Can I Be Him for the Weekend?

Even before I saw the latest Coldplay/Beyoncé video, I had learned of the outcry against their cultural appropriation and misrepresentation of India. So I watched it, ready to roll my eyes at the blatant stereotypes and stew in my outrage.

Here’s what I saw:

  • Indians can dance
  • India has beautiful ordinary people
  • Unlike in Bollywood films, women don’t wander the streets all scantily clad.
  • Beyoncé honestly didn’t impress. She looked out of her element and more awkward in her mediocre attempts at “Indian hands,” and looked like she was trying too hard with the massive cleavage in her clothes.
  • And finally, Beyoncé’s soprano is no match for Lata Mangeshkar’s. No, Bey, you are no Nightingale.

Now before you get all up in arms about how I’m defending this cultural appropriation, might I draw your attention to Bollywood films? Specifically, I’m talking about the portrayal of second-generation Indian immigrants living in the West (both these are in England, but the crap flows to America as well) in the movies Dilwale Dulhaniya Le Jayenge (DDLJ, for short) and Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (KKKG). I know these are older examples, but they are currently available on Netflix, so they continue to perpetuate the stereotypes.
Continue reading Can I Be Him for the Weekend?

Be at Peace Among Your Stars, Ziggy

Death is always sad. Someone has always lost something precious and dear. Even the largest of personalities, the biggest of stars have a mother, a father, siblings, a spouse, friends. People who loved not the personality but the person. Though there are many celebrity passings that have affected me, about which I have felt grief and loss, I have, for the most part, tried to remember that, tried to reserve the deep pain for those who knew the person underneath.

Leonard Nimoy was an exception.

David Bowie is another.

This one hurts. Continue reading Be at Peace Among Your Stars, Ziggy

Gamin’ Up New Year’s

Image By Rebecca Angel

Previously, I wrote about games that take a long time to play, which is perfect for New Year’s Eve. Here is a list of games for lots of people to play (seven or more!)

First, here are a few games that only require paper and pencil:

Celebrity: I played this with a group one New Year’s Eve a decade ago and some of us who were there still refer to it as one of our favorite parties. Hand out small strips to paper and a pencil. Everyone writes the name of one celebrity on each strip (alive, dead, real, fictional…) Depending on how many celebrities each person writes, the game can be long or short (4 – 10). Here is the complete gameplay. Be sure to do the Alternative Version which has three rounds.

Drawing Telephone: One of our favorite party games because the less-skilled you are in the art department, the better! Everyone gets a piece of paper and pencil. Each person writes a random phrase on the top of their paper and passes it to the person on their right. That person illustrates the phrase. Then everyone folds back the phrase so only the drawing is showing, and passes their paper to the right. Now the next person only sees the illustration and writes a phrase they think matches it. And so on. Here is a more detailed description of the game. We have some games taped up permanently in our house because they were so hilarious.

Round Singing: You all know Row, Row, Row Your Boat. And Are You Sleeping? Get everyone to try a round. No one needs to sound like a pop star, it’s just for fun. Here is a nice resource. Don’t be shy. If everyone is singing, who cares what individual voices sound like? (By the way, making live music together lights up more of your brain than any other activity, so this is good for you!)

And here is a list of great games to buy for lots-o-people to play!

Mad Libs You’ve got one around the house somewhere, right? If not, get one! Every theme imaginable is available.

Tsuro: The Game of the Path Explanation takes less than five minutes so perfect for non-gamers at the party. Also, it’s a really perty board.

7 Wonders Explanation takes awhile, but once the first round is played, people get it. New Year’s Eve is a perfect time to introduce a new game!

The next three games are ‘apples to apples’ types that can have multiple people, and end whenever you feel like it:

Snake Oil Card Game My son received this as a gift last year and it has become our go-to when we visit other people to have fun. I guarantee this game will make you laugh.

Mad Scientist University This game takes creativity and the ability to just go with it. How can you write your name on the moon with only rubber bands? With science!

UnNatural Selection Silly, silly game that will probably become ludicrous with alcohol…

What games do you recommend for a group?

GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #8: Movies, TV, and Music

Holiday break is a popular time to binge watch movies and television shows, and to play music while people are off school or work. What are some of the GeekMoms’ favorite media?

Image: Arista Records
Image: Arista Records

Free to Be… You and Me
Prices vary
If you were a kid in the ’70s, you may have watched or listened to Free to Be… You and Me. It was a fantastic movie, and also a record album. My mom even has the piano music book with original illustrations. The message of the project, spearheaded by Marlo Thomas, is that every child is fine, just the way they are. It’s fine to be different, it’s fine to cry, it’s fine to be a boy who likes dolls. It’s good to be nice to other people, and to be a responsible friend. These are messages that are just as important today as they were in the 1970s. Plenty of other famous people participated in the project. Kris Kristofferson, Michael Jackson, Mel Brooks, Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Roberta Flack, Carol Channing, Shel Silverstein, Tom Smothers, Dionne Warwick, Rosie Grier, and others all lent their skills and/or notoriety to it. Share this movie, CD, or book with your favorite children today, showing them that you love them, just as they are.

Continue reading GeekMom Holiday Gift Guide #8: Movies, TV, and Music

Classical Geeky

My local orchestra, The Albany Symphony, has a concert series aimed at families with young children. This season they are total geeks. Harry Sonata and The Baton of Power, Star Warriors: The Opera, and The Superhero Show. Here’s a write up for the first one:

“Young Harry Sonata doesn’t want to be an ordinary wizard; he wants to become a musical wizard. But to do that, he’ll have to do battle with the evil Lord Moldywart and learn to wield the “Baton of Power.” He’ll need your help learning all about the art of conducting so he can vanquish the forces of evil and make the orchestra SING! Great music by: Tchaikovsky, Sousa, Strauss, Beethoven, and others.”

Continue reading Classical Geeky

The Bacon Brothers Band: 6 Guys Worth Swooning Over—Not Just the Movie Star

Bacon Brothers Band  Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band. Photo: Judy Berna

In the five years I’ve written for GeekMom, I’ve discovered there are two ways to geek out about something. Most of us have something we do in our free time that makes us happy, the hobby we geek out about. Around here the list is long, ranging from comic books to knitting to attending fun conventions.

Then there are the things we geek out about that we can’t (or don’t) necessarily do ourselves, but we fully appreciate that others have mastered them. A friend once told me, “Some are here to create and some are here to appreciate.” That’s me. I appreciate a lot.

Music falls into this category for me. I adore music. I am fascinated by music. But I don’t play music. The perfect date night for me is to sit in one of our small local bars in my mountain town and listen to someone play live on the tiny stage. Whatever category of music they play, I’m there to appreciate.

Last week I had the ultimate date night. After traveling to Nashville to visit my two oldest kids in their young adult lives, I had tickets to go see The Bacon Brothers Band in concert. It wasn’t my first rendezvous with the band. In fact, I’ve possibly seen them a dozen times in the past 12 years.

Bacon Brothers Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band. Photo: Judy Berna

In the early days after I found their music, and realized how talented they were, I lucked into becoming friends with their bass player, Paul Guzzone (which is a story for another day). Through the years our friendship has survived and thrived, even as I continue to move around the country. When we lived in New York, near many of their concerts, I had the treat of seeing them several times a year.

GeekMom Judy with her son,  and Michael and Kevin Bacon    Photo: Judy Berna
GeekMom Judy with her son, and Michael and Kevin Bacon. Photo: Judy Berna

Then we moved to Colorado. They don’t play many shows out west. I hit a dry spell. Several years went by without a concert, and I was feeling it. Hearing the new stuff on my iPod was great, but I began craving the live show they pull off so beautifully. Finally a trip east coordinated with their tour dates this year and I immediately had tickets in hand.

Let me tell you why I love their music. First, let’s get the elephant in the room addressed. Yes, the band is named after the two guys on the mics at the front of the stage, Michael and Kevin Bacon. Kevin, as in the guy who is home plate for the Six Degrees game. Every show will have a smattering of the squealers and the screamers, who came to increase their Kevin Bacon number. But eventually they die down and the music makes you forget about that thing called celebrity.

Bacon Brothers Band    Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band Photo: Judy Berna

On the stage are six guys who do this brothers band thing on the side. They are all accomplished musicians on their own. They all have day jobs to support this rocking jones. Michael Bacon is an Emmy winning composer who has been immersed in the industry for over 40 years. Kevin, nine years younger than his brother, grew up in a house full of music and never let it stray far from his heart. Even while he spent decades filming blockbuster movies.

One thing I appreciate about their live show is the way they make the crowd forget that there’s a movie star on stage, and they let each musician shine. Each song has places where the bass, or the percussion, or the guitar, or the keyboard has its own time to shine. Every band member plays multiple instruments, and play them all well. No one is left out and the joy of playing live is spread around.

