Ugh. McDonalds. My husband, our preschooler, and I just finished a road trip from Park City, Utah, where we were attending a music festival. While having time together was fun, the drive there was, let’s just say, meager in terms of food options.

However, no matter what highway you take, you can always see those golden arches. And those golden arches know how to get you to stop at their franchises by having indoor playgrounds. This may not sound like much, but when you are driving hundreds of miles through the Nevada desert such attractions are a heralded oasis for a family with young ones stuck in a car for far too long. Even those of us that buy organic religiously can be caught sneaking in a Big Mac as our rug rats climb the walls, hopefully wearing themselves out enough to take a nap as soon as they’re back in the car.

So what does this have to do with writing music for kids? Well, McDonalds knows that if you get the kids interested in your product they will stay with you virtually all of their lives. Just think if we could pull that off with new music.

The alternative rock group They Might Be Giants figured out a way to get kids into their music and also draw a larger audience base. They put out a really great CD called Here Come the ABCs. On it are tracks with hip songs about the alphabet, songs that both adults and kids would enjoy if given the chance. Well, it is a hit. But how did it get there? First, the band’s loyal fan base, old enough to have young kids of their own, found the CD and passed the word around about it. Then, the teacher scene got a sniff and…poof! Now every preschool I know of has a copy. Indeed, it is not just rock aficionados that are buying this little gem for their tots. We found out about it from a top conductor and his wife.

So, back to us. How can we find some way of having new music stick to kids in such a fashion so they never shake it off? Can we recontextualize microtonal music into an adventure for elementary schoolers? Are we able to make electronic music par for the course in middle school music classes? And how do we do it in such a way as to make a lasting effect? How can we utilize fast food tactics and re-tool them to work for the better good: that of creating interest in quality music for children to both hear and play?

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NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

4 thoughts on “McMusic?

  1. brett

    Re: McMusic
    Picking up on your comment about microtonal music… seems like it’d be easy to use principles of microtonality to help teach kids about fractions, rational and irrational numbers and so on at the same time they’re learning fundamental musical principles. Once their ears are sensitized to natural intervals, maybe they’ll be more receptive to just intonation and other contemporary (and even authentic pre-equal tempered) sounds.

  2. JKG

    Kids learn very quickly when they’re interested in something, plus it helps if its something they can relate to, understand, and make good use out of it. Getting kids to play with neat rhythms is pretty easy, but getting them accustomed to any sort of harmony or melodic system outside of the tonal cultural framework they’re used to would be a daunting task at best. On that note, imagine that some of them later in life will not necessarily become musicians, but will generally relate to music which speaks to them in ways that culturally make sense. The only children I think you’d have any success introducing modern techniques to would be those “children” who arrive as undergraduate freshman, loaded with their parents’ savings towards a college degree, and both the ego and desire to become pro musicians.

    It is conceivable that electronic music might be fun for say, fifth graders, to experiment with, and it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if some of their stuff sounded just as “sophisticated” as the work of some gifted graduate student. That is the very nature of academic music nowadays – the only standards imposed are towards a genaral tendency towards abject freakishness posing as “originality.”

    And as long as folks show up with mommy and daddy’s money to get a degree, it won’t matter one whit whether they have any real talent or not. Freakishness will do just fine.

  3. Dennis Bathory-Kitsz

    You said, “Getting kids to play with neat rhythms is pretty easy, but getting them accustomed to any sort of harmony or melodic system outside of the tonal cultural framework they’re used to would be a daunting task at best.” and “The only children I think you’d have any success introducing modern techniques to would be those ‘children’ who arrive as undergraduate freshman”

    I thought that might have been true, so I spent six years as an elementary music teacher to test the idea that a composer whose ideas were beyond typical teacher-training pedagogy could teach the broad range of musical ideas. And the truth was far from what I’d imagined. In fact, the kids could learn anything that was within their motor skills and ability to sense. Especially in the early grades, there was no particular effort (no effort beyond teaching that is, which is itself exhausting) to have them involved in what those college freshmen would find difficult.

    Kids aren’t used to any cultural framework, especially the young ones. As they grew older, the more traditional pop music world took over. So they fell back to earth with the other teachers and with their homelives, but these kids left elementary school writing music, whether in traditional forms or in graphic notation or whatever method communicated their ideas.

    Kids are far more receptive and capable than we typically give them credit for in our cowering ‘readiness’ concepts. The best recommendation I can make is that if you’re a composer, get out there and teach — as a professional or as a volunteer. It’s gratifying (no, you won’t compose much during those years) and your kids will be opened to new ideas in ways that future conservative cultural forces will never defeat. But you’ve got to get there early, and stay away from being pedantic. Just provide buckets of experience at every turn.


  4. sniggleron

    Part of what makes McD’s so attractive to kids is the sameness. You know the fries and nuggets you get down the block will taste the same as the ones 2500 miles away.

    New music, to be new, eschews sameness, formulaic output all the things that McD’s and any other retail chain (food or otherwise) celebrate.

    How many times has your toddler made you listen to Here Come the ABC’s? After the 400th time in a row, it’s not going to seem so fresh and happening, I’m afraid.


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