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Parenting archive at Kid’s Music Matters

Debbie and Friends Interview

April 19 2009

The following is a Debbie and Friends interview from a wonderful new Boston-based children’s music blog, Boston Children’s Music by Amber Bobnar. Anyone interested in learning about children’s music artists and related information should check it out. In addition, there are weekly updates on all of the Boston-area shows. Amber is providing a wonderful service for families. I am so pleased to have Debbie and Friends included!

Interview with Debbie Cavalier of Debbie and Friends

by Amber Bobnar on April 15, 2009

We took our son, Ivan, to see a wonderful Debbie and Friends performance at the Regent Theatre in Arlington on Saturday, April 11th.

Meeting Debbie after a Debbie and Friends concert.

Meeting Debbie after a Debbie and Friends concert.

A live Debbie and Friends show is a treat for the entire family. The band plays a variety of styles, from straight-ahead pop, to country, to rock, to reggae.

Kids are part of the show as the audience becomes the Big Bad Wolf and blows the house down, fixes Rosie’s wrong rhymes, and tests their skills with the Simon Sez Song. Like everyone’s favorite teacher, Debbie connects with her audience and respects kids for the people they are, and her warmth is sincere and her radiance downright contagious.

Kids love her energy, her sunshine, and the interesting array of musicians she brings to each show, including keyboard, all sorts of hand percussion, energetic and sometimes zany backing vocalists, saxophones, banjo, fiddle, flute, whistles—you name it.

We had a great time singing along with all our favorite tunes from Story Songs and Sing Alongs and after the show we had the chance to sit and talk to Debbie Cavalier about her music.

You can learn more about Debbie’s shows and CDs by visiting her website: www.DebbieAndFriends.net.

Boston Children’s Music: I hear you’re working on a new CD? Can you tell us about it?

Debbie Cavalier: We’re very excited about it! We’ve found that the whole concept of story songs really resonates with families and children so we’re going to keep that theme going. As was the case with Story Songs and Sing Alongs, this CD will contain songs representing diverse styles and instrumentation. There will be some guest artists on there as well!

The new CD will probably be called More Story Songs and Sing Alongs and one of the songs that we’re doing is “The Little Engine that Could.” We’re very excited about that one.

There are also a couple of songs that we do in the live shows like “Simon Sez” and “Rosie Wrong Rhyme,” that will be on the new CD. “Rosie Wrong Rhyme” is actually an old Shari Lewis tune. It’s the only one I’m putting on the CD that isn’t original. I had the opportunity to work with her back in the ’90s on songbooks and she really inspired me so I wanted to include a song of hers.

BCM: Do you have a release date?

Probably late Fall. We’re doing some recording next month for the first five songs.

I’m so lucky being at Berklee College of Music with all the wonderful musicians there contributing to our CD. We had forty-five musicians on the last CD, most of them from Berklee. It was great being able to just pull in this horn player, or that banjo player at a moment’s notice.

BCM: Speaking of Berklee, I know you are the Dean of Continuing Education there. Can you talk a little about what you do?

DC: Sure. The continuing education division provides Berklee curriculum and music education opportunities to musicians all over the world who can’t enroll in a full-time degree program at the college.

We run two main activities: Berklee Press, which publishes books and DVDs based on Berklee’s curriculum, authored by Berklee faculty; and Berkleemusic.com, Berklee’s online extension school that offers fully accredited semester-long online courses taught by Berklee faculty. It’s really a wonderful thing. A lot of people say, “How can you teach music online?” but it’s amazingly effective. We have songwriting, music business, guitar, production, arranging, orchestration courses, and much more available online.

Berkleemusic is the largest online music college in the world and has been awarded the “Best Online Course Award” by the Continuing Education Association for five years running.

Eric playing guitar at a Debbie and Friends concert.

Eric Saulnier on Guitar; Photo by Samantha Broadhurst.

BCM: How does being at Berklee benefit your band? How many band members are from Berklee?

DC: Mike Carrera, my producer, and Bill D’Agostino, our drummer, are both Berklee staff; Sue Lindsay used to work there, but now is working independently; and almost everybody playing on the CD is from Berklee.

I also have some incredible musicians playing live with Debbie and Friends who are not part of Berklee, including Rory McKenzie on bass, Liz Gould on percussion, Brian O’Neill on percussion, and Eric (Saulnier) Salt on guitar. Sometimes we have Adam Olenn on bass and Jeff Muzerolle on Drums (both Berklee staff). Each one of our band members bring so much energy and wonderful musicianship to our shows!

