Thursday, September 18, 2014

Educators Who Care, Share: Singers, Sites & Songs from the Heartland Part III: From the Midwest & Great Lakes Regions

Special Note: This is Part III in a series, dedicated to the mission of listening locally. Links to the first two posts, as well as my other Pre-K and K Sharing tomes, are listed at the bottom of this article. In a few months, I’ll turn my attention to the West Coast. Stay tuned!

Hello, everyone. Ms. Brigid here, from Merit School of Music  in Chicago, IL. Thank you for joining me.  

This post takes up where my August 18, 2014 entry, Educators Who Care, Share: Singers, Sites & Songs – Part II: Midwest & Great Lakes, left off. Part III continues the mission of listening locally – and highlights musicians from the Midwest and Great Lakes region who write or perform for the EC population, though some also write for and work with older children. Many are teaching artists, conduct residencies, and present workshops. Some are published authors. All are musical treasures. I’m only including artist’s whose work I use consistently. Sound sample links are provided, if available. Please remember that this list is intended to be a gateway and is in no ways exhaustive.

Bruce O'Brien
Bruce O’Brien, WI
About: It’s fitting that I begin with Bruce O’Brien. A decade or so ago, I went to my first national CMN conference in Wisconsin, not knowing a soul.  Bruce, a big-hearted Wisconsin native, welcomed me warmly – and set the tone as I navigated the new terrain, meeting people from around the U.S., gathering a treasure trove of new songs, and raising my voice with the glorious gathering. 

Classroom Faves:
At that long ago conference, the song that made the most impact was Owl Moon, inspired by Jane Yolen’s book of a father and daughter going out “owling” – looking for owls – on a bright, cold, winter night. Bruce co-wrote the song with his five-year old daughter. Because it was so long ago, I’m not sure if Owl Moon was part of a Round Robin – where attendees share songs, one after another aural treasure spinning out into the night - or if the song spontaneously erupted - in eight part harmony - from the gathering. For a brief, enchanted spell, as the music swirled round us, I was… we all were… transported to a sacred, sonic landscape. It was so deeply affecting, that I reconsidered changing my negative

opinion of winter. Of course, that impulse passed swiftly, but I immediately purchased the book upon returning home. I have sung the song ever since with my kiddos – Pre-K, K and up through Third Grade, as well as my parent-child classes. ASL (signing) is a great addition. I must admit that I abridge the text slightly, and add the song in the appropriate places as the story progresses. Please don’t tell Jane Yolen. Authors can be fussy about that sort of thing. BTW, Ms.Yolen is a fan of the song.

Of Note:
Owl Moon, on Bruce’s CD One in the Middle, is hard to find these days – but it’s worth a try since it contains other memorable songs to sing along with and listen to. Luckily, musician and storyteller Jack Pearson has recorded the song on his fine CD, To All Purple Tree TrunksAnna Stange, below, also has recorded it on her CD: Miss Anna’s Music Class: Volume II.  

 Tom Pease. Stuart Stotts, WI 
Stuart Stotts (in purple) & Tom Pease (in blue)
About: How to start, and more to the point, how to do justice, separately and together to these two phenomenal talents and devoted friends? As individuals, their light shines brightly, but together, they’re a supernova, the perfect foil for each other’s quirks, deep thoughts and unique – and rollicking – senses of humor. Both are consummate musicians and songsmiths. It’s impossible to write about one without the other. Tom is the heart and Stuart, the soul. In preparation for this post, I wrote each of them, and asked them about their relationship as songwriters and friends. Their response: 

Tom: "Stuarts songs reflect how very well he listens to every child...nay, every person. The world is a kinder place with folks like him working with children. Is that okay?  Or this: Haiku de Stotts:
Encounter Stuart / Find ears wide open to all / Gathering the tunes"                                                                                                                                               
Stuart: "As for me and Tom, here's how I see it. Tom is the greatest kids performer I know, and I've seen a lot of them. I'm a good songwriter, a decent performer, and a very good professional development leader. I'm also an author. Tom and I do some residencies together, maybe 20 days a year. We write some songs together, particularly for young kids. Usually I write those and he helps finish them. I don't mean to minimize that. He has a great sense for the last 15 percent, which is where I'm weakest. I also write a lot of songs on my own….We have two recordings together.
We are incredibly close friends."

Classroom Faves: The CD I primarily draw from is Everybody Started Out Small. To this day, my college student daughter and I spontaneously break into 8 Hugs a Day when we’re hugging each other. We’re Gonna Shine is a beautiful affirmation, and a lovely way to end the day or a class.  The chorus lends itself to echoing. Their version Tue Tue, from Ghana, is clear and easily learned. Movin’ On To First Grade, a delightful, celebratory Kindergarten song, can be easily customized. My K students relish this song. So Many Ways to Be Smart, a very smart song, should be adopted as the theme song for both the American Federation of Teachers (AFT) and the National Education Association (NEA).

