Monday, June 25, 2007

Monty Harper

Monty Harper is without a doubt one of the most lyrically sophisticated writers working in children's music today. He might be considered the kids' music equivalent of Stephen Sondheim. However, whereas Sondheim is often ribbed for not writing hummable tunes ("Send in the Clowns" the notable exception), Monty is also gifted with being able to create very memorable hooks and melodies.

Monty has six CDs of music for kids, and a while ago he sent me all but the newest one. I still haven't had a chance to listen to them all, so I'll focus my attention here on his live recording, The Great Green Squishy Mean Concert CD. I've heard that disc a few times already, and it is a really great collection of the different kinds of things that Monty does and does so well, and should certainly make a good jumping off point for anyone to check out his other work.

"Loose Tooth" starts things off with a catchy Buddy Holly vibe and some clever lyric lines like: I've got a loose tooth. I can't wait to surprise her when I tell my teacher: I'm losing an incisor. "Silly Song" is exactly that, with a catchy chorus that would be at home on a Barney video (and hey, say what you will about Barney, but it's hard to be that catchy). "Horny Toad" has a cool funky sound and tells you just about everything you might like to know about the creature. For example, when provoked, the horny toad squirts blood from its eyes. How cool is that?!

"Hanging Out with Heroes at the Library" reminds me of the kinds of songs that Eric Ode does so well... the music is good, it involves the kids' thinking and responding, and it plugs reading and libraries. "Pop Up Sit Down" is a fun song where Monty increasingly plays with the audience's expectations to great effect. "Love This Baby" is a cute take on the old "Shaving Cream" gag. "The Frog Song" is an interactive story about a prince looking for the perfect princess in every frog he sees. "You're a Dinosaur" is a rock song with a nice refrain that covers a number of popular dinosaurs. It goes on quite a while over several verses, but never feels too long.

"Big Red Fire Truck" seems a little ordinary, musically, until the chorus hits the line "See me race to the rescue" where it hits an incredibly awesome chord change sequence, which sounds particularly great with the fire alarm wailing over it. That little section alone makes that song a favorite of mine, and it's a good example of how Monty makes all of his songs interesting in different ways.

It's appropriate that Monty subtitled his first album with the phrase "Intelligent Songs for Kids". He definitely doesn't dumb anything down, and he isn't afraid to use big words, trusting that kids will either understand them or will want to learn them if they don't already know their meaning. And at the same time, his songs are fun and involving for kids and can work really well for a wide range of ages. In other words, you don't need to be a brainiac to appreciate Monty's songs, though it may help.

Monty's latest album is called Get a Clue, following the current Summer Reading Program theme that many libraries adopt. His last album, Paws, Claws, Scales & Tales was based on last year's theme. I believe that next year's theme is bug related, so I'm guessing that Monty may be hard at work on writing a number of bug songs. If songs like "You're a Dinosaur" and "Horny Toad" are any indication, not only will we learn a lot of cool information about bugs if Monty does a bug themed CD, but we'll also really enjoy the tunes while we're learning. Combining real educational content with memorably entertaining music can be a very hard thing to accomplish... Schoolhouse Rock
is probably the best-known example of that... but Monty Harper is definitely a master of that in his own right.

Monty Harper website


1 comment:

Monty said...

Hi Eric,

Thanks for all your kind words! You really seem to "get" me as a songwriter, which is not too surprising, since I am a mutual fan of your own music.

And wow - I've never received a review of a yet to be embarked upon project before! But you are spot on about my conception of what a bug song CD should be - whether I find the time to do it or not, that's the question. Readers can check up on my progress at ReadingSongs.com.

Thanks!