Everyone in the band really enjoys playing Debbie and Friends shows. It’s so refreshing for them to play for children. When you play for an adult crowd, you’re often just background music and people are talking over you, but when you perform for kids, they are with you and part of the show every second.

BCM: How about the kids’ voices on your first CD? There are a lot of kids talking, singing, cheering—who are they?

DC: We live in Watertown and we just happen to live on a street with a dozen kids who were all excited to be part of the CD. So, I just paraded everybody through my home studio to record a lot of the speaking and singing parts. That was a lot of fun.

My niece and nephews are on the CD as well. I really started this whole project because of my nephew Will. He told me the story of the Three Little Pigs one day with such enthusiasm that it sounded like sections of a song. It occurred to me that the Three Little Pigs story would make a great song, and it just grew from there. I began writing story songs and other music for children and have never looked back. The fact that Debbie and Friends started with my nephew Will makes it extra special to me. (And, whenever we play shows in Boston or Philadelphia, Will comes up on stage with his brother Ronnie and sister Rebecca to join us on a few songs. They and their brother Teddy are a constant source of inspiration for me!)

The main child vocalists that are on the CD are Amber and Aubrielle. They are the great nieces of Darcel Wilson (Berklee voice faculty who is featured on Love is a Family) and are wonderful singers. We had so much fun recording with them. They would come into the studio and we’d have pizza, and we’d record them and they just sang everything perfectly the first time through because they had spent a lot of time rehearsing with their Aunt Darcel.

Kids at a Debbie and Friends concert.

Simon Sez Hand Up!; Photo by Samantha Broadhurst.

BCM: Live performances are fun, but I imagine performing in a studio and putting together a CD is a lot of fun, too. Which do you prefer?

DC: My number one favorite thing to do is perform and interact with the kids and their families because I feel like we are all doing the show together. Every single song has something for them to do. I was a classroom music teacher for years and I think that as my career progressed and all these opportunities came my way I was pulled further and further away from interacting with children. I really love performing and interacting with kids‚ whether it’s with five or five hundred!

However, recording and working with Mike, my producer, is incredible because he really gets the whole children’s music thing and he’s so creative. We started working together on Debbie and Friends by accident, really. I invited him over to help me with my home studio a few years ago. While he was there, I played Three Pigs and a Wolf for him and he surprised me the next week with the whole Brooklyn wolf narration part. That was all his idea! I knew right away that we’d make a great team!

The creative process with him is really magical. I start with a song and he just takes it to a whole new level.

BCM: And often the songs on the CD end up being very different than the songs played live.

DC: Yes. When we first recorded the songs I hadn’t played them in a live setting at all. They’ve grown. I almost wish that we could record them now. I heard Faith Hill say once, that when you play a song live people expect you to do the CD version, but the songs continue to grow and change. It’s true. So I’m glad we didn’t record Rosie or Simon Sez so we could play around with them first.

BCM: You have a wonderful website, a great blog, and are active on facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. Can you talk a little bit about how you use the internet?

DC: I really enjoy leveraging all of the communication tools of the Web to stay connected with the fan families of Debbie and Friends. I’m blessed to work with the most amazing marketing and technology folks at Berklee who have advised me on Debbie and Friends’ Web presence along the way. The Vice President in charge of BerkleeMusic.com, Dave Kusek, wrote a book entitled The Future of Music and the Music Business and I’ve learned so much from him over the years. Music marketing expert Michael King has also taught me so much.

I am also really lucky to have the opportunity to work with Barkley Studios’ Robert Heath. He designed my Debbie and Friends logo (the Deb Head), built my web site and my blog, and created templates for me to work in to keep my web site content fresh and current. He always makes sure the branding is consistent and our look and feel is fun for kids.

My mentor in this is children’s music marketing guru Regina Kelland. She has advised me on the marketing side and has opened so many doors for Debbie and Friends.

BCM: Children’s music really seems to be very popular right now, why do you think that is? Why do so many parents want to share music with their kids and find music that isn’t “annoying” to adult ears?

DC: I believe that over the course of the past ten to fifteen years, parents have been more proactive in making music part of their children’s daily lives. Parents are finding ways to fill the void in schools where budget cuts have eliminated arts-related programs.

