenarios that aren’t necessarily related to their own personal experience. For artists like Tom Waits, Donald Fagen and Bjork, songwriting provides a vehicle to explore alternate realities. Read the rest of this entry »
Halloween as a Catalyst for Supporting an Interest & Exposure to the Symphony
One of the best ways to peak children’s interest in classical music is simply through exposure – and two special upcoming seasonal events offer families an exciting entry point into studies (or simple enjoyment) of classical music. By combining symphony performances and concerts with exploration of musical instruments, community-based educational resources, and close listening to recorded classical music, families can support children in gaining a deepened awareness of what defines classical music.
During the last week of October, student musicians at two local colleges will offer concerts of Halloween-themed classical music concerts, each designed specifically to cater to young audiences. On Friday, October 30th at 4pm, the Smith College Orhchestra presents a freeHalloween Family Concert, featuring spooky music as well as Carnival of the Animals by Camille Saint-Saens, meaning that audience members dressed in creature-inspired costumes will have be provided with a perfect soundtrack.
On Saturday, October 31st, Mt. Holyoke College presents two installments of Monsters Ball: Parallel Universes, which feature waltzes, polkas, cha-chas, and mambas broken up by Halloween-themed pieces from modern pop culture including Star Wars, Psycho, and The Twilight Zone. Audience members are encouraged to attend in costume! Shows will take place at 3pm and 8pm, with the 3pm concert catering to children and including opportunities for movement and learning about instruments.
This month we’re going to talk about a song called, “Squirrels” from the Pizza for Breakfast album. I love to write songs about all sorts of things, but perhaps my favorite subject of all is animals. My new album is actually called Los Animales, and it’s a collection of bilingual, original songs all about animals. Read the rest of this entry »
People’s Music: Songs About Real Life Experiences that Real People Enjoyed Singing Together
A singalong concert will be held at the Wesley United Methodist Church in Hadley, MA, on October 3rd at 7pm with a Family Matinee at 3pm to celebrate the release of Rise Up Singing. The concert will feature Annie Patterson & Peter Blood, the creators of Rise Up Singing and Rise Again, teaching and leading songs out of their new book. They will be joined by Emma’s revolution, Kim & Reggie Harris, Charlie King, The Nields, Sarah Pirtle and Magpie- all of whom have songs in this new collection.
Conceived, developed, and edited by western Massachusetts based folk singers Peter Blood and Annie Patterson under the guiding hand of the late Pete Seeger, Rise Again is a treasure trove of lyrics and chords to 1,200 well-loved songs spanning genres as diverse as British Invasion, blues, country, jazz, Motown, composed folk, traditional ballads, gospel, Broadway, early rock ‘n’ roll, alternative/indie artists, “pub songs” and much more, arranged in 39 themed chapters, with commentary on the songs, cross-reference listings at the end of each chapter, and Artists, Cultures, and Titles indexes.
Pete Seeger played a central role in the development of both Rise Up Singing and Rise Again. Following the publication of Rise Up Singing in 1988, Pete Seeger urged the creation of a second songbook with the same format as Rise Up Singing but with even more inclusion of genres that were not heavily represented in the original book. Until his death in 2014, he regularly sent Annie Patterson and Peter Blood suggestions for songs to include in the second volume, lobbying for a balance of song genres and subjects, and for the songs to reflect a message of empowerment and positive change through community music making.
Every page of Rise Again: A Group Singing Songbook reflects the vision of Pete Seeger, who did not believe in artificial boundaries like “folk music”‘ and constantly encouraged Patterson and Blood to center their work on songs he referred to as “people’s music”– songs about real life experiences that real people enjoyed singing together. Read the rest of this entry »
My new bilingual album is called Los Animales, and it’s pretty much what it sounds like: a collection of original song about animals.“Siete Elefantes” is a counting song, and a pretty simple one at that. In each verse you count different animals (elephants, butterflies, lions and crocodiles). The structure of the tune is four short verses with a bridge between verses two and three.
As a songwriter, you never want to be boring or predictable. So what’s the trick to avoid that with a song that is intentionally repetitive? In this case the answer is a combination of studio production arranging and key changes. Read the rest of this entry »
New Album Inspires Civil War History Education Opportunity
Use music as a lens for learning about history – Lloyd Miller (of The Deedle Deedle Dees fame) has just released a new Civil War-themed album filled with traditional and original music. Using a curriculum created by Miller, as well as a wealth of other resources, families can use music as an entry point for learning about an important time period in American history.
