Most people learn to sing a song by hearing it sung. When we were invited to run training sessions for educators in our preschool music methods, we were constantly being asked for vocals on the music tracks. People just wanted to know how that song went-with a voice! It was all very well to hear a song sung a couple of times in a day or a weekend training package, but what the trainees wanted was to have a take-home version of the song. Same thing happened when we tried selling our CDs to parents. We wanted the parents to sing the songs live with the backing tracks but they wanted to play the CDs in the car so the child could relive the music from that day’s music lesson. So the message was coming though loud and clear- get voices to sing those songs-we can’t cope!
And so began the third mammoth phase -recording vocal tracks for all those 471 backing tracks for the Musical Child project that had taken us-what?-five years! Eek, please let it not take quite that long!
Up to the mic steps the team and we record a Christmas album for the preschool age group and then another for the toddlers. We test these and -yes- it is the “bingo” factor. Our trainees are happy. They can learn the song from the vocal track and, once they feel confident, they can cheerfully sing it live with the backing track supporting them. They are also able to play the vocal tracks and the backing tracks during the day as part of their room soundscape and, as an unexpected result, they get the chance to see how individual kids react to the different kinds of track. Some respond to the sung tracks, some like the instrumentals. Some impromptu performances occur! And another surprise. Now they are given choice, some trainees decide that they prefer the challenge of working out how the song goes solely from listening to the backing track. They enjoy the challenge of working out when to jump in with the lyrics-much like a game of skipping rope.
We ourselves find the vocal tracks invaluable when we are under par- when our voices are strained or croaky through tiredness, illness or late nights in the karaoke bar.
So with the vocal tracks underway, we feel, at last, as though the project is in its final phase towards completion and we can begin to share it globally with confidence. But there are hundreds of them to record.
When you are singing live with the kids and they are enjoying your personality and commitment you can get away with not being the greatest singer alive. However, when it comes to making a permanent record, you need a voice with certain qualities of warmth, expressiveness and pitch accuracy over the whole range of the song. You also need to be a good story-teller. Michell Bown proved to be the perfect one to tackle the lion’s share of the vocal tracks. She is a great admirer of the Playschool presenters on Australian Kids TV. With generations of children’s performers in mind, she enjoys the challenge of imagining her community group in front of her as she peers at the lyrics through the microphone pop shield and interprets each song.
Mish had started working as a Musical Child educator in 2005 learning the program by working alongside me. She started her own group in Exeter (west of Adelaide, South Australia) and quickly built a loyal following. Her deep insight into the needs of trainees was forged when she ran a professional development program for a preschool in Osborne, Our Lady of the Visitation. That was followed by a joint three-day session we ran in Coober Pedy – a colourful opal-mining town in remote South Australia. Mish’s tolerance for working on a daunting task is amazing. Her desire to see the project through to completion has been an inspiration to me.
For a male presence, so necessary in early childhood education, I coerced Michael Cashen, my husband and co-performer in our preschool musical “Pirates Ahoy!” Michael has a rich voice that he has nurtured with radio training ( I’m still trying to get him to take up an offer of hosting a blues program on a community radio station) and a liberal supply of Gloria Jean’s creamy caramel lattes, although he will claim that it’s apple juice that improves voices.
Some of the songs I just had to sing myself because I loved them so- especially the quirky ones that sneaked into the program on days when Jan and I became inventive.
We are all inspired by legendary children’s performers who fascinated us in our childhood and beyond. Our intention is that a love of children will shine through the vocal performances and draw the listeners in, making them want to share these wonderful traditional songs with their own children-ultimately in their own voice. Learn to sing a new children’s song today! What about this hand action game My Pigeon House?