In addition, there is a tremendous amount of research readily available on music and the brain, and the important role the arts play in developing the “whole child.” These are among the factors that are driving parents to give their kids a musical experience, thereby populating children’s music concerts, music classes such as Kindermusik, and driving children’s music CD sales.

Regarding “annoying” music, I think all genres have been called that by one person or another. I think Parents are becoming more aware that sharing quality, age-appropriate music with their children is a special experience that resonates with the core of their being.

BCM: What advice would you have for someone looking to break in to the children’s music field?

DC: Go for it! But, only do it if you absolutely love children’s music and interacting with kids and family audiences. Children are the most discerning audience of all. If you are not genuine, they will know right away.

To break in, start performing locally and grow regionally, then nationally. Play at schools, libraries, festivals, and work towards theater shows. Establish a connection with your fan families from the start and nurture those relationships. Encourage families to sign up for your email list at each performance. Email newsletters are a great way to stay in touch. Make your web site a fun, dynamic destination and a place they want to frequent and explore together. Keep your concerts interactive and filled with active participatory experiences for the children and parents. Produce music that both parents and kids will enjoy.

Debbie and Friends.BCM:

Meeting with the fans; Photo by Keith Pierce.

You say it’s important to connect with your fans. How do you do that?

DC: I always try to make sure that I have a presence before and after the shows. I really like to meet the families who come to the shows. I love to hear anything they want to share, like a favorite song, and then I like to use that in the show to let them know how important they are in all of this.

They also give me wonderful ideas and remind me that it’s time for another CD! A little boy came up to me after our last show and said, “When are you coming out with another CD?‚” and I said, “Oh, very soon, we’re working on it, I think in the Fall,” and he just made a disappointed sigh. It was so adorable and great to get that kind of feedback and to know that they want more Debbie and Friends music now!

The internet is also a great way to connect. I have the email newsletter, and I always include a way for families to can email me directly. I try to encourage that kind of dialogue with parents.

Find a Family Concert Near You ‚ô´

March 10 2009

Great Sites for Family-Friendly Concerts Near Home

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Debbie and Friends in Concert

Often, at a Debbie and Friends concert, parents will ask me where they can find information about family-friendly concert in the area. The following is my top 5 Web sites for ‚ÄúDebbie and Friends‚Äù show information. I hope you find these sites to be useful resources for finding quality family-friendly music. Although these web sites are “Boston-centric,” you can find similar sites throughout most major metropolitan areas in the US.

gocity

Go City Kids
This is a national service with dozens of city-specific Web sites. They send out a weekly email blast as well, highlighting some of their favorite activities for the week.

bostonchildrensmusic

Boston Children’s Music
This is a wonderful new resource developed by parents for parents. It’s the only one I know of that is 100% devoted to music. Every time I visit the site, there is a new feature and increased functionality. It just keeps getting better and better. They are really doing things right!

bostonfamilylife

Boston Family Life
Family-friendly activites in the greater Boston area.

parents paper

Boston Parenthood
Parenthood.com supports and empowers moms and dads as they face today’s choices and challenges, throughout all stages of parenting. Parenthood.com connects them to the up-to-date and relevant information, resources, community, products and services they need to raise healthy, happy children. The calendar sections is a great resource for local concerts.

bostoncentral

Boston Central
Highlights fun activities for families in the Greater Boston and New England Area.

Bang on the Drums All Day! Part 2

January 4 2009
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Now that you’ve made your own drums, let’s put them to good use with games and activities for the whole family.

Drum Games and Activities
Now that you’ve got your homemade drums, let’s put them to use! Here are six different kid-tested drum activities for the whole family.

1. Percussion Popcorn Game
One person (or a group) crouches down on the floor like popcorn kernels ready to pop. The leader plays a popcorn-popping rhythm on the drum: starting slowly with just a few popping beats. The kernels listen closely and try to jump up like popcorn on each beat. The leader can play faster and faster as the popcorn pieces jump all around. Take turns being the popcorn-rhythm maker (the leader) and popping kernels.

2. Rhythms All Around

Listen to the rhythms all around your world. Some rhythms are steady and some are free. Here are examples of some steady rhythms that can be found every day.
The windshield wipers of a car
The ticking of a clock
The clippety-clop of a horse walking

Here are some common free (or unsteady) rhythms.
Popcorn popping
Raindrops falling
Someone typing on a keyboard

What steady and free rhythms can you find together (inside or out)? Make a steady/free rhythm chart. Play the rhythms you hear on your drums together. Then, make up some of your own.