In fact, Ira Seigel, their left-handed guitar guru, plays so well that the band made a hilarious parody video, appropriately called “Lefty,” where the brothers tell Ira he will have to stop playing so well, because it makes them look bad. The guys still smile when I bring up that video, even years later.

Ira Siegel, doing his thing.  Photo: Judy Berna
Ira Siegel, doing his thing. Photo: Judy Berna

It’s not just the style of this music that draws me in. From slow, heartfelt songs (Angelina is a favorite) to down and dirty, rocking out songs (Not Born to Beauty and Get a Little) the lyrics never stop delighting me.

As a writer myself I appreciate good lyrics. It takes time, creativity and expert rhythm to come up with great lyrics. They have to fit the mood and the musical style. They have to speak to their audience. They can’t be lazy.

Here are a few of my all-time favorites, from the huge catalog of music the band has created in the past 20 years.

In the song Angelina, about a spouse, who cares too much about the world and fixing all that she sees (sound familiar?), and trying to make her step away from that stress and disappear into something more peaceful for the night:

The light showed through your dress, like the refrigerator moon. And I dreamed I was your dancer. And I dreamed this was the tune. Tilt your head back Angelina. Close your eyes and drift away. You’ve done everything that you can do, to save the world today. Don’t you tell me where you’re going. I don’t need to know. But as soon as you are ready. Angelina, I’m coming with you when you go.

From my all-time favorite song, Not Born to Beauty, about all of the talented musicians out there, who will never be famous, but were born to make music:

Turn on your MTV. You won’t find them there. You can read that Rolling Stone cover to cover, you won’t find them anywhere. But in basements and garages, hotel lounges, roadside bars, close your eyes and hear the tunes and you’ll be seeing stars. They were born to do it. They were born to play.

The very first Bacon Brothers song I ever heard was Ten Years in Mexico. I was hooked from the first line. A song about a 10th anniversary trip to Mexico:

Last night I dreamed of ice and sleet. I dreamed of sidewalks underneath my feet. Woke to find my suitcase by the door. I asked the mountains and the Cortez Sea, how did she come to love a fool like me? I don’t need the answers anymore.

Three more classic songs to check out are TMI (too much information), Good News, and Guess Again. All three have too many clever (self-deprecating) lyrics to post and will leave you smiling, guaranteed.

Sound Check - Bacon Brother Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Sound Check – Bacon Brother Band. Photo: Judy Berna

I have to take a second to point out the other two guys on stage, Joe Mennonna, who is on keyboard and accordion, and Frank Vilardi, who is the guy hiding behind the drums at the back of the stage. With the talent these guys possess, I could do a post on each of them individually.

I finally got to attend that long awaited concert, with my oldest son as my date. It was amazing, as it always is. No matter the city or venue, there is something about hearing such familiar songs that makes me feel at home.

Bacon Brothers Band   Photo: Judy Berna
Bacon Brothers Band Photo: Judy Berna

I highly recommend seeking out a Bacon Brothers concert. If you’re a music creator yourself, I think you’ll respect the talent you see on stage. If you’re an appreciator, like me, you’ll definitely be in awe at the range of songs. Buy a few albums before you see them live, and get familiar with their sound. Be sure to take the time to really listen to the instrumentals and pay attention to the lyrics.

The band is just finishing up a summer tour but keep an eye on the website here, to find out about their future dates. In the meantime, head over to YouTube and cruise through some entertaining videos. I’ll start you with one of my favorite songs, Go My Way, that shows off all of the band members, including some amazing guitar work and some groovy moves by my friend Paul, on the red bass. Then head over to a clip that only has Kevin, but is from an amazing episode of Live From Daryl’s House. Next we’ll move to a fun clip from a radio appearance, where they covered Giving It Up For Your Love pretty awesomely. I love this one, from the same radio show, where they play another of my favorites, Old Guitars. For a nice acoustical taste, here’s a clip with just Michael and Kevin.

Michael Bacon on the cello.    Photo:  Judy Berna
Michael Bacon on the cello. Photo: Judy Berna

One the newest to the list, a song called 36 Cents. The chorus, listing what most musicians will have in their pockets when they die—“36 cents, a couple of  Fender medium flat picks, a crumbled up piece of paper, with the lyrics to this song.’ This song has amazing guitar sections.

Just do me a favor when you head off to their concert. Leave the crazy paparazzi attitude at home, then sit back and listen. I know you’ll enjoy the show. It’s a stage full of really talented guys. And yeah, they usually end the show with a rousing round of Footloose. Just to please the groupies.

Denver Comic Con’s ‘Animaniacs’ Celebration

We met this fantastic cosplaying family while in line for Animaniacs voice actor autographs. The kids thoroughly enjoy Animaniacs, and like my husband and me, the parents were enjoying the show while in high school and college. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
We met this fantastic cosplaying family while in line for Animaniacs voice actor autographs. The kids thoroughly enjoy the show today, and like my husband and me, the parents enjoyed it while in high school and college. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Okay, where are our Animaniacs fan GeekMom readers? Go ahead, raise your hands! I know you’re out there!

My husband and I remember watching the show while in college. If you go way back in time, my husband and I went to college at a time when the dorm’s one cable television was in a “TV lounge” so students would gather together for “viewing parties” once a week. Sometimes it was tough to agree on what to watch, but there were a couple universally accepted shows, such as the early 1990s episodes of Saturday Night Live…and Animaniacs!

If you have never seen Animaniacs, it’s never too late to check it out with your geeklings. Like current episodes of children’s shows such as The Amazing World of Gumball and My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic, the multi-layered humor is able to run in parallel: making the children laugh on one level, the adults on another. The show aired with the new “Fox Kids” programming and even was allowed to have the “E/I” logo with some of their segments, such as with “Yakko’s World.”

As I had touched on in my Denver Comic Con preview, and this week’s wrap up of our family’s panel experiences, one of DCC’s headline events was the Animaniacs Celebration, where all of the voice actors, along with composer Randy Rogel, reunited on stage to perform the show’s music. You can read more about the queueing experience in the DCC panels post I wrote earlier this week, but our family waited about 35 minutes in the queueing room, and ended up with some really good seats. With my telephoto lens, it looked as though I was right there! The Jumbotrons also helped those further back in the audience see the action.

Jess Harnell, who voiced Wakko on Animaniacs, performs the song "Hellooooooooo, Nurse!" during the Animaniacs Celebration at Denver Comic Con. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
Jess Harnell, who voiced Wakko on Animaniacs, performs the song “Hellooooooooo, Nurse!” during the Animaniacs Celebration at Denver Comic Con. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
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Animaniacs voice actors (from left) Jess Harnell, Tress MacNeille, and Rob Paulsen perform the song “I’m Mad” together. Paulsen actually voiced two of the characters in this song, Yakko and Dr. Scratchandsniff, and would make faces to adapt to those characters. Can you tell who he’s voicing here? Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

Most of the panel ended up like a music concert, which was enjoyable in and of itself, but we also enjoyed the stories behind the songs. For example, the well-known “Yakko’s World” was Randy Rogel’s composition that convinced the network executives that he was the man for the songwriting job…like his resume piece.

Enjoy a performance of Jess Harnell voicing Wakko in the “States and Capitals” song. Go ahead, sing along!

Rogel and Paulsen tour the country and perform the Animaniacs repertoire with symphony orchestras with their Animaniacs Live! show. They pitched to us that if it’s something we’d like to see in our community, to contact our local orchestras and see if a performance can be arranged. The Colorado Symphony had hosted the show in 2014, but I’m curious if they’d come to Colorado Springs.

The day after the Animaniacs Celebration panel and sing-along, when my oldest son and I returned to Denver Comic Con, my son asked about getting the autographs of the actors and Mr. Rogel. Rogel had these songbooks for sale with the sheet music for the songs that were performed the day before. Wouldn’t you know it, we got the last one! My son was so thrilled to have this!

He proceeded to meet all three of the main character voice actors for autographs on the cover of the music book and then had quite a discussion about music with Mr. Rogel.

My oldest son, who takes piano lessons, had questions for Mr. Rogel about some of the bass clef chords in the music. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.
My 12-year-old son, who takes piano lessons, had questions for Randy Rogel about some of the bass clef chords in the music. You can see Maurice LaMarche, the voice of “The Brain” from Pinky and the Brain is over Mr. Rogel’s shoulder. Photo: Patricia Vollmer.

The Animaniacs voice actors have performed dozens of other voice-over parts. For example, if you are familiar with the show Drawn Together on Comedy Central, Jess Harnell is the voice of Captain Hero. Are you a fan of The Simpsons? MacNeille voices numerous female characters on that show: Bernice Hibbert, the crazy cat lady, Lunchlady Doris, and Manjula Nahasapeemapetilon. Rob Paulsen voiced both Raphael and then Donatello on the 1980s and 2012 version of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series.