Glory, glory, hallelujah! Lloyd Miller‘s newest album offers opportunities for learning about the Civil War through the lens of music! Titled, Sing-a-long History, Vol. I: Glory! Glory! Hallelujah!, the album is filled with a mix of traditional songs from the late 19th century, historic pieces of writing set to original music, and Civil War-themed songs created just for the album. Overall, the album provides an engaging musical examination of many of the big ideas involved in studying the Civil War – abolition, the Underground Railroad, warfare tactics, and the experience of slavery. Simply adding the album to a family CD rotation would spark lyrics-based learning, but thanks to a handful of other resources, families and educators can use Miller’s album to spark experiential, multidisciplinary learning about the Civil War! Read the rest of this entry »
Dogs all over the world understand each other, instantly! This universal language can be found in music too, crossing cultures and facilitating communication without barriers. Knowing how to play music can cultivate a sense of cultural appreciation and connection, building a bridge of cooperation and joy between people without the need for spoken language.
I’ve been a professional musician for thirty years, but it wasn’t until I started collaborating with artists from other countries and cultures that I finally understood the old cliché that music is a “universal language.”
I’m currently recording an album of original songs for a new bilingual album called, Los Animales. Part of the fun of making the record is working with great musicians from different parts of Latin America. Yesterday I was in a studio in Los Angeles with my friend Mari Nobre, who is a wonderful Brazilian singer. Over lunch we started talking about the different sounds we have for the way dogs bark in English and Portuguese. While we say “woof woof,” in Brazil they make a sound like “au, au.”
This realization led to a conversation about how dogs all over the world understand each other instantly. We concluded that there’s a universal language of dogs, which enables dogs to communicate and interact instantly regardless of where they’re from. Read the rest of this entry »
I usually post videos and write about the songwriting process here in my column for Hilltown Families. But every once in a while I like to perform music by other artists! This month found me in Tuscon, Arizona, singing the holiday classic, “Feliz Navidad,” surrounded by beautiful catci.
The song was written and made famous by the great Puerto Rican singer and guitarist José Feliciano. One of the the things I’ve been focusing on over the last few years is writing songs in both English and Spanish. José Feliciano was one of the first artists to write bilingual songs and “Feliz Navidad” has been a holiday staple ever since it was first released in 1970.
What makes a song memorable? Is is the melody? The melody? The chord progression? The particular style of the singer and the musicians? For a song to become a classic, it’s really got to be a combination of all of those elements. Read the rest of this entry »
Innovative New Program Connects a Kid’s Developmental “Ear” To Musical Composition
A child’s relationship with sound is very profound and organic.
Young ears pick up on sound patterns before they even realize what they’re doing. From birth, our brains spend every day sorting through the sounds of the world around us, from human speech to footsteps, running water to radio static. Long after we’ve developed the ability to speak and interpret spoken language, humans continue to grow as listeners. As we get older, we hone our ability to hear patterns and to gather information about our surroundings based on the sounds that we hear.
One of the most sophisticated, pattern-related ways that we use our sense of hearing for is music. The patterns created by notes nestled amongst each other sound like, well, music to our ears! However, unlike language acquisition, learning to understand music isn’t something that necessarily comes automatically with repeated exposure. Music is complex, and many of its complexities lie in hearing patterns that most people don’t know to listen for. Read the rest of this entry »
Over the last few years, we’ve spent a lot of time touring around the US and Latin America. No matter where we go, we see kids playing video games and watching lots of television. Whatever happened to reading?! It’s not just kids, of course. All of us are spending more time in front of screens than we used to.
The songs I wrote for my new Mister G album, The Bossy E, are meant to reconnect kids with their innate love of learning and being creative. All of us love being transported by a great story. When I was a kid I used to stay up past bedtime reading under the covers with a flashlight. Does that happen these days? I certainly hope so.