3. Secret Drum Code

There are lots of interesting facts about drums. For example, they are the oldest instruments known. Did you know that drums were used throughout the ages as a communication tool between different tribes in Africa? Different drum beats and patterns were used as signals, warnings, and messages. See if you can come up with special drumbeat patterns to communicate with each other. Make up your own secret drum code for, “Dinner is ready,” “I finished my homework,” and other ideas.

4. Let’s Go, My Team!
Four steady beats played over and over again: this is the beat used at many sporting events to cheer on the home team. Bring your drum the next time your family goes to a soccer or baseball game, and lead the crowd in a cheer: “Let’s Go Red Sox” (insert your team’s name). Get the crowd going with your homemade drums and team spirit. GO TEAM!

5. Play-Along Fun: Family Jam!
Play a steady beat as you sing along with some of your family’s favorite songs. Try “Twinkle, Twinkle,” “Five Little Monkeys,” “Mary Had a Little Lamb,” “Eency Weency Spider”… they all sound great! Then, try playing and singing along with your favorite recordings!

6. Sing-Along Fun: “Drum” the Clapping Parts for “B-I-N-G-O”
Your drum is a great instrument to use to fill in the “clapping” parts for game songs like “B-I-N-G-O.” Follow the instructions below and play the clapping parts on your homemade drum.

bingo

1. Sing the song as written.
2. Repeat the song and play your drum together on the letter “B.”
3. The third time, play your drum together on the letters “B” and “I.”
4. Continue until you play your drum together on all of the letters.
5. End by singing, “And Bingo was his name-O.”

I hope these activities inspired even more music-making ideas to share with your family. For now, I will leave you with a special percussionist’s knock-knock joke, dedicated to all the “drummers in the house.”

Knock Knock. Who’s there?
Ivana. Ivana who?
Ivana Bang on the Drums All Day!

Have fun with your homemade drums!

Your Child’s First Concert

December 27 2008
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Three “M”s to maximize the experience!

Do you remember the very first concert you attended as a child? Whether it was a symphony orchestra, a rock band, or a sing-along with your favorite children’s artist, your first-time concert experience was probably a memorable one. There is nothing like the sound of a live musical performance, the excitement of the crowd, and the connection felt between the performers and the audience. If you are getting ready for your child’s first concert, here are some fun things you can do—before and after the concert—to help make it an even more meaningful experience.

Prelude
Three “M”s, to focus on before the concert: Music, Milieu, and Manners.

1. Music: Getting to Know You!
The best way to maximize the concert experience is to listen to the music several weeks before the show. Buy the artist’s most recent CD and actively listen to it together. Familiarity is bliss! Although the saying isn’t an elegant one, it’s true. (Can anyone say “oldies” collections?) Take some time to help your child get to know the music she will be hearing at the concert. Dance to it, sing with it, and discover your favorite pieces together. Read stories or articles about the band or composer. Draw pictures of what the band might look like on stage performing. Your child will feel more connected to the overall concert experience if she’s gotten to know the music ahead of time.

Talk about the band, the musicians, and their instruments. What kind of group will it be? Is it a concert band, orchestra, jazz band, folk group? What are the names of the instruments will you be hearing? What instrument families do they belong to? What styles of music will the band be playing? Do you have other recordings in those styles? Listen to them together and compare.

2. Milieu: Here at last!
What is this place going to be like? Talk about the concert/theater setting. It is a very different place for first-time concertgoers. Explain that there will be musicians on stage. They will be playing and singing through microphones that are connected to a sound system with speakers. Explain that the sound system enables vocalists to use their regular singing voices and still be heard by everyone in the audience; even the ones seated way back in the last row.

In addition to the sound system, talk about the show’s lighting system. The lights will project different colors on stage to support the songs. Speaking of lights, be sure to share that they will probably flicker on and off when it’s time to be in your seats, and they will dim as the show begins.

Talk about who you will see on stage. (conductor, instrumentalists, singers) Who will you interact with before the show? (ticket-taker, the usher, the snack vendor) Explain that there will be other people there to see the show sitting in front of you, behind you, and on either side of you. Being aware of the surroundings ahead of time will help your child to relax and enjoy the show.