If you can see a version of Animaniacs Live! or the Animaniacs Sing Along, you need to drop everything and make sure to see it. It’s a family-friendly fun experience, and you’ll get a glimpse of the personalities that made Animaniacs such a fun show for all ages!

GeekMom was provided with family media passes to Denver Comic Con for review purposes.

Celtic. Nerd. Music. Colorado’s The Stubby Shillelaghs’ “Critical Fail” Kickstarter

Help fund The Stubby Shillelaghs' Kickstarter campaign to get them into a high-quality recording studio to bring their Celtic geek rock to the masses. Image: The Stubby Shillelaghs, used with permission.
Help fund The Stubby Shillelaghs’ Kickstarter campaign to get them into a high-quality recording studio to bring their Celtic geek rock to the masses. Image: The Stubby Shillelaghs, used with permission.

With Denver Comic Con coming up this Memorial Day weekend, the local scene is pulling out all the stops to bring national attention to the awesome group of people that lives in our great state. Among them is the Celtic-inspired band, The Stubby Shillelaghs, which hails from Greeley, Colorado. Their fun blend of Celtic rock is popular here locally, and they’re excited for the chance to bring their music to the masses of DCC this weekend, with two performances at DCC’s Stage 5280 at 3:00 p.m. Saturday and 3:30 p.m. Sunday.

This week, the band also announced a Kickstarter campaign to raise the money to record their next album, titled Critical Fail. The 20-sided die on the proposed album cover will tell you volumes about what to expect. With songs like “I.R.A.” (which stands for “Interstellar Rebel Army”), you can expect some Celtic pop-culture fun. I’m particularly excited that this is a family-friendly album, with no language or topics that might make your kids ask too many questions.

If you haven’t heard of The Stubby Shillelaghs, here’s a video for you to enjoy. If you buy the track, all proceeds from your purchase of this song go to the Children’s Miracle Network. Trust me, it’ll make you smile.

If you like what you hear, go check out the Kickstarter and help this band out!

Top 10 ‘Uptown Funk’ Parodies

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Voldemort gets funky in a Harry Potter-themed parody of “Uptown Funk.” Screenshot from music video by KFaceTV.

What is it about Mark Ronson and Bruno Mars’ groove-tastic “Uptown Funk” that seems to beg for parodies and remixes? The original spent 11 weeks in Billboard‘s #1 spot and broke records for the highest number of streams, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Even Barry Allen digs this tune, playing it while he gets ready for a date in “The Nuclear Man” episode of The Flash.

Whatever it is—perhaps simply the fact that we don’t seem to tire of the promise that uptown funk’s gonna give it to you, it’s hard not to love both the original and these parodies…

Do you miss the musical stylings of Strongbad in Homestar Runner? Fair warning: You may have trouble getting the “Uptown Fhqwhgads” mashup out of your head.

If Harry Potter were a musical, this is how You-Know-Who would get his murderous groove on, with lines like “It’s Saturday night, and we’re taking Hogwarts” and the Harry Potter theme mixed in:

Mark Ronson is a YouTube breakout with his impressions. In this one, he does “Uptown Funk” in cartoon voices, largely from Family Guy:

Cruising the town in a minivan? So do these moms in “Suburban Funk,” clad in yellow dishwashing gloves and yoga pants:

College Humor went… classier (?) with a Downton Abbey edition:

This one’s about donut love. Up, down, dunk your ‘nuts. They’re too hot. Hot jam. (Bonus: It even has a recipe!)

Make a creeper wanna explode, my man. For the Minecraft lovers:

Or if your gaming is more Call of Duty:

Still not your game? How about “Clocktown Funk,” a Zelda parody?

And of course, a parody list isn’t complete until Darth Vader gets in on the action. Jedi training, hallelujah. Star Wars funk gonna give it to ya:

This Is What Geek Karaoke Would Sound Like

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If Yoda did karaoke, he’d pick GNR. Photo CC BY-NC-ND newwavegurly

This week on our Facebook page, we asked you what you’d want to hear at geek karaoke. We liked the result so much, we made it a Spotify playlist for you!

This first GeekMom playlist has the songs you named in that thread. We’d like to keep making more of them for you, though, so if there are songs you’d like to see on future playlists or themes you’d like (zombies! pirates! the best of filk!), leave a comment, and we’ll start making the lists.

Musical Love Chemistry

Zen Valentine copy
Image By Lilianna Maxwell

They say that love is just a drug
An addiction you keep thinking of
But don’t get the wrong impression
We’ll teach you all a science lesson
About the chemistry of love

Ah, those sweaty palms, the obsessive thoughts, the dopamine rush. Yes, geeks fall in love and we like to be specific about it, thankyouverymuch. Infatuation has lots of chemical components, and desire can be broken down into an excellent lesson on biochemical processes. Boring? Not at all! Especially when you learn about it in song.

Here’s a song called “The Chemistry of Love” by The Midnight Society, which should lower your levels of serotonin, just like falling in love. With geeky stylophone! Free listen and download here.

Now, go boost someone’s testosterone tonight!

Why I Love Burrito Van, or Down With Kale!

The first time I tried kale was at a swanky automotive event in New York City. There were swanky drinks, swanky cars, and swanky appetizers on swanky little trays. It was swank. And then, there was kale.

I had never tried kale before, but had heard of its wonders. It was supposedly delicious and easy to make and the perfect substitute for not-healthy potato chips. This is what everyone told me. Everyone.

So, when I spied the funny-looking green things I asked if they were, in fact, the wondrous kale. I was informed that it was kale and that it had a light dusting of some kind of fancy salt I can no longer remember. I decided to try the kale.

You people, you all lied!

There is nothing tasty about kale. It is like munching on a piece of particularly crunchy grass. Pieces of it stuck to the roof of my mouth leaving me to awkwardly try freeing it with my tongue like a communion wafer in church. You cannot stick your fingers in your mouth to free that wafer and you cannot stick your fingers in your mouth to free stupid kale in a room full of swanky people being swanky.

I should mention that my partner-in-crime at this event, Emme, was equally appalled by the kale. She is not swanky. I love her and love that she thought the kale chips were the spawn of Satan. I’m pretty sure she encouraged me to use a strong swanky drink like mouthwash to free the kale. I say pretty sure because things are a bit of a blur after that, likely due to the strength of the swanky drink.

I have not once knowingly consumed kale since. I have no idea how anyone eats the stuff. Burritos, however, I totally understand. That is why I love this video by Parry Gripp and animator Nathan Mazur. Not only is it an ode to burritos, but it comes out firmly against kale.

Down with kale! Long live burritos!

(via ThatsNerdalicious)

Virtual Choir for Choral Geeks

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Image By Eric Whitacre

If you have high school-aged kids, I hope they have had a chance to sing a choral piece by Eric Whitacre, today’s rock star composer for classical music. But not every school has the number of students, the right teacher, or even a music program at all. This is where the internet and Whitacre’s modern view come in: a virtual choir.

Back in 2010, Whitacre put together his first virtual choir with his song, “Lux Aurumque.” 185 singers participated from 12 countries.

In 2013, Virtual Choir 4 debuted with 5,905 singers from 101 countries, and with an animated video accompanying the virtual city of music, this project has become something more than just video chat/sing, it is the perfect example of how the digital revolution can be about beauty and opportunity in a physically disconnected world.

What about Virtual Choir 5? The discussion online is speculative, but nothing is set. There’s still time for you and your young singers to get in on the action!

Pirate vs. Ninja Christmas

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Image By Rebecca Angel

In my house, there is a year-long… shall we say, “disagreement” between my son and I. He is a ninja fan, and I am most certainly pro-pirate. Both of us share a love of Christmas, so naturally our inclinations come into our decorating and festivities. Or maybe not “naturally”–but mashing two unrelated things together does make us giggle.

Now obviously pirates would be more fun at Christmas time than ninjas. Carousing! Singing! Hot Buttered Rum!

Pirate Christmas – by Captain Dan & the Scurvy Crew

But Santa is most certainly a ninja as “Ask A Ninja” explains. Probably one of the best lines about Santa’s suit I have ever heard: “The red comes from the blood of children who have woken up in the middle of the night…”

What about decorations and gifts? This pirate stocking really puts me in the spirit:
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But then I came upon these Ninjabreadmen cookie cutters.
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What about entertainment? I found a Facebook page for a ninja Christmas show, but no real details on it. Yet there is a published children’s musical called “A Pirate Christmas“. Obviously, pirates win on that one.

What do you think? Pirate Christmas? Ninja Christmas? Or, why do people try to ruin a perfectly peaceful holiday with karate and rum?

Get In the “Misty Mountains” Spirit

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Image By Rebecca Angel

Next week brings the conclusion to the trilogy of films adapting J.R.R. Tolkien’s wonderful book, The Hobbit. I don’t care what the critics say, I’m excited to get back into one of my favorite worlds on screen. For my family, music is how we get psyched up about everything.

