In celebration of Father’s Day, John Strohm shares an essay about his children and music, including the world premiere of a song he recorded with his daughter, Anna Catherine, entitled “First Grade”.
All three of my kids are musical, but they express their music in wildly different ways. Sophie, my youngest, is always singing some song or other, and if you stop to really listen to the words they are usually some bizarre adaptation of a Taylor Swift song filtered through a 3-year-old’s world view. A simple love song becomes a song about why big girls wear T-shirts and sneakers to daycare instead of dresses and sandals. Bennett, age six, is a natural comedian. He’s always cutting up, and wherever there’s any doubt about how to fill the air he defaults to “I like…big…BUTTSANDICANNOTLIE!!!,” to which he’s also added his own ad-libs, including “I like them BIG AND JUICY!” Although music is a constant for both of them, neither has ever really given me a way in. Their expression is personal and strictly non-collaborative.
Anna Catherine, who will be nine this summer, is different. She’s pretty much always seen herself as an emerging pop star. When she was two – when Bennett was literally a newborn – she proposed a family band. She’d been sitting quietly in her car seat for several minutes (a feat in itself), when she announced, “Daddy, we need a band.” I said, “We do?” “Yes,” she said, “you can play guitar, Mommy plays pian-do, I play drums, and Bennett…plays bass.” By the end of Kindergarten, she’d formed her own band called “The Music Twins and the One Other,” and stardom seemed imminent.
The Music Twins consisted of Anna and her best friend Jane Margaret; the “one other” was another kid in after-school daycare who’d complained to the teacher that she wasn’t included in their “game.” They had no choice. But the Twins were clearly the creative core. Jane Margaret was already sort of a stage kid; to her parents’ bafflement she insisted on singing and drama lessons at age four. She also wrote songs, and although Anna insisted the Twins’ repertoire was an equal collaboration, I could tell it was a sensitive point that Anna hadn’t brought in any original material (whereas Jane Margaret daily brought in classics such as “Around The World in 80 Days,” which detailed their boat journey with real geographic references such as “China” and “Mexico”). Anna wanted to pull her weight – she had to come up with some songs.
So I was only slightly surprised when she came home one day towards the end of Kindergarten and announced, “Daddy, you need to help me write a song.”
“Okay,” I said, “what are we writing about?” (Silence – eyebrows raised in expectation) Clearly this part was up to me. “Well, okay,” I said, “what do you care enough about to want to sing about?” Silence again. After ten or fifteen minutes of conversation (and her profound frustration), I figured out that she wanted to write about being the youngest kid in her class (technically second youngest, as the song provides), and she was willing to write a song about her excitement over finishing Kindergarten. This is the result:
Regarding my own contribution, I wrote the chords but Anna came up with the melody. I filled in a couple lines and rhymes (I doubt any Kindergartner would come up with the line “Kindergarten memories will soon begin to fade” – how are they supposed to know that?), but most of the words are hers. She wrote the first line and the hook. After we’d completed the first verse and the chorus she insisted we were done – sort of like calling the crayon drawing complete before filling in the sky. I really wanted a second verse and I spent a few minutes trying to workshop ideas, but it was pointless. She was very happy to sing the same verse twice, so that’s the song. We recorded it on my iPod immediately. I’d have forgotten all about it had I not gone digging through my collection of recorded fragments while writing my own songs. Glad I did.