One of my favorite recordings ever is the Langley Schools Music Project — which I loved long before I ever had kids. And now I have a personalized version of it — except instead of elementary kids in the 1970s, this is my kid and her friends singing classics like “Peace Like a River” and “With My Own Two Hands” with so much emotion and knowing, it’s like a punch in the gut. Listening to it, I’m reminded not only of the power of song, but that kids are capable of so much more than we give them credit for. They may be little, but their emotional lives aren’t — whether they are yucking it up on a song called “Diaper Rash,” or going deep (and singing in Hebrew and Arabic) on “Od Yavo Shalom Aleinv.” I’m in love with this record, not just because it features a kid I love, but because it’s not cute, it’s moving, with sadness and loneliness as well as laughter and joy. Hans Fenger, who was the music teacher behind the brilliant Langley Schools Music Project, apparently had no idea about what “children’s music” was, so he taught the kids popular songs they liked, such as Bowie’s “Space Oddity,” and the Beach Boys’ “Help Me, Rhonda,” Fenger later said of the recording: “Whether the results were good, bad, in tune, or out was no big deal—they had élan . . .” What a great description and an amazing appreciation for what kids can do and be—neither good nor bad nor happy or sad, but something bigger than those dichotomies, tiny people with soul (with élan!) that can belt out the best of Bowie and old spirituals as well as a song about being a pizza. Now that’s range, and I’m totally rocking to it right now, even as it breaks my heart.
It’s not Joy Division or The Smiths or even Johnny Cash or Dolly Parton; the songs that make me cry right now are on a super limited-edition recording (I know because we burned them all on my computer) of my kids’ preschool class singing along with Rob and Steve, two musician dads who led them in a riotous music session once a week for the last year. I never guessed my favorite CD would be a compilation of kids singing, but with my oldest daughter making the move into kindergarten, this homemade CD captures this incredible moment of time, when kids scream out the words to “You Are My Sunshine” and “Go Down Moses,” and you feel like maybe someday everything really will be right with the world.
For Rockabye Baby’s interpretation of rock classics, give these a listen: