History's heroes set to music
Monday, February 23, 2009
AMERICAN HEROES #3, by Jonathan Sprout, Sprout Recordings, $13.99, www.JonSprout.com; ages 7-12.
Teachers and parents often ask children to name someone they would consider a hero. Television reporters often cite public servants who have gone above and beyond the call of duty to help fellow citizens. And on Jan. 15, the world witnessed the heroic work of Captain Chesley "Sully" Sullenberger, who saved countless lives as he masterfully piloted his crippled US Airways airplane into the Hudson River.
But too often children think of celebrities as their heroes. As parents and teachers, we need to help children differentiate between stardom and heroism. We look up to celebrities for their talent. Heroes we look up to because of their deeds.
Jonathan Sprout has made it his mission to educate children about some of America's heroes. Sprout has just released the third CD in his American Heroes series, another collection of awe-inspiring songs designed to inspire children.
Sprout follows the same format for "American Heroes #3" as he did on his critically acclaimed projects, "American Heroes" and "More American Heroes." Once again Sprout collaborated with Dave Kinnoin (another outstanding children's songwriter and musician). Once again they crafted a collection of exceptional songs that spotlight such outstanding Americans as Jane Addams (Nobel Peace Prize), Elizabeth Blackwell (first U.S. female doctor), George Washington Carver (agricultural scientist), Cesar Chavez (civil rights activist), Milton Hershey (chocolate king/philanthropist), Thomas Jefferson (third president), John Muir (conservationist), Pocahontas (peacemaker), Wilma Rudolph (Olympic gold medalist) and Jonas Salk (polio vaccine).
You know some of their stories of pain and struggle, heartache and perseverance. But these musical biographies are also filled with the power of imagination, selfless acts and remind us of the courage it takes to be true to your heart and passionately follow your dreams.
I have written many times about what separates good children's music from great children's music. It is in the subtle and often-unseen musical artistry present in a well-crafted project. "American Heroes #3" is another fine example.
Take the first song, "Chocolate King," for example. "Believe and never stop/Keep your eyes on the mountaintop. /A little bump in the road doesn't mean a thing/To the Chocolate King." Pretty simple and even somewhat clichéd, right? But the magic comes when Sprout links the lyrics with a melody and accompaniment that support and propel the song into rock anthem status. This song reminds me of the old Fleetwood Mac song, "Don't Stop Thinking About Tomorrow."
Each song is a self-contained lesson that soars well beyond what we might think "educational" music for children might be. Again, the reason is Sprout makes these stories come to life by judiciously and strategically using the magic of melody and the power of brilliant musical arrangements to support each song. You will also appreciate the fact that the liner notes contain an informative summary about each American hero.
In addition to all of the fabulous musical biographies contained in "American Heroes #3," there are two "bonus" songs. My favorite, "Good For Me," could be interpreted from several points of view (child to parent, citizen to hero), but I see the song as a soundtrack to a teacher's end-of-the-year slide show about her class. Here's the chorus: "It's good for me that I found you/To be that special someone I can look up to/You're with me now, and you'll always be/Yes, you'll always be good for me." This powerful song is a perfect culminating sentiment for such a magnificent collection of songs about individuals who started out as regular people and ended up as heroes.
I would be remiss if I didn't remind you to buy Sprout's first two CDs, "American Heroes" and "More American Heroes." Be sure to go to his Web site (www.jonsprout.com) for more information. Look for the link to CD Baby (www.cdbaby.com) where you can hear 30-second clips of each song.
And remember, you too can be a hero to a kid!
Fred Koch lives in Lake Bluff with his wife and son and is an award-winning music educator, recording artist and producer. His Web site, BestChildrensMusic.com, helps parents, teachers and librarians select quality children's music. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.