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Kids write and sing the
darndest things

Various Artists - Kid Pan Alley: I Used To
Know The Names of All the Stars

4 stars (out of 5 stars)
Reviewed: July 7, 2009
Kid Pan Alley

Review by Tony Bonyata

Pablo Picasso once claimed, "All children are artists. The problem is how to remain an artist once he grows up." Singer/songwriter Paul Reisler obviously recognizes this quandary and has started a wonderful program called Kid Pan Alley that not only taps into children's inherent creativity but teaches them the skills and gives the inspiration to write, record and perform their own music.

Reisler, who was the leader of the American folk group Trapezoid, founded Kid Pan Alley with the singular goal of reinvigorating creativity in children as a core value in education. He travels to different schools throughout the nation for a weeklong music education program with elementary school kids, and since its inception has created more than 1,000 songs with more than 20,000 kids in communities across the U.S. The first thing on the agenda is to write the songs. Taking one or two class periods, the students decide what they want to write about (sometimes serious and at others quite silly) while Reisler and a songwriting assistant guide them through the process. Once the lyrics are written they work with the students to arrange music to the songs in a broad range of styles (from folk to funk, and reggae to rap) and then record the songs to CD. They then rehearse for live performances of their own creations for both a school assembly as well as an evening program for the entire community. The program lasts only one week, but the lasting impressions of this type of education and creative empowerment can most certainly last a lifetime.

A few school residencies have even stretched beyond just the boundaries of a week-long program, yielding CDs of these children's songs performed by world-renowned artists. Musicians that have contributed to some of these efforts in the past include Delbert McClinton, Amy Grant and Kix Brooks, among others. Their most recent Kid Pan Alley CD release, I Used To Know The Names Of All The Stars, was the result of eight-weeks of music programs in the Charlottesville, VA area. While their two previous Kid Pan Alley CDs (Tidal Wave of Song and Nashville) were both strong efforts, their recent album is the most satisfying to date, with a strong line-up of stars such as alt-rockers Cracker, Ellis Paul, Hackensaw Boys, Jesse Winchester and even Oscar winning actress Sissy Spacek.

But as strong as the star-power is on this album, it's the songs themselves, co-written by the children, that shine so brightly. Sparky's Flaw delivers a spirited take of the cute "My Dog Did My Homework," where the band's lead singer belts out, "My dog did my homework, and I accidentally ate it. It tasted like science. It tasted like math. It tasted like paper. It tasted really bad." And on "I Always Wanted A Horse," performed by Cracker, frontman David Lowery bemoans on the song's catchy chorus, "But I can't have a horse, because I live in New York. And a horse isn't potty-trained, of course. He's as wild as my brother, who's as crazy as Crazy Horse."

Other great themes also stand out on the Corey Harris performed number "My Sister," where a little boy is puzzled over his older sister's interest in constantly changing clothes and brushing her teeth, as well as Carton Blount and Kristin Asbury Hott tackling the birds and bees on the R&B driven "Hummingbird and the Honey Bee," where they sing, "They sipped from the flowers for hours and hours. They started to hum, they started to buzz. Next thing they knew they were falling in love." Childhood fears such as the boogieman and other things that go bump in the night also abound on the funky "My Mother Is A Dream Catcher" and the Hackensaw Boys' freewheeling hillbilly floor-stomper, "Scared of Being Scary."

These songs, all co-created by young children and performed by well-known artists, are guaranteed to inspire and amuse not only kids, but adults alike.

To bring Kid Pan Alley to our community call 540.987.3166 or email For more info go to:

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