Dan Zanes is a Grammy-winning children singer, but he didn't start out that way. Zanes started his career in music in the 1980s as the frontman for the Boston-based garage act the Del Fuegos, an act praised by sources including the magazine Rolling Stone and the Boss, Bruce Springsteen.
However, when Zanes and his wife settled down and had a baby, the songwriter turned his talents to making music for children. What started out as a side project quickly became a new musical direction for his career.
With Kids' CBC Days upon us, we asked Zanes to send us his list of dos and don'ts to keep in mind when playing music for children.
1. Don't forget to improvise.
"I don't bring my imaginary script out on stage with me. Of course I want the show to go a certain way and just to be sure that happens, I've written a script for everybody! Here is the basic outline: the people in the audience sing at the top of their lungs from the first song. They dance like their pants are on fire while gazing lovingly at the band. When it's over, everyone buys massive amounts of CDs and T-shirts.
"Unfortunately, it doesn't always go that way so if I leave the script behind and just accept anything that happens, I'm likely to enjoy the experience exactly as it is. The opportunity to play music for other people is always a blessing and I don't ever want to lose sight of that, even if a parent is changing a child's diaper right in front of my mic stand while I'm singing 'Wonder Wheel.'"
2. Don't make assumptions.
"I try not to guess what people are thinking while they're watching us perform. Sometimes when I'm onstage it feels like I'm seeing a lot of blank faces looking back at me. I have to remind myself that many of the young people in the audience may not have seen live music before and may not know how to react at first. We might be blowing their minds!
"I know that when I see a powerful performance I usually cry. That's my emotional marker and so I'm OK with any type of reaction. It's a personal thing. I trust that when all is said and done, the sight of people making music with each other is by nature exciting and inspiring, particularly to young people who are just starting to discover what this joyous experience is all about.
"One side note here: we'll often have children with autism or Asperger's syndrome at our shows, and their way of reacting to the music could be seen as quirky or even extreme at times. This can lead to misunderstandings when other parents don't realize the basis for the actions, and so I urge everyone to be tolerant of any child's behaviour at shows. We want all people to feel welcomed and respected while they're rocking out."
3. Don't be selfish.
"I try not to take but to give. This is a variation of the no-script suggestion. If I'm there to take, I need all of the seats filled. I need the applause to be very loud. I need people to sing, dance and laugh at my jokes. If I'm there to give I just do my best no matter what the situation. I'm there to show the audience what it looks like to make music with friends in hopes that they'll go home and make their own music. If I can leave my ego in the mandolin case, there's a much better chance that I'll have an amazing time and enjoy every minute while I'm onstage."
4. Don't scowl.
"In other words, smile, smile, smile."
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on Jul 19, 2012