The local 'kindie' music scene has exploded in recent years, with more artists doing more creative work and more venues in which to experience the music.
Are you taking advantage of the lively and diverse children’s music scene our area offers? The vast landscape of sound may seem intimidating or even mysterious to those who don’t know where to start. To help you out, local artists, parents, and managers of performance venues offered us their insights into hearing sweet tunes with your family. With this information, you’ll be all set to sample the New York metro area’s thriving “kindie” music scene. (Yes, that’s what they call it—think “kids” plus “indie.”)
“Most of the big cities around the country have a kindie scene,” says Darren Critz, director of Performing Arts Programs at Manhattan’s Symphony Space. “A lot of it really grew out of New York.”
Kindie music has gained momentum in the past 10 years, Critz says. It is generally defined as music that is independently created for children, as opposed to that which is corporately manufactured. The sound can range in its leanings from folk and rock to punk and pop.
Critz selects a wide variety of bands from both in and out of New York to play at Symphony Space each year. He also ensures that his 8-year-old daughter is an audience member at myriad concerts so she gains listening experience among the many genres featured. “Parents are much more willing to expose their kids to different kinds of music than they are themselves,” he says.
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Luckily for local families, there are tons of new bands to discover all the time. “It’s a super vibrant scene,” says Beth Blenz-Clucas of Sugar Mountain PR, which represents popular children’s artists such as Tim Kubart, Suzi Shelton, and Hot Peas ‘N Butter.
And because artists are able to easily promote themselves these days, Blenz-Clucas says, “There’s a wider variety of interesting children’s music available now.”
One of the unique local music makers is the Grammy-nominated duo The Pop Ups. Jason Rabinowitz and Jacob Stein create music with the intent to get people moving.
“We always wanted to feel like we were at an ’80s dance party,” Stein
performance art to second-grade theater.”
When it comes to songwriting, The Pop Ups are inspired by education and the concept of unstructured play.
“We’ve been able to follow our sounds wherever our imagination can go,” Stein says, “I think the important thing for us is to make sure we’re not talking down to the kids, and we’re making music that we enjoy.”
This ensures adults can become fans, too, as does the bold imagery present in live The Pop Ups shows.
“Kids and adults really respond to visual things,” Stein says, “We’ve always just loved puppets and props. It allows us to tell stories visually, as well as with the music.”
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It’s impossible to talk about kids’ music without mentioning the much-loved Laurie Berkner Band, nationally known but locally based. Its leader, Laurie Berkner has been called “the queen of children’s music” for good reason. Berkner, who lives in Manhattan and has an 11-year-old daughter, is a regular at well-known area venues, and her shows are jam-packed with families full of fans.
“To me, it’s important to have songs where the kids are very involved in it,” Berkner says, “whether that’s through movement, or singing along, or rhythmic play, or even if it’s just an emotional involvement.”
Berkner drums up ideas for her music by listening to kids talk and by drawing upon her own childhood memories and interests. “I feel like when I’m writing the song, I’m thinking about the kids,” she says, “When I’m actually recording it, I think about what I would like to listen to as an adult musically. When you put those two things together, that hopefully means there’s music a whole family would listen to together.”
Berkner says the scene in New York is “very full and rich right now. It feels like more and more people are realizing [that kindie music offers] a wonderful way to be expressive.”
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One of the greatest ways to get involved in the local music scene is to ask other parents about it, Berkner says. Moms and dads should also check family magazines, blogs, online parenting groups and websites, and libraries for show listings and band recommendations. Then, simply stop by a concert or a music program in person.
“It’s wonderful that we have all these different options for our kids,” Brooklyn mom Nicole Cullinane says. She doesn’t have to go farther than just a few blocks from her home to encourage her baby’s developing musical tastes.
“Once you go to a concert and see how much more you’re able to interact with your kids and how much fun they’re having, it becomes contagious, and you want to do it more,” Critz, of Symphony Space, says.
Even the distinguished Carnegie Hall recognizes the positive effects a live performance can have on a child and presents programs, including its free concert series Carnegie Kids, to encourage kids to embrace music.
“We’ve been lucky enough to feature some really fun groups,” says Carnegie’s Director of Family Programs Elizabeth Snodgrass.
The bands, she says, play songs that center on themes that are both realistic (bullying or preparing for the school day, for instance) and imaginative (talking stars and a mouse that lives in a man’s beard). The music “really ties into the creativity and curiosity that children are naturally born with and speaks to them in a way that makes sense,” Snodgrass says.
Carnegie Hall also hosts Family Weekends, during which youngsters are invited to write their own songs and build instruments, as well as affordable Family Concerts that feature outstanding artists.
In the same vein of musical promotion, the 92nd Street Y hosts an interactive concert series for children ages 3-7. Titled Baby Got Bach and led by pianist Orli Shaham, the programming offers little ones the opportunity to use instruments and engage in performances.
Shaham, who believes the children’s music scene in New York has tremendously improved in the last few years, says, “I feel that people are taking more seriously the fact that kids really should be exposed to live music at a young age. I think parents should keep in mind that no child would ever consider becoming a music lover, let alone a musician, without being exposed to music.”
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The following video features the band Hot Peas 'N Butter, singing the song "Amistad" from its new album Put Our Heads Together . The song is a collaboration between Danny Lapidus of Hot Peas 'N Butter and musical colleague and friend Dan Zanes.
Image at top of article: The Pop Ups in concert. Credit: Brian McCarthy. Laurie Berkner photo credit: Todd Owyoung.