Monday, February 28, 2011

Like a good neighbor...

Each year, The Fred Rogers Company promotes Good Neighbor Day. They encourage neighbors everywhere to show their Mister Rogers love by wearing a sweater. It's simple but meaningful, just like Mister Rogers. This year, Good Neighbor Day falls on Sunday, March 20th.

Check out the websites! They're full of ideas on how you can be a good neighbor. In the past, people have organized sweater drives or volunteer experiences. Last year, Joe and I celebrated with the families at my school at the annual Family Dance. Today is the first time I've thought about what we'll do this year...any thoughts?

Meet Dot!

Meet Dot! Dot loves clowning around at the circus with her friend Ham. She enjoys partner acrobatics and balancing best!

Dot is played by J'nelle Bobb-Semple, a New York-based actress, singer, and teaching artist. J'nelle is a graduate of New York University and currently working on her Master's in Applied Theatre at CUNY. She also works with numerous New York City schools and organizations including the Story Pirates!

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Big Time "Big Top" Music, Part 2

Since my last post, many readers have expressed interest in listening to John Foti's other audition tracks. Unfortunately, friends, those remain locked up in the archives to be revealed when Big Top strikes Smithsonian fame. Sorry.


I'm so excited to feature an interview with our brilliant composer. Meet John...

Born and raised in West Caldwell, New Jersey, John started playing piano at the age of 5 and went on to study saxophone, voice, and accordion as well. He graduated from Fordham University in 2000 and has been playing and touring with Grammy Award-winning children's artist Dan Zanes and Friends since 2007. John released his first studio album, "Everybody's Coming To Town" earlier this year. He also recently composed music for the debut puppet-adaptation of "City of Hamburgers," a book by Mike Reiss. Hobbies include: traveling, making cd mixes, worrying about what the Yankees score is, not taking NJ Transit, and watching Jim Henson's Emmet Otter's Jug Band Christmas too many times.

Christina: You pitched us a bunch of these great 30 second songs with lyrics and music. How was it hearing that we'd be chopping one down to 3 seconds?

John: Ha! As much as I quickly grew attached to a few of the theme songs, I completely understood that it might not be in the best interest of a 3-4 minute show to have a 30-second theme song. Especially if there's music throughout the show. Also, since it's not my creation, my project...well it's my job to respect the decisions of the creators and follow-through with my responsibilities the best that I can.

C: What was it like writing music for a television show as opposed to writing music for music's sake?

J: Well, it's the same thing really. It's all just ideas and instincts. In some ways, it's easier, because there's a built-in restriction and the overall idea is already there.
A music theory teacher once told me this about writing music. And I think this applies to many things. "You can carve a clay elephant two ways. You can start with a block of clay and carve away to the shape of an elephant or you can build the elephant from scratch." Why an elephant, I dunno. But I think it makes sense. In this case, I'd say the way I recorded was by making a huge block of sound first, then I carved away to make each song appropriate to the individual episode.

C: Was there a difference in writing music for a children's show rather than writing music for an older audience?

J: I'd like to hope not. I'm a big believer that all music is children's music. Or vice versa. Again, the writing process is just a creative outpouring of ideas and melodies and sounds. There's no need to start from a point where you're automatically dumbing-down the integrity of the song just because it's for a younger audience. Children aren't stupid. They like good music. Adults on the other hand...

C: What was it like communicating via email and file sharing rather than meeting and decision-making face-to-face?

J: Well, it was necessary, really. It's the way we operate these days. It's good and bad though. Good, because you can quickly exchange ideas, from your home, and get feedback right away. I've recently been recording a lot from my house for other projects...where those people will just throw my files into their and go from there. It's great. That said, sometimes a face-to-face meeting and rrreaally talking things through could probably eliminate a lot of the back-and-forth emails and potential mis-communication that occurs because of that.

Thanks, John!

To learn more about John, you can visit his website or Facebook page. Don't forget to friend Big Top Fitness!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Big Time "Big Top" Music, Part 1

Big Top Fitness is non-verbal. Did you know that? There are voiceovers spoken by children, but the core of the program is physical movement and music. From the beginning of this project, I knew music would be incredibly important. When writing my story bible, I really tried to think about what I wanted the show to sound like. It had to be circus music, but it also had to be fun and modern. In the story bible, I wrote:
Opening Title
The opening of each episode will be accompanied by the same instrumental music as the title credit rolls in order to alert the child viewers that the program is starting, and it’s time to get active and have fun.
Individual Episodes
Each episode of Big Top Fitness will be accompanied by a unique instrumental track. The music can be characterized as “new circus” style including an organ, brass instruments, bass drum, and cymbals. The music will compliment the movements modeled on screen and support active and enjoyable participation with the child viewers.

I had no idea where we were going to get the music. I decided I would need to source three different kinds of sounds: piano-driven with high energy, acoustic-driven with a calmer energy, and a Tufts student per my advisor's recommendation. I spent hours scrolling through my iTunes library and finding inspiration pieces which I also listened to tirelessly when writing and creating the characters (a leftover from my NYU character development days). From there, I looked at the artists in my inspiration playlist. I decided to take a risk and contact two of them. To be fair, they were both people I knew: one from high school and another from work at the New Vic. I also got in touch with the music department here at Tufts. I asked them to audition with a 30-second piece to introduce the show. All they had to go off of was the story bible description. My decision was an easy one. One person totally got it, one person missed the mark big time, and the other just never got back to me. It was clear which direction we were going in.

The response from John Foti was unbelievable! He sent us 6 thirty-second tracks with full music and lyrics. Blake McCarty, the director, and I kept going back and forth over which one we liked best. We finally settled on one that really felt like the message we were trying to send out there with this show.

We realized, however, that 30 seconds was just too, too long for our little interstitials. Blake and I picked our favorite parts of that fabulous song and just cut it down a wee bit. Check it out...

Tune in later this week for the second part of our music blog! I'll be featuring an interview with Big Top Fitness musician John Foti!