There is an old, Jewish joke that goes like this:
Teacher: If I were a Rockefeller, I’d be richer than a Rockefeller.
Random questioner for the purpose of the joke: How?
Teacher: I’d do a little teaching on the side.
Well, when it comes to the Seattle-based kids’ band, Recess Monkey, that particular joke gets turned on its head as Jack Forman, Daron Henry, and Drew Holloway, are, in fact, school-teachers – who release award winning children’s CDs (eight and counting!) on the side!
Their latest, the circus-themed In Tents drops on June 19, 2012.
But, first, the wacky trio is hitting New York City on Sunday, April 29 for a live show at the 92nd St. Y in Tribeca (200 Hudson St.) at 11 a.m.
We caught up with the band’s original member, Jack Forman, to find out what kids and parents can expect from a musical act made up of teachers, and how families can encourage their own children with similar passions!
NY Gifted Education Examiner: As both teachers and rockers, why would you say music is essential to any child’s development?
Jack Forman: Instead of citing research on music’s effects on development, we’d probably first and foremost point to how important music has been to each of us at all points of our lives. We each identified ourselves as musicians early in life, and have been surrounded by musical energy in one way or another as long as we can remember. Being exposed to music flipped a switch in us the way that it, or sports, or art, or anything else can for different kinds of kids. Daniel Coyle’s findings in The Talent Code, about prodigies having an almost irrational drive to pursue an interest, definitely resonated with us. Kids should be exposed to all kinds of things and encouraged to try them! On a completely different note, music is a really inclusive art form, particularly when it’s made or enjoyed in an interactive environment. Singing a song in a group can really help people feel like they’re part of a larger community, and learn a lot about the people around them. We think that’s a crucial part of how kids develop, and are honored to get to be the music that they sing along with!
NYGEE: How has being teachers influenced your work as musicians?
JF: Each of us in our crafts have worked to build a one-on-one relationship with our students, and to individualize our instruction so we’re more like coaches than professors. At first, it’s a hard balance: how do you teach a class while simultaneously connecting on a real, personal basis with everyone in the room? That craft took some time to adapt to what we do musically, but it’s very similar: we play shows to audiences, but try to connect with as many people as we can on a real, personal basis. Part of that is chatting with kids and parents before and after we play, but another part is being willing to take cues from people in the room and switch what we do on a dime. It’s exhilarating! We’re surrounded by kids on a daily basis, so don’t have to look far to see what’s making kids excited. I really think that there’s an album’s worth of material in each school day!
NYGEE: So is there educational stuff hidden (or not at all hidden) in your work?
JF: A lot of people make music about specific curricular areas, so we feel like there are already a lot of great options for families look for that. Instead we tend to focus on the social/emotional themes that we think are most important. Honestly, it’s our favorite thing to teach, and a very rich place to find ideas for songs. We have lots of songs about the social dynamics involved in making (or keeping) friends, the life of the playground, and a wide array of discoveries, themes and wonderings that populate kids’ minds every day. We balance these themes with good old fashioned silliness.
NYGEE: Why a circus theme for your latest CD?
JF: We started talking about it on tour a couple of summers ago, laughing about how ubiquitous of a theme it is in young childhood education. The more we talked about it, the more we fell in love with how transformative the idea of a traveling circus really is: there’s a lot of mystery and excitement about the circus coming to town, and every kind of act and emotion. We also had become friends with the wonderful Dean Jones who produced the album and played on every track. He’s an extremely talented and funny musician and simply a kindred spirit- the energy as we made the record was completely in line with what you’d see in a big top!
NYGEE: But, it’s not just a CD. There’s also a story booklet that comes with it! How do you see them working together?
JF: We actually conceived the album as the soundtrack for the album artwork: so strange! Usually it’s the other way around, but we liked the cinematic quality of the images and imagined them as a two dimensional movie. Our friend Kevin Fry is an extremely talented photographer who helped us realize the vision, and the photos really reflect the rich experience of being at a circus. There’s a lot of detailed and quirkiness and just downright fun! The booklet tells the story of how we may have discovered the circus, and we finally got the chance to play the part of our own doppelgangers!
NYGEE: What can families expect from a Recess Monkey live show? What do you hope kids will walk away with?
JF: We work in lots of opportunities for kids to connect to each song – singing, dancing, joke telling and laughing – and work hard to make even people brand new to our band feel right at home. We intentionally play on low stages (or none at all) to further remove the separation between performer and audience: we really want kids to feel like they’re an integral part of what’s happening, not just watching. We hope they walk away wanting to start their own band!
Get a sneak peek of their music and get to know Recess Monkey on their official website: http://www.recessmonkeytown.com/
Get tickets to their NYC appearance at: http://www.92y.org/Tribeca/Event/Recess-Monkey.aspx