Of Note: Both Tom and Stuart are generous and approachable. They also write scores of new verses to their songs during their school residencies - great fun! Lyrics are on their websites. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention they both have solo recordings. Stuart has written several books and is a Kennedy Center artist. Read more on his website. A final note:  Stuart’s blog posts are a pure pleasure to read. He often debuts new songs that are a perfect fit for the EC classroom. His latest post is about –wait for it! – Tom Pease!

 Gari Stein, MI
Gari Stein
About:Gari Stein is a musician, teacher, writer and thinker who has synthesized her degree(s) in Psychology/Child Development and Dance with music research from diverse modalities to create beneficial and holistic early childhood programs. She also is the founder and director of Music for Little Folks. Her commitment to the field of early childhood music and development are evidenced by the rich resources she provides through her website, including Research, Articles and Activities, Michigan Read! Resource Guide, which… “is chock full of information on Early Childhood Literacy, The Role Music Plays in Promoting Early Childhood Literacy and Connecting with Literacy – Birth to 2nd Grade,” and a series of articles authored by Stein, starting with 
Nurturing Baby & You: More Than the Music. Her book, The More We Get Together. Nurturing Relationships Through Music, Play, Books and Art, includes “over 300 resources and activities, photographs and FREE travel CD with 53 songs for Tots to 8s.” It’s a treasure – and received the 2009 Children’s Activity award from USA Book News National Best Books.

Of Note: In addition to the great resources she provides, Gari Stein has  many delightful YouTube videos. They will make you happy – and your kiddos will be delighted as well!

Anna Stange
Anna Stange, IL
About: You might find Anna Stange teaching a parent-child class, in a school making instruments out of recycled materials, hiking on the Appalachian Trail, or giving a concert at a local folk festival or at the 
far corners of the world collecting songs. She’s a unique and energetic force in folk music, and luckily has made a number of engaging recordings for the early childhood classroom, accompanied by guitar, banjo, dulcimer and autoharp. Her wide repertoire is made up of American heritage, composed and multicultural songs. 
Classroom Faves: One can never have too many good compilations of children’s music, and Anna has made two I recommend: MISS ANNA'S MUSIC CLASS: a pre-primer for little folkies (such a great name!) and Miss Anna’s Music Class: Volume II. Both have 28 tracks, with many early childhood standards to enliven your classroom or home.

Of Note: Keep an eye out for Anna at your library, school or folk festival! Her schedule features not only what she’s doing and where she’s going, but  local, regional and even international music events!

Barb Tilsen
About: If deep, golden, honey could sing, it would sound like the voice of Barb Tilsen. There’s nothing like the warm, enveloping hug of her voice. Her CD, Make a Circle Like the Sun, is an aural feast, full of gorgeous harmonies and instrumentation, and a expressive voice like no other.

Classroom Faves: Perennial favorites Rhyming Time and Make a Circle Like the Sun, a circle dance embellished by flittering violin, are both written by Tilsen. But wait, there’s more - including Patty Gille’s jazzy confection, Red Yellow Orange and Brown, perfect for dancing to with scarves, and Bill Wellington’s deliciously funny and much requested There’s a Dog in School!  Dave Orleans Save Some Trees is on my 2014-15 “to do” list. It’s a great echo song– and the message is important without being preachy.

Of Note: Barb is not only close to my heart because she is Barb and a Minnesotan (as am I, though displaced), but also because she sings books. She has shared many of her favorites with members of The Children's Music Network. In fact Barb, Mike Eppley, (a musician extraordinaire and children’s librarian from northern California, who, with wife, Anjaline, does a magical weekly storytime), and I compiled a Music & Literacy in the Early Elementary & Pre-K Classroom Booklist, which can be found on the members' pages. At the 2012 CMN International Conference, she wowed attendees with her musical version of Mem Fox’s Where is the Green Sheep? I hope a second CD will be made in the near future with that recording on it! (Barb?)

I am continually inspired by The Children’s Music Network (CMN) community. an international group of socially conscious musicians, educators, librarians, families, songwriters and good people, who “celebrate the positive power of music in the lives of children by sharing songs, exchanging ideas, and creating community.” Please visit CMN, and find a gathering in your region.

©2014 Brigid Finucane  * 847-213-0713 *

Blog History: December 2013 – Present


  1. Brigid thank you as always for your wonderful ideas and in depth thoughts!!

  2. Brigid - love your post again! Your writing has such a warmth to it - "If deep, golden, honey could sing, it would sound..." It's wonderful!


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