For The Battle of Five Armies, we are going back to the first movie. Anyone who has seen The Hobbit remembers that scene in Bilbo’s house when the dwarves start singing that low, gorgeous song. It’s called “Misty Mountains,” and my kids and I love it. My son said it takes him to faraway places in his mind. Being a bass, he recently sang it at a concert. My daughter asked to have it played on repeat as she wrote in her journal. Although you can buy the soundtrack version, other people have taken their musical gifts to this tune:

This one with violin gave me chills. The parallel fifths harmony (all sung by one person) in the beginning brings us back in time, and then the singer lets loose some impressive cluster chords that I adore. When the violin harmonizes with itself, and the singing the background—woop!

Mixed voices a cappella take a slightly different, more march-like feel to the song, and with women! For anyone who loves baritones (and I do), check out the final note the guy sings on this one. Swoon…

And just for you nerds, this woman sang the full twenty-seven verses that Tolkien wrote:

But don’t just listen to it, sing or play it yourself! Here is where you can buy and download the sheet music. Enjoy!

Geek-twisting Holiday Songs

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Image By Rebecca Angel

Oh, who wants the same old boring lyrics to our holiday favorites?  Altering words to existing songs is a playful, challenging, and creative endeavor. It’s the fan-fiction of music. Winter and Christmas tunes are so well-known, it’s a great place to start. Here are some people who have already done so with a geeky twist:

The Twelve Days of Future Christmas created by Bridge 8, goes through a list of current science topics that are on the verge of becoming reality! “12 drones delivering…”

OH NUMBER PI
(TUNE: “Oh Christmas Tree”)
Oh, number Pi. Oh, number Pi. Your digits are nonending,
Oh, number Pi. Oh, number Pi. No pattern are you sending.
Want more math Christmas songs? Go here!

Hee-hee. This is some crazy editing. Star Trek TNG in “Make it So!”

You better watch out; you better not sneeze.
You better not cough, ’cause you’ll spread a disease….Viruses are comin’ to town.
“Catch” all the lyrics here.

This one doesn’t change the lyrics so much as it is performed in a geeky way. All electronic devices band in “Feliz Navidad.”

Pirate Christmas Carols! This is from me. I’ve written a lot of these. Here is one you can listen to with lyrics. No Ale!No Ale! No Ale! No Ale! Six months at sea with no dark, stout or pale.

So what’s does your family geek out about? Make it a family game to rewrite lyrics to a familiar holiday tune. You’ll be singing it every year afterwards!

Here’s one I wrote about my favorite Avenger…

Loki Was A Gentlemen
(To the tune of God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen)
Loki was a gentleman when he took all the power.
His smile was quite debonair as he told us to cower.
“Sweet lady, kneel before me now, no need to look so sour.
Many thanks, this encounter’s been a joy, been a joy.
Many thanks, this encounter’s been a joy.”

Billy Boyd Bids the Middle Earth Saga A Last Goodbye

Image from "The Last Goodbye," copyright WaterTower Musi
Billy Boyd performs “The Last Goodbye,” a beautiful farewell to The Hobbit trilogy. Screen capture from the official video; copyright WaterTower Music.

I still get misty eyes and goosebumps when I hear Pippin’s mournful and stunning a cappella song from The Lord of The Rings: Return of the King, when he is forced to entertain the embittered Steward of Gondor, Denethor. Pippin’s passionate and desperate delivery is the nail in the emotional coffin, while witnessing army of Gondor’s soldiers, led by Denethor’s youngest son, Faramir, gallop into a futile and fatal battle.

Now, with the final movie in The Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of The Five Armies, less than a month away, director Peter Jackson has upped the emotional ante by asking Pippin portrayer, singer, and actor Billy Boyd to co-write and perform the trilogy’s closing song, “The Last Goodbye.”

The song’s video features Boyd’s performance, along with snippets of all six of Jackson’s Tolkien-based films, as well as behind-the-scenes footage of the cast as they wrap up their time together in Middle Earth.

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 1.23.47 PM
Screen capture from Beecake’s “Please Stay.”

Boyd, a native of Glasgow, also fronts his own alternative rock band, Beecake, which has had notable singles “Please Stay” and “The Clown.” The band’s honors have included being awarded Best Live Act at Visit Scotland’s Tartan Clef Music Awards, which raises money for Scotland’s Nordiff Robbins Music Therapy charity. The charity uses music to better the lives of both children and adults who have been isolated by disability, trauma, or illness.

Boyd said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly that being able to close this journey was “truly a great, great honor.”

With this video being made available just in time for Thanksgiving, it is also an overwhelming honor for all of us as well.

Thank you, Mr. Boyd and Mr. Jackson, for giving us such a stunning and heartwarming way to say goodbye to your final Middle Earth visit.

Your Thanksgiving Playlist

THANKSGIVING
Watching the parade in the Pinault house—another fine tradition. Image: Sarah Pinault.

I’m a big fan of Christmas music and my husband is a big fan of Thanksgiving. Over the years, this combined set of interests has led to an annual search for Thanksgiving music to play over dinner. We’ve come a long way since that first hobbled-together CD, which consisted mostly of “Alice’s Restaurant” and Adam Sandler. This year, we both agree, we have hit upon a playlist to be most thankful for. We have family favorites that have survived each year’s culling, we have old classics that were wrongly assigned to Christmas, and this year, we have discovered new-to-us gems. This list is too good not to share and there is still plenty of time for you to get your playlist in order, so here is the 2014 Pinault Thanksgiving playlist.

“Thanksgiving Day” by Ray Davies. Traditionally the second track on our CD, Ray was promoted above Bing this year. This song has a great beat, great lyrics, and a great artist: Ray Davies, lead singer and  songwriter for The Kinks. The linked video is from his performance on Conan back in 2005.

Thanksgiving2
Image: Amazon.com.

“I’ve Got Plenty to be Thankful For” by Bing Crosby. Taken from the movie Holiday Inn, this is Bing holiday gold. If you aren’t familiar with the movie, Bing plays a disillusioned performer who decides to open Holiday Inn, a quaint retreat in Connecticut that only opens on holidays. The movie is full of original songs for each holiday featured, and the Thanksgiving section is a family favorite.

“Prayer of Thanksgiving” by Johnny Cash. Lifted straight from the classic television series, Dr. Quinn Medicine Woman, the man in black offers a poetic addition to our Thanksgiving playlist. It has taken years to find a decent recording of this, as most are from people who have filmed the episode running on their TV.

“The Food on Our plates” by Ciara Thorton.  This has a nice piano base and beautiful vocals. This song is new to us this year (thank you Spotify), but I have a feeling it will survive to next year’s CD. This is from a 2004 compilation album called Thanksgiving, but is the only one that made our cut. It can be obtained on Google Play.

“T-day” by Jo D. Jonz. Get your turkey on big-band style. This song injects a little Frank Sinatra into the day. It’s pretty tongue-in-cheek and my five-year-old adores dancing away to this.

“Make Up a Thanksgiving Song” by Billy Harvey. If you skip his opening monologue about what it is he is attempting to do and go straight for the music, this makes for a nice backdrop. “Let’s try giving a little more than we did before.”

“We’re Thankful” by Moose A. Moose. This is a song from in between shows on the Nick Jr. of years gone by. It’s also one of several kid-specific tracks on the disc. This one survives each year because it amuses me so, but it was on my husband’s cut list this year. It’s got more saccharine in it than the rest of our songs, and a whole lot of bounce.

“The Turkey Song” by William P. Hitri. A Thanksgiving earworm if ever there was one. This is the perfect song to teach your kids to sing on the way to grandma’s house; the little voice rendition of the tongue-twisty chorus will bring a smile to anyone’s face. There are some great lyrics in here. “Roll, roll, roll to Plymouth Rock” and “The bird beast they call Turkey” are among my favorites.

“Thanksgiving Day” by Marcella Detroit. Another new addition this year, thanks to a needle-in-a-haystack search on SoundCloud. The opening has a touch of Iz’s “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to it. This was released last year, and we just found out that another version was released this year. Last year’s is much better; it has more bounce to it.

“Pumpkin Pie” by Tory H. This is the ultimate Thanksgiving song. This has survived since year one, and is our two-year-old’s favorite YouTube video. We play this song year round. Though you can still view the video on YouTube, I recommend paying the dollar on iTunes, as artistry of this brilliance should always be supported. It’s also really easy to play on the ukulele and kids will love singing along. My second son’s first words may even have been, “Next year, I’m not coming if you don’t have pumpkin pie.”

“Thanksgiving Song” by David Campbell. This was one of the first Thanksgiving songs we found, and has a touch of Bing Crosby/David Bowie’s “Little Drummer Boy” about it.

“Count Your Blessings” by Bing Crosby. This song is taken from the movie White Christmas, which was made to follow up on the success of the song “White Christmas” in Holiday Inn. It is traditionally used on Christmas albums, but really it’s a Thanksgiving song, so we stake our claim to it for our collection.