Maybe I’m old-fashioned, but I think it’s a fundamentally different experience to read a book (and use your imagination to envision the characters), versus watching a movie (where everything is explained for you). Read the rest of this entry »
Miniature Paintings from 17th- and 18th- Century India Capture Moods of Music and Poetry at Williams College Museum of Art
Ragamala represents a dynamic intermingling of music, poetry, and painting in India. Ragamala is Sanskrit for a “garland of ragas,” which are unique musical compositions. Drawn from the museum’s rich Indian collection, this exhibition features sixteen ragamala paintings from the 17th and 18th centuries.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “A picture is worth a thousand words,” but what about a picture that illustrates those words… or even a song? How might you translate the mood evoked by an instrumental song into a picture, painting, or even a poem?
Between the 16th and 19th centuries in India, a classical Indian musical tradition called a raga, took on a new characteristic that did just that. A raga, which translates roughly from Sanskrit into beauty, melody, and color, is similar to a musical scale: a selection of musical notes arranged specifically to convey, or color, a mood; discrete ragas are used to represent specific times of day and/or seasons. These complex, richly textured melodies inspired poets to create poems based on the moods they evoked. Artists then transposed these poems and melodies into paintings that visually convey the moods, events, and seasons represented by each raga and poem, and often include a few lines from the associated poem.
The Williams College Museum of Art will have a ragamala–a set of these miniature paintings–on display between September 27, 2014 through January 4, 2015. Sixteen miniatures from the museum’s notable Indian art collection will be on view. Read the rest of this entry »
Sounding Space Experience Beautifully Dissects Masterpiece
Visitors to the Mead Art Museum in Amherst, MA, are now surrounded, not just by art, but by the music of Franz Schubert (1797-1828), in a sound installation that opens Tuesday, Aug. 26, and runs until Sunday, Sept. 28, 2014. This special installation features a five-channel recording of the slow movement from Schubert’s Cello Quintet (1828), played by the Brentano String Quartet and Michael Kannen, director of chamber music at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University. The quintet’s second movement, approximately 16 minutes long, plays once every half hour.
Special Sound Installation Featuring Schubert’s Cello Quintet at Mead Art Museum in Amherst, MA.
Five speakers are arranged in an oval configuration in the Mead’s Rotherwas Room, the ornately carved seventeenth-century English room that serves as a gallery, event and performance space, and reading room. Each speaker is dedicated to one instrument from the ensemble, which includes two violins, viola, and two cellos. Read the rest of this entry »
Reading Supports the Development of a Creative Mind!
Reading requires imagination and can inspire creativity.
I was a lucky kid: my mom was a children’s book author and illustrator and I grew up surrounded by books. For years, my mom and I had a weekly date at the library. I’d always check out the maximum number of books and couldn’t wait to get home to start reading. I loved everything, but my favorite stories were the really scary ones.
Not too much has changed over the years; I still have a stack of books on my bedside table and I still love learning about all sorts of things just by lying still and reading.
GUEST DJ, MORGAN TAYLOR OF GUSTAFER YELLOWGOLD EPISODE
Listen to Podcast:
Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am July 12th & 13th, 2014 WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio Northampton, MA
Featured Video: Our hero Gustafer builds a cakey robot with a surprising personality in another classic hand-drawn music video from Gustafer Yellowgold. Music and Art by Morgan Taylor. Co-produced and performed with Dean Jones. — www.gustaferyellowgold.com
Saturday from 9-10am & Sunday from 7-8am Jul 5 & 6, 2014 WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio Northampton, MA
Featured Video: How do you make a birthday cake from scratch? It helps to have a great sing-along song to make the process fun. The Indie Food Channel presents a music video called “Cake” set to a catchy original song by award-winning band Charity and the JAMband. www.jamjamjam.com. Directed by Sean Oughton
Ever since he was a little kid, Mister G has loved to read and make up stories. His parents read to him all the time and took him on weekly trips to the library. Looking back, he now sees that this love of books set the stage for his career as a songwriter.
In this month’s Under the Hat, Mister G and his mom, children’s book author/illustrator Karen Gundersheimer, reminisce about the role books and stories played in their household when he was growing up.
Hilltown Family Variety Show
Underground Railroad Episode
WXOJ LP – 103.3 FM – Valley Free Radio
Featured Video: “Follow the Drinking Gourd.” According to American folklore, this song was a “musical” map which led fugitive slaves north to freedom. For a history of the song, see www.followthedrinkinggourd.org.