3. Manners: Excuse me, Pardon me, Excuse me…
Talk to your child about concert-specific manners known as “concert etiquette.” The time to clap, for example, varies by the style of music being performed. Some of us have learned the hard way that you don’t clap in between movements of a classical piece, but in a jazz concert, you clap in the middle of the song each time an instrumentalist finishes a solo. Talk about what’s appropriate for the concert you’ll be attending. There are other concert etiquette considerations such as when it is ok to talk and move about. Will there be an intermission? What is a standing ovation? Why does the band come out and play another song after they’ve already said goodbye? The more your child knows about the rules of the concert game, the more comfortable she’ll be, and the better the overall experience.

Postlude: The Reviews Are In!
Once the show is over, it’s time to put on your critics hats and review the performance together! Talk about your favorite part of the show. Was there a least-favorite part? Were there any surprises in the show? Would you recommend the concert to your friends? Why or why not? Compare/contrast the concert to the recordings you listened to at home weeks before the show. How was the live performance different from the recorded version? Which did you like better? Why?

I hope these tips help you to maximize your child’s first concert experience. Studies show that experiences in music are important to developing the whole child. Attending musical performances are an important part of those experiences, and so much fun to share together.

Enjoy the show!

Family Music Activites, Part 3

December 11 2008
IMG_3071

Here is the third installment of some fun family music activities to share. Enjoy!

Rhythms All Around
Car wiper blades, heartbeat, washing machine, dryer, clocks, raindrops, etc. Help your child to listen for the rhythms of the sounds all around. Talk about the sounds you’ve found together that have a steady rhythm, and sounds you’ve found that have an unsteady rhythm. Play examples of steady and unsteady rhythms for each other using instruments, pots and pans, or even clapping hands.

Musical Listening
Listen to music together and ask your child about the sounds he/she hears. Is it high/low (pitch), fast/slow (tempo)? What instruments do you hear? Is the singer a male, female, or child’s voice? Try this activity using all different kinds of styles of music. Look for similarities and differences across styles. Have fun discovering music together.

Live Performances
Go to concerts, recitals and other musical performances—including performances with Debbie and Friends—whenever possible! Check out GoCityKids.com for local listings.

Family Music Activies, Part 2

December 11 2008
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Here are some more family music activities to share.

Name that Tune
Hum the first several notes of a familiar song and challenge each other to guess the song. Give clues: Is the familiar song about an animal, a holiday, or something up in the sky? Take turns being the singer.

Hide and Go Play
The listener stands in the kitchen. The player takes a drum or shaker into another room of the house and plays some beats. The listener has to guess what room the player is in by the way the beats sound. Take turns.

Make Instruments
Drum: Fill a coffee can, oatmeal carton, or other large cylinder with dried beans to make a snare drum. Use wooden spoons as drum sticks.

  • Shaker: Fill and empty plastic bottle or film canister with dried beans or popcorn kernels.
  • Kazoo: Cover one end of an empty toilet paper roll with wax paper, fasten with a rubber band and hum through the open end to make a kazoo.


Family Music Activies, Part 1

December 10 2008

Here are some fun ways to add music making to your family’s day. This is the first of a three-part series.

rwc

Sing Together
Studies show that a parent’s voice is a young child’s favorite sound. Sing with your child every day, and don’t worry about how you think you sound!

Make Up Your Own Songs (Parodies)
Make up new words to familiar songs together. You can try songs about a pet, friends, family, the morning routine, school, putting toys away, or anything at all.

Name that Sound Game

Play a typical sound from the kitchen and have your child identify the sound while listening from the next room. You can play sounds that are as easy as running water, or as challenging as pouring cereal into a bowl.

Kids and Parents Sharing A Musical Experience

November 9 2008
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Uploaded with plasq’s Skitch!

I feel like the luckiest person in the world when performing a Debbie and Friends concert. This past weekend, my trio had the great honor to perform for 300+ kids, parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and friends at the Needham Public Library in Needham, MA. It was an incredibly moving experience! Everyone was singing and clapping and making music together. Here is a link to some pictures.

Music is important part of a child’s development, and sharing music with family is a powerful, wonderful bonding experience.

I really do feel lucky to be able to share in those experiences through Debbie and Friends!

Families
Uploaded with plasq’s Skitch!

Roger H. Brown on Music for Children

November 2 2008

Roger H. Brown, President of Berklee College of Music, shares his thoughts on the importance of music for child development, cultural awareness, communication, and family connections.

    Story Songs and Sing Alongs CD

    Winner of nine national awards including Parents' Choice, Dove Foundation, and iParenting Media. Debbie and Friends is Kid's Music that's All Grown Up! Learn More