Thanksgiving
Image: Amazon.com.

“Thanksgiving Theme” by The Vince Guaraldi Trio. It’s the Great Pumpkin Charlie Brown and A Charlie Brown Christmas get all of the attention at this time of year, but A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving should not be overlooked. True, the movie is sub par, compared to the others. However, Vince Guaraldi still brings his A game and the “Thanksgiving Theme” is just as good as “Linus and Lucy,” just not as familiar.

“Thanksgiving Song” by Mary Chapin Carpenter. A classic Thanksgiving song if ever there was one, from this country-turned-folk singer. Originally on her 2008 Christmas album, Come Darkness, Come Light: Twelve Songs of Christmas, it bears absolutely no resemblance to the more well known”Passionate Kisses.”

“Thanksgiving” by The Whale & the Warbler. It’s contagious; more and more people are getting on our Thanksgiving song bandwagon. Recorded in a NY church in early 2013 and released last fall as part of their Thanksgiving EP, you can download the whole album on their website and name your own price.

“The Thanksgiving Song” by The Ridler Brothers. Another one to survive over the years, it has the feel of Robert Keen’s “Merry Christmas From the Family,” but with less redneck and a slower pace. It’s a really beautiful song.

“Everyday Should be Thanksgiving Day” by A. Kendall Kraus. There’s some nice guitar work on this song and great earthy vocals. Another Spotify find this year, he says this of the song: “I guess the point that I’m trying to make is… even if you are having a tough time, look around and you will find something that you can be thankful for. Peace out.”

“Stuffy Turkey” by Thelonious Monk. Three original songs appeared on Monk’s sixth album, It’s Monk’s Time, and this is one of three original compositions on it. It has been around since 1964, but not being big jazz fans ourselves, we just discovered it this year.

With the exception of “Thanksgiving Day” by Marcella Detroit, which she is giving away for free on SoundCloud, you can get all of these tracks on iTunes. I hope you have time to get this together for your listening pleasure; it really is a delightful addition to the day. If you have any songs that you listen to on T-day, please do send them my way.

GeekMom Video Playlist

A little bit of this, a little bit of that, a lot of Let’s Play, and a touch of NSFW. You have been warned.

 

What a wonderful idea for a flash mob!

I was a marching band nerd and was in the band at WAZZU (Washington State University). I love seeing student musicians who are this enthusiastic about current music and standard tunes.

Through the happy/sad song series we found on YouTube, my husband and I have been able to explain to a few people the very basic difference between major and minor keys in music.

Sean Plott is well known for his playthroughs of StarCraft and Hearthstone and has started a weekly Let’s Play with a couple of friends while they work through old school adventure games. Their first game was King’s Quest VI, next up is The Dig. There is drinking and language. By the hosts, of course.

Emily Graslie is a young, hip, female scientist. The Brain Scoop host had fun at a Nerd’s Night Out. NSFW.

We don’t own a PS, so haven’t played The Last of Us. After a bunch of rave reviews, it is nice to be able to watch a playthrough with some interesting commentary.

These are the videos, old and new, that caught my attention this week. What have you been watching?

GeekMom Video Playlist: Weird All the Way

Screen Shot 2014-07-19 at 9.53.03 AM
Image by Weird Al

So I had some fascinating, educational, and inspirational videos to show you this month. Then my daughter showed me a music video, and really, there isn’t anything else you need to see. My son Luke, who always does his picks, agreed that this month should be dedicated to the Master of Geek Music: Weird Al. So here are a few of his videos that came out this week:

First, is the best of the bunch: “Word Crimes.” BRILLIANT. Teachers: Make your students memorize this for extra credit. My daughter clapped when he mentioned how people use “literally” incorrectly. This drives her nuts. Thanks, Al!

 

 

Next up is “Tacky.” (“At a funeral, taking selfies with the deceased.”)

 

 

Then, there’s “Foil.” Hee-hee. The way he draws out the sheet of foil is so silly. I’ll be singing this all day.

 

 

“Sports Song” is on his website, so check that out too. And I bet there will be more coming. Ever since “I’m A Danish,” I have been a big fan of his. The guy is a lyrical genius, and happens to have put his talent into making people laugh for decades. That’s reason enough to dedicate this month to him. Go Al!

GeekMom Video Playlist

Screen Shot 2014-05-27 at 8.20.24 PM
Image by The Hillywood Show.

What do you get when you combine Dr. Who with The Rocky Horror Picture Show‘s “Time Warp?” Check this brilliance out:

So you’ve landed on Mars, call the wife to announce the big news, and she’s bit distracted at the moment…

A Star Wars parody of Cyndi Lauper’s “Time After Time.” Well written, well sung, and well done, guys:

And a tiny volcano tries to explode. Cuteness.

LUKE’s PICKS! (Wherein I realize my son probably watches too many videos, but I can’t complain because he always finds ones that make me giggle.)

Kids React to Technology: Old Computers, where several kids ages 6 – 13, try to figure out a computer from the early 1980s. They can’t even figure out how to turn it on, heh-heh.

And after that, Cats React

Imagination Movers’ Scott Durbin Talks Role Models, Music, and Their Upcoming UK Shows

The Imagination Movers © Imagination Movers
The Imagination Movers © Imagination Movers

The Imagination Movers, a group of friends from New Orleans who write and perform an eclectic range of child-friendly music from rock to folk to pop, are most famous for their zany, Monkees-esque TV show on Disney Junior. However, the group have been performing together for over 10 years, both before and after their tenure with Disney. Together, they have experienced a range of hardships from the ending of their show’s contract with Disney to the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which left three out of the band’s four members homeless. The group are about to pick up their Scribble Sticks and Wobble Goggles to play their first shows in Europe with a three-day run at London’s Bloomsbury Theatre. Mover Scott Durbin took some time to talk about music, role models, and what the future holds for the Movers.

GeekMom: What were your musical influences growing up?

Scott Durbin: We definitely have various musical influences. For example, bluegrass was part of my musical upbringing, while Smitty [Scott Smith] loved reggae growing up. Rich [Collins] definitely has a pop sensibility and Dave [Poche] digs piano-driven ditties. Now, despite the spectrum of our individual musical tastes, we all agree there’s a heavy dose of 80s stylings within the lifeblood of the band. Groups like The Police, The Clash, The Specials, Big Country, and The Proclaimers are all very influential in our musical DNA.

GM: How do you feel you have influenced one another, both as musicians and as friends?

SD: We’ve definitely grown musically and push each other to know our craft more. As friends, we definitely hold each other accountable. We support one another. Even after 10+ years in the business, we’re still friends and get along quite well.

Back in Blue Album Cover © Disney
Back in Blue album cover © Disney

GM: What made you want to write songs aimed at young children?

SD: From early on, we wanted to create a local, live-action TV show for kids that encouraged creativity and modeled problem-solving. Music is such an expression of our creativity, so naturally it was part of our project from day one. We felt most of the music for kids was acoustic-based and we wanted to change that—infuse it with a little rock, while keeping it age and developmentally appropriate.

GM: Where did the name “Imagination Movers” come from?

SD: We aspired to create a project for the body and the brain. The name represents the body (movers) and the brain (imagination). Plus, our TV concept was about blue collar brainstormers, so the fact that we look like factory workers or movers (our blue suits) was intentional.

GM: Scott has been quoted as wanting to create a show that “presented strong male role models” for children. Is that something you feel is currently lacking on television?

SD: Great question. I think part of the reason for that statement was born from my experience as a teacher in elementary education. Students often wished I was their dad because many of them didn’t have a father at home or a strong, positive male role model. When it comes to preschool television nowadays, it’s hard not to notice that many of the hosts are females and many of the shows cater to girls, which is great mind you, but we felt there was something definitely missing for boys—strong, smart, positive male role models.

GM: Are there any other shows which you feel are succeeding at presenting strong role models for children? What/who are they?

SD: Hard to say. We grew up with Mr. Rogers and Captain Kangaroo. Nowadays, there are too few real people in children’s programming and too many cartoons and puppets. In my opinion, there’s a limit to how much a cartoon or puppet can model for a child. I do know that I loved catching any episodes I could of Horrible Histories. Smart programming is hard to come by, so when you find a show that challenges you, you savor it! Similarly, much of children’s programming treats kids as consumers instead of creators … we wanted to flip that notion!

GM: Do you try to inspire eclectic musical tastes in your own children? What are they listening to these days?

SD: Yes, I definitely think it’s important for kids to be exposed to various music, from classical to folk to electronica. As for my kids, my son loves The Smiths and Kraftwerk and my daughter digs Lorde and One Direction. They tend to like alt rock and there’s a steady supply of that in my house.

GM: Have your children ever surprised you with their taste in music?