As I write, I’m sitting in the Arizona desert surrounded by giant cactus and enormous mountains. For a songwriter from New England, it’s a lot like being in a candy store. The landscape, the people, the food, the music — everywhere I look there are fascinating things to see, touch, taste, smell and hear. Songwriters depend on their senses for inspiration and this year I’ve had more than my fair share of sensory stimulation. From performing in big cities and small villages in Mexico, to touring coast to coast around the United States, I’ve been fortunate to witness an amazing range of people and places… Read the rest of this entry »
Fast Forward: New Filmmakers
at Historic Northampton
In our modern society, most of us (even a lot of kids, and certainly many teens) are well aware of the effect that corporately-run big box stores have on small businesses, tightly knit communities, and local economies. Filmmaker Brendan Toller’s documentary, I Need That Record! The Death (or Possible Survival) of the Independent Record Store, tells the story of the national impact that big media, big business, and internet-based purchasing has had on a very specific part of our economy and our culture.
Focused on the sharp decline in independent record stores nationwide during the past decade, as well as media consolidation and changes in technology, the film features interviews with music industry greats such as Thurston Moore (iconic Sonic Youth frontman), the Talking Heads’ Chris Frantz, activist and author Noam Chomsky, and Pat Carney of the Black Keys. Toller weaves these interviews (and many more) together alongside staggering statistics about the state of the record industry and tales of media consolidation, homogenized radio, big box stores, and – most importantly – greed, in order to pay homage to the iconic indie record shop and to shed a bright light on the frustrating and destructive effect that corporate media has upon the record industry.
Families with older students can see I Need That Record! at Historic Northampton on Sunday, December 15th, 2013, at 3pm. Shown as part of Historic Northampton’s series Fast Forward: New Filmmakers at Historic Northampton, the screening presents a community based opportunity to examine one of today’s biggest economic and cultural issues through a unique lens. The film can help teens and tweens learn how to make good choices about where (and from whom) they choose to buy or access music, and makes the importance of supporting local businesses really hit home. Independent record stores, which can be a pop culture reference for specific sub-cultures, are often portrayed with an air of invincibility about them. They’re often portrayed in the media as being so against the mainstream that they’re unaffected by it; however, quite the opposite is true. The smaller, less represented parts of our culture are generally the most vulnerable – and record stores are not exception.
I’ve been traveling and performing around the world for many years, but singing my bilingual songs on a big stage in Mexico City or a little mountain village in Guatemala was the most fascinating and rewarding experience I’d had as a touring musician.
I started writing songs long before I learned how to play an instrument. My parents still tell stories about me banging on pots and pans and making up nonsense sounds with melodies before I could speak. You may have a kid like that too. Lots of kids love to experiment with rhythm and sound. It’s all part of the joy of using your imagination and creating something from nothing. It’s not that unusual, after all.
What’s unusual is to find someone who doesn’t love music. There’s a saying that music is the universal language. Over the last few years, I’ve learned some other wonderful lessons that have made me understand how true that old cliché really is. And the best part about the lessons I’ve learned is that they really happened by accident.
Here’s the story: my first CD, Pizza for Breakfast, came out four years ago. I’d been writing and performing for grown-ups for a long time, and I thought it would be fun to make a record for kids. The songs on Pizza for Breakfast were inspired by my former elementary school students at the Smith College Campus School in Northampton, MA. Shortly after the CD was released, my wife (Missus G) and I took a trip to Colombia in South America…
Have you ever stopped to think about how music was recorded? Or what decisions were made along to way to create the music you listen to?
Mister G takes us into his recording studio this month for a behind the scenes tutorial on how to mix music. It turns out that mixing music is a lot like mixing a cake; you have to start with good ingredients and then blend them together carefully.
Focusing on his bilingual song “ABC Fiesta,” we hear how the individual instruments (drums, bass, keyboards, guitars, vocals) sound by themselves, prior to Mister G mixing the various tracks.
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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Welcome to Hilltown Families, an online grassroots communication network for families living throughout the four counties of Western Massachusetts. Hilltown Families believes in creating resilient and sustainable communities by developing and strengthening a sense of place in our children and citizens through community-based education and engagement. We work to accomplish this by highlighting the embedded learning that is found everywhere in our communities, making the information accessible to families, and giving parents/educators access to opportunities that support their children’s interests and education while encouraging community engagement.
Hilltown Families was founded in 2005 by Sienna Wildfield and is a 501(c)3 non-profit organization.
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