(A rare posting by Todd)
One of my pet peeves as a father and as someone who values the arts is the way that so much pablum and nonsense gets waived in front of our faces in the name of entertainment. As our society has become increasingly driven by consumption - that is, everything has become commodified so that it is pushed to be bought or sold - we have had our senses dulled for quality art and we have learned to settle for a rather low bar for what passes as art. What’s worse is that we have become more accustomed to accept "art" as entertainment instead of something that we participate in, learn from, and get inspired by. It’s as if we were all sedated and our minds were re-wired to swallow the shallow and mindless poor quality art as a means for turning off our minds and especially our own creative imagination. Of course, this dulls the emotions as well. Thus, entertainment has replaced art, where entertainment equals passive, mindless emotional appeasement.
For this reason and a few others, I have a nauseous reaction to almost all forms of children’s music that I hear these days. There’s something deep in me that acknowledges that while children’s ears might perk up to different style of music, there ought to be some level in which really good children’s music also appeals to the adult imagination as well. However, this adult appeal isn’t my main issue. My bigger concern is how something called children’s music might have the capacity to enhance my kids’ lives. Does it have the ability not to merely entertain, but more importantly, to draw my child in and open up her mind to creativity and reflection in a way that causes both wonder and enrichment? I know, I know, it’s a whole lot to ask of something as simple as children’s music. And the truth is there is almost none of this happening in the mainstream these days. But every once in a while something comes along that bucks the system, and we get something that is truly wondrous and engaging and, yes, fun.
That has happened recently with a new double CD by Natalie Merchant called Leave the Sleep - click READ in lower left to learn about the project. (I’ve been a fan of N.M. since her days with the 10,000 Maniacs, so I was already predisposed, you might say.) When Holli’s mom was visiting a couple of weeks ago, she brought us a copy of Leave the Sleep, and we haven’t stopped listening to it. According to the liner notes, Merchant decided to draw on the classical children’s poetry that her daughter has enjoyed in her first several years. Additionally, the recordings cover a range of ethnic styles of music giving you an Americana-immigrant feel. And these tunes tap into the lyrically rich poetry in a way that makes you want to listen to the music more intently and to dig up the poetry itself. But perhaps the most compelling thing about Merchant's creative artistic concept is that it’s simply very good music that makes the ears and the mind happy.
In addition to the CD itself, Natalie Merchant’s website has a nice interactive framework for learning about the project, listening to selections from the CD, and even for reading the poems themselves which inspired the songs (click READ, WATCH, LISTEN). We highly recommend this CD. Oh, and I should also say that our daughter’s favorite tune is “The Dancing Bear” - she would want you to know that.