SD: When they were in elementary, they participated on a music quiz bowl team and were listening to a lot of classical music and soundtrack scores. They could tell you more about composers than I ever could. Luckily, that experience has allowed them to enjoy a nice concerto without looking over their shoulder so as not to be embarrassed.

GM: How did the relationship with Disney begin?

SD: Disney saw us perform at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival in New Orleans. They were enamored by our live performance, saw how genuine we were as people and performers, and were slack-jawed by the response we had from kids 2-92 … and the rest is history :)

GM: Would you like to work with the company again in the future? Might we see new episodes of Imagination Movers one day?

SD: Sure I think we’d all enjoy working with them again. Right now, we’re actually pretty excited to be working on creating new content with a production company in Canada—so don’t count us out. You just might be clicking through the channels and see our mugs lighting up the TV screen again before it’s all said and done.

The Movers will play London at the end of this month © Imagination Movers
The Movers will play London at the end of this month. © Imagination Movers

GM: You’re about to tour the UK for the first time, something you’ve been hoping to do for a long time. What finally made the dream a reality?

SD: Touring in the UK is very involved and with the VAT and FEI, it can become cost prohibitive. We were hoping to get a promoter to bring us over, but that never materialized. We had had so many fans emailing, wanting us to play in the UK, that we finally made the decision to just do it. Luckily, we partnered with the Bloomsbury to make it happen with the hope we’ll be able to cover our flights, lodging, etc. And yes, I know we’re only playing in London and the UK is much bigger than “just” London, but it was a window of opportunity and we took it!

GM: Which other countries would you like to visit in the future?

SD: Australia, New Zealand, and South America are places we’d love to play.

GM: Rich has just released a solo album. Do you envision yourselves releasing more solo material in the future?

SD: I know Rich is working on his second album. I’ve thought about doing an EP of songs I’ve been a part of from my early years through now that I am proud of, but have never seen the light of day … who knows? We’ll see. Right now, we are working on some new Mover material that we’re all excited about.

GM: What does the future hold for the Imagination Movers?

SD: We’ll continue touring as long as people want to come out and see us. We put on a great concert that is authentic and engaging and it’s still fun for us. Plus, we’re working on making new content so as to ensure the brand will be around for a long time.

Tickets for the Imagination Movers UK Tour can be purchased through the Bloomsbury Theatre. The band will tour Canada later in the year alongside a handful of U.S. dates. Tickets for all these shows can be purchased through their website

Learn to Play the Ukulele

My ukulele. Photo by Ariane Coffin.
My ukulele. Photo by Ariane Coffin.

It all started with a Facebook status. Fellow Geekmom Sarah proclaimed “I want to play the Ukulele!!!!” I had never even considered playing the ukulele before then, but upon reading that statement I realized that I, too, wanted to play the ukulele with a surge of excitement worthy of four exclamation points. Three would simply not do!

I immediately assumed a ukulele would be prohibitively expensive, as most musical instruments are. You know what they say when you assume things, right? Indeed I was wrong, a quick search revealed that you can buy a decent ukulele for $30-$50. It’s not pocket change, but it’s not a huge commitment either.

With the cost being not too much of an issue, I started really considering it. Was this going to be another short-lived attempt at a new hobby that will come and go? Lack of follow through does tend to be a problem of mine. However, being a saxophone player, playing music is an important part of my life and I figured the ukulele would be the perfect little instrument to play when I get five minutes here and there. No complicated set up or clean up required, unlike wind instruments.

Well, I went for it.

It’s been about two months since I bought my ukulele, and I love it! I’m able to play it a little bit almost every day. I sit my 4-month-old in front of me on the couch while I play and she loves to listen to the music. My 3-year-old is showing interest in strumming along, the ukulele is the perfect size for her little hands.

Want to know what resources I’ve used? Here’s how I got started.

The Ukulele

I knew nothing about ukuleles so I blindly searched “ukulele” in Amazon and bought the most popular, well-rated one that came with quality strings, namely a Kala KA-15S Mahogany Soprano Ukulele. It cost me around $50. There were cheaper models that were also well reviewed, but comments often mentioned that the cheaper strings should be upgraded for a better sound. I didn’t want to sacrifice the time to figure out how to replace strings, so I purchased the upgraded model.

Note that there are different size ukuleles. They are, from smaller to larger: soprano, concert, tenor, and baritone. I picked up a soprano, it being the more common size. I’m happy with it, but men (or people with larger hands) often prefer a larger ukulele as it gives them more room to play.

Across the board, reviewers suggested buying a ukulele tuner, so I purchased the Snark SN-6 Ukulele Tuner. I’m very glad I did! It’s a $10 gadget that makes tuning a breeze. The strings varied wildly from one tuning to the next at the beginning, but now they’ve settled into a place where only minor adjustments are needed.

The Online Resources

Upon delivery of my ukulele and tuner, the first thing I needed to figure out was how to use them! Luckily I remembered that former-Geekmom Kris Brodessa’s son, Brad, was an accomplished ukulele player. His website, Live ‘Ukulele, is an amazingly thorough resource. You can always count on geeks to be thorough if nothing else, isn’t that the best? The fact that he has video tutorials on how to play songs from Super Mario Brothers isn’t bad either!

Another excellent website is Ukulele Underground. Their video tutorials of various popular songs include 3 panes: the guy playing the song on the ukulele, the lyrics and chords, and a schema of the strings and frets you need to press to achieve the chords.

Last But Not Least, Ask Around!

Ask around on your social media outlets, ask your friends, ask your co-workers: Do you know anyone who plays the ukulele? I asked around at work, hoping I could find some uke’ players willing to start a lunch ukulele group with me. Lo and behold, there was already a lunch ukulele group at my office. I had no idea! So now I join them for lunch every Friday and we play along to some You Tube videos together. The better players help us beginners progress along and we all have fun!

GeekMom Video Playlist

Image By Mojang

You knew there was going to be a “Let it Go” parody video, so let’s get right to it. This one stars a mom who gives up trying to be perfect—something we all could learn from!

What would you do if your spouse unplugs your gaming console to clean up cat poop because “it’s real.” Maybe make a video about it?

My daughter and I laughed till we snorted. Someone overdubbed horrrrrible singing to One Direction. Be sure to watch to the very end where they “harmonize.”‘

Oh, The Onion. Teens get on the latest social media site: the comments section of a deer video.

And here’s a great video series (similar to Written By A Kid, sadly gone) called Kid Snippets:

LUKE’S PICKS!

My son’s recommendation for Minecraft fans. Very silly.

So…I don’t get this, but my son insists it’s great if you are a League of Legends fan. I’ll trust him on this one:

This next one is long,”What? A YouTube video more than 10 minutes?!” It’s a Lego stop-motion movie done very well, with an amusing plot of someone being hunted down for an illegal song download. The plot twist at the end is perfect. Oh, it’s in French with subtitles. You can tell your friends you spent your lunch hour watching a foreign film.

‘Til next month!

Rock Yourself to Sleep With the Sweet Sounds of The Clash

Rockabye-Clash
CD cover courtesy of Rockabye Baby.

Lately, my son has been really into The Clash. For this aging punk rock girl, who still has fond memories of seeing the late Joe Strummer blow his nose into a denim jacket and throw it into a frothing audience, this is an absolute dream come true. (And no, it was not my jacket.)

Of course, I want to nurture that goodness. However, it’s not always a good time to “Rock the Casbah,” if you know what I mean. Thankfully, Rockabye Baby is coming out with a new CD, Lullaby Renditions of The Clash. This means that he can now literally rock himself to sleep.

If you’re not familiar with Rockabye Baby, it’s a music label that “makes rock music baby-friendly and kids’ music adult-friendly.” It’s not just punk rock, either. There are lullaby renditions of The Beatles, Pearl Jam, Pink, Rush, The Police, and too many others to list here.

Now, normally this type of thing would make me want to unleash a little anarchy on my CD player. However, the people at Rockabye Baby just know how to make it work.

Performed and produced by Andrew Bissell, Lullaby Renditions of The Clash has some of the band’s hits, as well as songs that may only be familiar to fans. After listening to the CD, this was an actual exchange with my son:

Me: Mom is reviewing that Rockabye Baby Clash CD you had on last night. What did you think of it?
Son: It was good.
Me: Did you recognize any of the songs?
Son: Yes, I knew “Rudie Can’t Fail,” “Train in Vain,” “London Calling,” “Should I Stay or Should I Go,” and “Lost in the Supermarket.”

So not only was he familiar with the band’s work before we got this CD, but the music is still very recognizable, even in lullaby form. It doesn’t even matter, though. Bissell makes something like “The Guns of Brixton” or “Straight to Hell” sound purely sweet here, with twinkling xylophones, wood blocks, rubber duckies, and more. It’s really soothing. It also could spark some interest in the source material. After all, when my son was a wee babe, we strapped him in a Ramones bib and had the Rockabye Baby Lullaby Renditions of The Ramones CD to match. Guess what other band he can’t stop singing now?

