By Fred Koch
By the time you read this, the Recording Academy will have announced its Grammy Award for the best musical album for children during the 45th annual awards ceremony on Feb. 23. Every year at this time I am a bit flabbergasted at the recordings that make it to the final round. These are supposed to represent the best of the best—the five most exemplary music recordings for children from the past year. And every year I wonder how certain titles got nominated and why other outstanding recordings were not recognized. Some of the finalists rate a hearty "Yeah!" while others get a big "Huh?" As in years past, I like to make my prediction on which recording will come away with the much-coveted Grammy Award. I’ve been right most years. One year, I didn’t pick the winner—I went with what I saw to be clearly the best recording, not the most well known or the recording sporting the marquee artist. Of course, the most popular recording received the award. Here are this year’s Grammy nominations: BEETHOVEN’S WIG: SING ALONG SYMPONIES, by Richard Perlmutter, Rounder Kids, $13.95, www.rounder.com; ages 5-10. This is one of those great recordings that kids and adults can chuckle along with together. It features some of classical music’s greatest instrumental hits with an added vocal track. Filled with fact and fancy about the world’s most notable composers and their masterpieces, each "sing-along symphony" opens the door to serious music in a fun way. In addition, each of the orchestral pieces is included without lyrics. Some of my favorites include the title track "Beethoven’s Wig" sung to the refrain of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony, Mozart’s Eine Kleine Nachtmusic with the lyrics "please don’t play your violin at night," "Drip, Drip, Drip" the Pizzacato from Sylvia by Delibes and "Hey, Guitar Teacher" sung to Bach’s Bouree. Grammy Award chances: Pretty good—great concept, funny and educational. BIG SONGS FOR THE LITTLE KIDS: I FEEL LIKE PRAISING, various artists, Brentwood Records, $9.99, www.brentwoodrecords.com; ages 5-10. As the title suggests, this is a Christian children’s music recording of songs with a strong emphasis on praise and worship. This is the only Grammy finalist I was not familiar with, so when the recording arrived I immediately sat down to give it a listen. I guess I was expecting a more heavy-handed approach, so I was pleasantly surprised. These songs are well crafted, the music tracks so well performed and the kids who sing sound so good that, before I knew it, I had listened to the whole recording. The package they sent me included an accompanying songbook arranged for unison/two-part singing, so I followed along. As I mentioned, these are extremely well-crafted songs that feature pop-driven arrangements with drums, bass, guitars and synthesizers. Song titles include "Forever," "Open the Eyes of My Heart," "I Could Sing of Your Love Forever," "God of Wonder" and six other inspirational titles. Grammy Award chances: Not so good, though I’m glad to see it in the finalist group. MONSTERS, INC. SCREAM FACTORY FAVORITES, Riders In the Sky, Walt Disney Records, $12.95, www.waltdisneyrecords.com; ages 5-10. If you’ve read any of my past reviews, you know I am a big fan of songwriter Randy Newman. He has written most of the memorable songs from the Disney/Pixar film collaborations, including "You’ve Got a Friend in Me" from "Toy Story" and "The Time of Your Life" from "A Bug’s Life." The Grammy Award-winning composer received a 2001 Academy Award for the best original song, "If I Didn’t Have You" from "Monsters, Inc.," performed by Billy Crystal and John Goodman (Mike and Sulley). Scream Factory Favorites features the music of my favorite cowboy band extraordinaire, Riders in the Sky, also known for its great music from Woody’s Roundup. In addition to Newman’s hit song, you will hear other favorites including "Doo-Wah Diddy Diddy (Mike’s Song)," "The Perfect Roar (Sulley’s Song)," "Monster ABCs," "Lullaby for Boo" along with seven other "Monsters, Inc.," hits. Grammy Award chances: I wouldn’t bet against it. POCKET FULL OF STARDUST, Cathy Fink & Marcy Marxer, Rounder Kids, $15.98, www.rounder.com; ages 3-8. This is Cathy Fink’s and Marcy Marxer’s third volume in a series of recordings that combines playful music with themes around bedtime and rest time. It follows their two other Grammy Award nominees, "Blanket Full of Dreams" and "Pillow Full of Wishes." All the songs included on this recording are original. My favorite, "Jiggle and Tickle," was written by Fink. "Who’s Been Sleeping in My Bed" is a cumulative-style folk song that features Fink’s fine banjo playing along with Marxer on guitar. Other standouts include "Sail Away Together" and "Thank You." There is always a place for good folk and country music for children, and Fink and Marxer seem to be getting better and better at writing songs that get to the heart of childhood. Grammy Award chances: I’d be very surprised. YOUR SHOES, MY SHOES, Tom Paxton, Red House Records, $15, www.redhouserecords.com; ages 3-8. When I heard Tom Paxton had released a new children’s music recording I knew I had to hear what he’s been up to lately. Paxton is a folk music icon and wrote two of my favorite songs for children, "Goin’ to the Zoo" and "The Marvelous Toy." These songs have stood the test of time and are as meaningful and engaging for children today as they were when they originally were released. Paxton’s newest effort, another batch of original songs, delivers a few good songs, too, but in my opinion, not enough to qualify as a Grammy finalist. The musical production is outstanding (Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer produced the recording) but I found a couple of the songs to be inappropriate. There are two songs I really enjoyed: the jazzy "It’s Arithmetic, Baby" and the charmingly gross "The Worms Come Crawling Underground." But they were the only two that stood out for me. Grammy Award chances: I’d be even more surprised. So, I’m going to go out on a limb again and go with the record that I believe is the most creative and most child-centered of the five finalists. I hope "Beethoven’s Wig" receives the Grammy this year because I think it is the best musical album for children. It may not be the most widely publicized or the most familiar, but recordings like this do not come around often and I hope the voting members of the Recording Academy (though I’m only one) feel the same way. But I kind of expect "Monsters, Inc. Scream Factory Favorites" to walk away with the award. After all, how can you compete with Walt Disney?Fred Koch is an award-winning music educator, children’s musician and nationally recognized workshop clinician. His Web site, www.BestChildrens Music.com, includes additional information on his CDs as well as general information about selecting quality children’s music and past Chicago Parent reviews. Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son. Please e-mail notes and comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.