These CDs aren’t just for kids

Music - September 2005


Fred Koch

Now that summer is winding down, I am reminded again of how fortunate we are to live in a city with such a thriving and vibrant music scene. This summer was full of live music concerts the whole family could enjoy. Whether at Grant Park or Ravinia, a local park district or any one of dozens of neighborhood festivals, live music filled the air.

Although we like to separate our music into genres—rock, classical, blues, alternative, jazz, children’s—speaking as a dad, I think the best music is that which we can share as a family. So this month I am recommending CDs that are great examples of music that can be enjoyed by the whole family.

OPEN YOUR HEART, by The Chicago Children’s Choir, $20,; all ages.

I had the pleasure of meeting Josephine Lee, the artistic director of the Chicago Children’s Choir at Ravinia on a steamy summer Sunday. We were both performing as part of Ravinia’s Children’s Music series.

I was one of the narrators for the Midwest Young Artists’ performance of Strauss’ "Don Quixote." Lee, a virtuoso in her own right, played a Mozart piano piece, accompanied by the Midwest Young Artists ( After the concert, I told her how much I enjoyed this new CD and promised to help other people learn about this wonderful recording.

Founded in 1956, the Chicago Children’s Choir is a multiracial, multicultural choral music education organization. In addition to the concert choir, the group includes 3,200 children ages 8 to 18 who take part in a variety of choir programs in 51 Chicago schools.

Though the choir has recorded one of its live performances ("Live From Vienna," 2001), "Open Your Heart" is the first studio-produced recording. This eclectic collection of music from around the world begins with "Vela Vela," an a cappella South African welcome song. You probably won’t understand the lyrics, but the rhythmic groove and vocal performance will get you moving.

The next piece literally stopped me in my tracks. In the liner notes, Nick Feder, 15, says he is moved to tears every time he sings "I Need You to Survive" written by David G. Frazier in response to the tragedy of Sept. 11. "The song begins in unison—all in the same octave, creating a sense of unity," he says. "The song modulates [changes key] and eventually splits into three parts—this split shows that even though we’re different, we all love each other on the same level no matter what range of life we’re in."

This songs grabs hold of you, shakes you and reminds you that we need to care for each other. It may bring you to tears, not because the song is sad, but because it is enormously powerful in its simple message and outstanding musical arrangement.

Next comes "Prelude" featuring Rachel Barton Pine on violin, which leads right into the danceable "Hanuman’s Heart" driven by percussionists Mark Walker and John Ovnik.

Another standout is an arrangement of Robert Frost’s poem, "The Pasture," which is exquisitely put to music and song. "Tatkovinia," a Macedonian folk song, "Svadba" from Bulgaria, "Toyi Toyi," a South African protest chant, and the South African folk songs "Ke nale Monna," "Indonga Za Jericho" and "Shosholoza" are other highlights. The CD ends with Paul Simon’s classic "Bridge Over Trouble Water."

Moriah Cummings, 15, says, "The Chicago Children’s Choir is my bridge through difficult times. No matter what else is happening in my life, it is the constant of joy, hope, love and friendship that carries me." That pretty much sums it up, doesn’t it?

Yes, you can save a few dollars and buy the CD from But if you buy it directly from the choir’s Web site,, 100 percent of the profit will benefit the Chicago Children’s Choir and the great work of Josephine Lee.

SWING AROUND THE WORLD and ITALIAN CAFE, by various artists, Putumayo World Music, $15.98,; all ages.

These two new world-music CDs compiled by Putumayo World Music have been playing constantly at our house and are prime examples of marvelous music that will satisfy our adult sensibilities but also capture the ears of younger listeners.

You’ve seen it happen before: You put on a CD of your choice and all of a sudden the youngsters are groovin’, too.

The point is not necessarily that the music gets them up dancing, but that the kids are receiving a well-balanced diet of music from around the world and from lots of genres.

"Swing Around the World" is, as the CD professes, "[a] global swing dance party that’s fun for the whole family." You’ll be swingin’ with artists including the New Orleans Jazz Vipers, Oscar Peterson and Clark Terry, and Squirrel Nut Zippers (United States) along with other great musicians from France (Romane), Italy (Renzo Arbore, Alfredo Rey), Zimbabwe (the Cool Crooners of Bulawayo) and others.

"Italian Cafe" is my wife’s favorite new CD. It’s a collection of classic and contemporary Italian songs featuring a variety of artists who, even though I’ve never heard of them, are fabulous musicians singing memorable songs.

Its magic comes through in its ability to create the imagery of an Italian street café or the Italian family gathered around for a great meal. If it makes you want to uncork a bottle of Chianti, you’ll know it worked for you, too.

I hope you seek out these Putumayo CDs. The company is dedicated to searching the world for great music and compiling the best tracks for our enjoyment. I have found all of its titles to be family friendly.

Ciao for now … I have some pasta sauce to stir.

Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, children’s musician and producer. His Web site, ,  helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children’s music. The Web site also includes an archive of all Koch’s past reviews published in Chicago Parent. Please e-mail notes and comments to [email protected]  


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