And since having this CD, this came home from school:

Clash-homework
My son’s schoolwork, inspired by The Clash. Image: Rachel Cericola.

Is that pure coincidence? Probably, but I’m not sad one bit—at least, not until it becomes a problem. I know one thing that hasn’t been a problem, though: bedtime.

Lullaby Renditions of The Clash is now available for pre-order and will be released on Tuesday, March 25.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes.

You Are The Music Explores Our Relationship with Music

You Are The Music © Victoria Williamson/Icon
You Are The Music © Victoria Williamson/Icon

We all have a relationship with music. Whether we perform in a band or choir, learned piano as a child, or simply have a passion for a certain artist, music influences us all profoundly. You are The Music is a book written by music psychologist Victoria Williamson that explores how we relate to music and how it in turn influences us and helps us develop throughout every stage of our lives.

The book begins by looking at how we experience music in the womb and progresses through life, examining how we interact with it at different ages. We look at how music lessons can help children develop new skills, how music can help teenagers and young adults through times of emotional strife, and how it helps us as adults during work and play.

Victoria discusses musical memory and how these specific memories can survive even the most horrific brain injuries. She covers how music can help patients with all kinds of problems (including dyslexia, cancer, and depression) and how music is used in cinema to help us understand both emotions and events and even the current theories behind earworms.

You Are The Music Cover © Victoria Williamson/Icon
You Are The Music Cover © Victoria Williamson/Icon

Despite having an academic focus, the book maintains a light, conversational style that makes it easy to read and to dip in and out of. It avoids lumbering, dry prose and instead has the feel of listening to an enthusiastic friend talking about their passion over drinks; assuming of course that your friend remembers to constantly and accurately reference during their conversations. So many different studies are referred to that if my Kindle is to be believed, the final 20% of the book is taken up by the bibliography. Discussions of studies and their results are mixed together seamlessly with recollections from the author’s past; so when the book talks about studies on music as an adolescent coping mechanism, we learn about the song she cannot listen to any more without remembering her first great lost love. These stories help us connect with the ideas and results (who hasn’t got a song like that themselves?) and really makes the subject come alive.

I have no training in psychology and have never played music beyond weekly attempts in the classroom at high school. I simply have a long-lived and varied love of music from opera to metal and was interested in music as the soundtrack to my life. You Are The Music helped me understand music and my relationship to it in more depth.

I came away with an idea about why I love the incidental music of TV and film so much and an understanding of why I sometimes choose to torture myself by playing songs I know will make me cry. It also helped me understand why I choose to play certain songs during exercise, or when cleaning the house. This is not only a book about music, it is a book about you, and it might just be the best road-map to understanding myself that I have ever come across.

GeekMom received this item for review purposes. 

The Musical Treasures of Jake and the Never Land Pirates

MR. SMEE, SHARKY, BONES, CAPTAIN HOOK, IZZY, SKULLY, JAKE, CUBBY
Disney Junior’s Jake and the Never Land Pirates is packed with pirate music and adventures. Image: Disney Junior/Craig Sjodin.

It’s important for all of ye landlubbers out there to know that “pirate rock” is a very real thing. Aye, ’tis true. In fact, this style of music is a major part of Disney’s animated hit Jake and the Never Land Pirates, thanks to resident pirate rockers Loren Hoskins and Kevin Hendrickson.

The duo is probably best known to fans as Sharky and Bones, two of the show’s animated characters—in more ways than one. See, Hoskins and Hendrickson are featured both in cartoon and live-action form in every single episode. They also provide all of the music for the show, including Season Three’s newly revamped theme song.

However, these two swashbucklers are actually seasoned pirate rockers, having formed the Portland, Oregon-based pirate rock band Captain Bogg & Salty back in 1999. After releasing four albums with that band, Disney recruited the duo to make pirate music for the series. It’s since become a full-time job for the two, and has yielded enough booty to fill the Jake and the Never Land Pirates soundtrack.

Recently, I got the chance to talk to the dynamic duo. Avast, me hearties and heed what they say about the show, the music, and some of the treasures hidden in Season 3.

GeekMom: Can you please explain the pirate rock genre?

Loren Hoskins: No—I mean, yes I can! Kevin and I, when we started making pirate rock in the late 1800s, we kind of based it on: “What if you gave the characters in Pirates of the Caribbean the ride electric guitars and amps and microphones? What kinds of songs would they sing?” So, it kind of built from there. It’s fusing a lot of the fun of rock, kind of Kinks-style rock or different rock genres, kind of garage-y at times, but mixing it with the literary tradition of Treasure Island and all of the swashbuckling adventure and storytelling that comes along with that.

GM: Are people surprised to hear that the band has been around for so long?

Kevin Hendrickson: Yeah. We haven’t had a lot of opportunity to tell people that and witness the surprise of it, but definitely. People are surprised that we’ve done this type of music for so long—specifically, pirate music.

GM: Do you still play live?

KH: We’ve done some performances as Sharky and Bones live. As recently as last summer, we performed in Central Park. The summer before that, we performed at Disney World, at Downtown Disney for a 10-day run. It comes sporadically, but we do have a good time doing that.

GM: Do you foresee a national tour? I know it’s not Disney, but I recently took my son to Yo Gabba Gabba! Live! and it was a blast. Will there be anything like that?

LOREN HOSKINS, KEVIN HENDRICKSON
Disney Junior’s The Never Land Pirate Band stars Loren Hoskins as Sharky and Kevin Hendrickson as Bones. Image: Disney Junior/Craig Sjodin.

LH: There is a tour right now that is called Disney Junior Live On Tour! Pirate & Princess Adventure. The second half of that show is all Jake, and it features a lot of the music from the show, with all of the great stage crafts, characters, costumes, stage magic, and all that stuff. We’re not in that show, but it was a real treat to go and watch it and see us up there, but not be us. Like, to have the characters come to life like that was really amazing.

But we’re just so busy keeping up with the stories and all of the cool, new twists and characters that are coming out for the show… and then, there’s a new re-branding. They’ve given us license to rock out even more and kind of up the swashbuckling angle. It’s been pretty exciting.

KH: The live-action Sharky and Bones that are in the Disney Junior Live show are fantastic, by the way.

GM: Can you explain a little of the musical process for each episode? For instance, for the three-part episode that’s coming up this Friday; do they hand you a bunch of scripts and ask you to come up with songs?

KH: Yes they do. They give us scripts and then Loren and I work together to create the songs well in advance of receiving the animation.

GM: About how long does it take to come up with an episode’s worth of songs?

LH: It depends on the episode, but what’s funny is that we’re often working the beginnings of one script and the ends of another at the same time. It’s hard to know exactly, but Kevin and I kind of have a ping-pong approach where we’ll pass ideas back and forth. And then, we finally go: “That’s it, we’ve got it, this is it.” Sometimes that snaps together in one day, sometimes it takes a week or two. It just depends on the song and how we want to bend it to the story.

KH: As far as finishing the music, composing and putting together a whole episode usually takes about a week.

LH: I was just talking about the writing of the songs. The production of the song takes another week or so. Then those end credit songs, the ones that play with the music videos at the end of the show, are ones that we’ve spent a lot more time on. Before they’re cut down to one minute for the end credits, they’re full-length songs. So we record a full-length song—write, record, and produce a full-length song—and then cut it down to one minute for the music video. Then, it can pop back up and show up on the album as a full-length song. Those take a little longer.

GM: Why did the show’s theme song change this season?

LH: We just wanted to up the energy a little bit, make it a little more kinetic.

KH: It was a way to make the third season a little special, too. We were getting a lot more scripts that had big adventure moments in them and they were kind of starting to add a little more Pirates of the Caribbean to the scripts or something, so they wanted us to respond to that with some more energetic music—add a little more rock to it.

GM: What music are you both listening to right now?

LH: I like The Black Keys a lot, as far as a modern band. I also love listening to the old Disneyland records. I love the old stuff, the old children’s stories and song records. They’re a great wellspring of ideas and just remembering what it’s like to play. So I’ll often put the old Disneyland record of 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea or something like that—not to really be thinking about pirates, but just thinking about adventure music.

KH: I tend to listen to older, 1980s new wave like XTC or Oingo Boingo.

GM: How much of your pirate wardrobe is from your actual wardrobe?

KH: None.

LH: About 40 percent for me.

A special extended episode of Jake and the Never Land Pirates will air this Friday, February 28 at 8:30 a.m. (ET/PT) during the Disney Junior block on the Disney Channel. A new music video for “Lead the Way Jake” will follow on Saturday, March 1.

Artist’s Idol—Do You Have a Passion You’d Like to Share?

Judy-Cover-Version1 - Copy
Photo: Judy Berna

The first time the show American Idol hit my radar was in 2002, in its first season. My kids were little, filling up the living room with their pajama-clad bodies and assorted toys. We were hunkering down to watch a little bit of TV together before bedtime. My daughter, who was ten at the time, was flipping through the television channels and landed on a show that featured a large stage and a lot of confetti. It all looked very exciting so we decided to watch it.

We quickly found out it was a singing competition show and a girl named Kelly Clarkson had just won. The idea intrigued me. I know people who are very talented singers, as good as some of the ones I hear on the radio, and I always wondered what it really took to cross over into singing for money. It seemed to me that it only had a little bit to do with actually having a great voice. Then here was a television show set up to find those diamonds. The idea captured me.

We watched the next season with gusto, then a bit more of the seasons after it, but soon other shows took its place. This year I accidentally started watching it again and was instantly hooked by the chemistry between Keith Urban, Jennifer Lopez, and one of my all time favorites, Harry Connick Jr. It seems to me that they finally found their perfect trio of judges.

I’m not a singer. No one on my side of the family can carry a tune that’s not related to a hymn sung in church. I can’t relate to having a dream of being a rock star. But I can relate to having a dream. And I can relate to feeling like you’ll never be able to cross over into a higher level of your craft until you happen to find that friend of a friend who gets your foot in the door. The beauty of American Idol is that you finally don’t have to ‘know someone’. If you are willing to stand in line for a day or two, and make your way through a series of producer auditions, you can have a shot at being noticed.

I believe that many of the writers and readers here at GeekMom can relate. We have artists in our midst of every kind. Some write, some paint, some draw, some create comic books. They all work hard to perfect their craft and work just as hard to be noticed. I’m a writer and I don’t dream of being a super star. I dream of being able to share my writing with a larger audience. The book I’ve written, about my journey to becoming an elective amputee, has been an encouragement to many people who are considering the decision themselves. I’ve received their emails, full of appreciation that I’ve helped them on their journey. But the conundrum of how to get it to a wider audience that might need it, haunts me some days. I watch American Idol and wish there was a version for writers.

Judy-Logo-Version-OneFoot-2 (1)What about you? Do you have a craft that you desire to be noticed? Do you work hard on a hobby that you love and wish it could be a full time, money making venture too?

I have an idea. In the comments section of this post, share with us your dream, and your website. Then we can each go to these sites and support each other. Who knows? Maybe somewhere along the way, a connection will be made that gets you to the next level, just like American Idol. Let’s have our own version, maybe call it Artist’s Idol, and do what we can to support each other.

Now’s your chance. Tell us what you do and where we can find you. Then scroll through the other comments and do what you can to support your fellow GeekMom readers.

Feels Like the First Time: Reliving My School Choir Days

Foreigner_-_I_Want_to_Know_What_Love_Is
English cover of the 1984 single “I Want to Know What Love” Is by Foreigner.

You know that feeling you get, when something you always thought was pretty cool coincides with something you love, and makes a whole pile of awesome? Benedict Cumberbatch on Sesame Street, the It’s a Wonderful Life episode of Warehouse 13, little boys dressing up as Darth Vadar for Superbowl commercials. All of that rolled into one big moment for me this week, when I found out that Foreigner—a British/American band that brought us “I Want to Know What Love Is” and “Feels Like The First Time”—was not only playing in my town, Portland, Maine, this week, but on stage with them would be the choir from Deering High School.

I was a bit of a choir geek back in the day. Sure I toyed with Orchestra and the violin, I half heartedly learned the guitar, but it was to the choir room I found myself going year after year throughout high school. From Mr. Mason, our choir director, I learned lessons of diction and clarity that I still hear myself repeating on an almost daily basis. How long to carry an “s” sound in the middle of a word. When to use a hard “g” in “ing,” and when to swallow the middle of a word. From Mr. Mason I learned the opening pre-amble to “White Christmas,” memorized the words to “The Seven Joys of Mary,” and learned that a high E was within my range. It is no longer within my range.

Turns out, this is something that the band has done across the country for the past six years as part of their effort to promote music education. Along with the chance to perform on stage with a band that has sold over 80 million albums, the participating choir gets $500 and the opportunity to sell Foreigner CDs on site. The sales go to the music education fund of the Grammy Foundation. The Choir’s role is only a minute long; they will sing backup on “I Want To Know What Love Is.”

I got the chance this week to ask a few questions of Gil Peltola, the Choir Director at Deering High School.

GM: What excites you most about this opportunity?
Gil: This is a great opportunity for my choral students to actually be on stage with a world famous rock band. They’re usually in the audience looking up, but this time they will be on stage looking at the audience.

GM: What excites the kids?
Gil: Pretty much the same thing.  The thrill of being on stage with a famous rock band. Actually, the parents are just as excited (maybe more!) about this adventure—they grew up with Foreigner.

GM: Has the Glee effect had an impact on how you, and indeed how the kids, approach choir now?
Gil: I just had this conversation with my students as we plan our music for the future.  They would like movement to be a part of their singing and productions but also realize that the music must come first.  They are thrilled about adding motion to their music.

GM: Were you a Foreigner fan before this?
Gil: I listened to them on the radio but I was more of a jazz fanatic.

GM: What are you doing to prep yourself, and to prep the kids for Tuesday night?
Gil: Not to down play our performance, but we will be just singing the chorus of “I Want To Know What Love Is” with the group on stage. We have a recording and video to watch.  Most important we need to be professional throughout the entire performance and smile as big as we can.

GM: What is your favorite memory of your own time with the groups of your youth?
Gil: Again, being a jazz aficionado, I had the opportunity to see jazz musicians such as Cannonball Aderley, Buddy Rich, Bud Shank, Herbie Mann, and others at local jazz clubs.  I hope my students will remember this concert and enjoy being a part of music on stage.

Gil expressed his thoughts on music in our education system, thoughts that I can testify worked in my own life thanks to a strong music program. “For me, the purpose of music is performance.  We work so hard at rehearsals to perform usually only one time. Hard work produces good results.  They can go as far as they wish with hard work and dedication.  Hopefully this will excite them and make them go further in life.”

My own choir director taught me vocal tools that I use everyday so the key thing I wanted to know from Gil was what he most hoped the kids would take with them when they left his Choir. “I hope they take the love of music with them.  I always tell my students that music is a life long personal partnership. In college there are many music groups, instrumental and choral.  Every community also has musical groups that the public can join. Love music and performance, and keep it in your life as much as you can—it is good for the soul.”

Foreigner is playing, with Deering High School, at the State Theater in Portland, Maine, on Tuesday February 18th. Their tour continues throughout the year, check out their tour dates and see if they are playing with a high school choir near you.

The String Arcade Recreates Classic Video Game Tunes for Charity

StringArcade
The String Arcade includes Philip Brezina, Jason Poss, Celia Harris, Emily Onderdonk, and Robin Reynolds. Photo: Lorrie Murray

I can’t tell you how many times I’ve had music from Tetris stuck in my head. One group considers that type of earworm to be a good thing—and a thing that may be able to fund a certain after-school program.

The String Arcade is getting ready to release a self-titled CD filled with all sorts of classic video game tunes. However, it isn’t just an album full of cover songs. The hook here is that it’s an album full of cover songs played by a string quartet.

The CD began as a Kickstarter project, back in August. Composer Dren McDonald successfully reached his $6,000 goal and has since delivered the finished recording to all of his backers. Now, he is offering it up to others, in an effort to help fund the Alameda Music Project, a tuition-free K-5 after-school program launching this September in Alameda, California.

StringArcade-cover
The String Arcade CD.

All of the music was arranged for string quartet by McDonald and Jason Poss, who has worked on the Lord of the Rings film trilogy and World of Warcraft: Wrath of the Lich King. Besides helping to fund the after-school project, McDonald hopes that the CD will actually inspire young musicians to pick up a violin, viola, or cello.

The String Arcade CD features 15 original arrangements, as well as two bonus tracks for CD buyers. Performed by local musicians (with a special appearance by the Boston-based Videri String Quartet), the CD includes familiar tracks from Galaga, Legend of Zelda, Sonic the Hedgehog, Minecraft, and more.

“It’s odd how familiar melodies in surprising circumstances can make you grin. But it’s less strange how to realize that beautifully arranged, spectacularly played music can transcend even its original medium and become something to be savored standalone,” says video game historian  Simon Carless, in the CD’s liner notes. “And, thanks to the String Arcade Players, we get a soundtrack album to remember—one that soars around the history of video games and creates a cohesive whole from spectacularly diverse sources.”

Interested music (and game) lovers can listen to a preview track of Plants Vs. Zombies‘ “Grasswalk.” A full digital version of The String Arcade is available for pre-order via iTunes and BandCamp. The digital and CD versions will drop on February 11, 2014.

All of the proceeds for both the $7.99 digital download and the $9.99 CD will be used to fund the aforementioned Alameda Music Project.