“My music had roots which I’d dug up from my own childhood, musical roots buried in the darkest soil.” ~ Ray Charles
Kathy Reid-Naiman is an enormously gifted musician who has given to the world several gorgeous recordings of songs and rhymes for young children. She is a wonderful composer, performer and educator, and someone I’m proud to call my friend. With the release of her most recent CD, “When It’s Autumn”, it seems appropriate to share with you an interview about the role of music in her life and what prompted her to bring music into the lives of children and their families. Enjoy!
Q: What was your childhood like, and how did your early experiences influence you as a musician?
KRN: I was the youngest child in our family of three girls. My mother was a nurse and my dad worked for the Airforce but his passion was music. He played jazz guitar, bass, piano and a slew of other instruments. My lullabies were dad playing anything he could think of on the piano and he only played in F#. I was always singing and if I couldn’t remember the words I’d make them up. I remember making up songs while I was swinging…brilliant songs as I recall, but I couldn’t print yet so I never wrote them down and by the time I tried to sing them for someone else I had forgotten them. Now when a song finds me, I reach for the nearest recording device!
My oldest sister Mary learned songs at school and shared them with us, they were so much better than the ones we were learning, and she knew the harmonies so that made them even better. We sang in the car on long trips, dad loved to join in. He said that he couldn’t sing since Polio had robbed him of his beautiful tenor voice but he sounded pretty good to us. He taught us the songs that his 2 brothers had sung with him – K-K-K- Katy, Show Me the Way to Go Home and others. We were encouraged to join the church choir and that was a wonderful way to learn how to read music and strengthen my voice. I idolised one of the sopranos and my goal was to sing as beautifully as she did. Funny thing though, I auditioned every year for the High School Glee Club but I never was good enough to get in.
Mary, being the oldest, discovered folk music in high school. There was a TV show called Sing Out!, hosted by Oscar Brand and that was really fun to watch. He featured a lot of wonderful talent like Pete Seeger, Jean Ritchie, Doc Watson and many more that I can’t remember. She found a copy of Sing Out! Magazine in a local bookstore and it was intriguing to know that there were people all over the place singing and playing music together! She bought an autoharp and a dulcimer…mail order from advertisements in Sing Out!, and she found out about a folk song competition at a CobourgHigh School. She had so much fun there that she wouldn’t stop talking about it so I decided it was time to learn how to play something so that I could go too. I borrowed my dad’s guitar and learned a few chords and the rest I guess is history!
Once I discovered that music was not only a way to express myself but also a way to open doors to new friendships and new places it became the most important thing in my life. So my childhood nurtured all aspects of music and allowed me the freedom to explore it and grow with it. My father understood what it was like to be a musician and encouraged it and supported it. I still play his guitar and a few of his other instruments and his influence has extended its reach to my children as well.
Q: When did you know that you would commit so much energy to music in early childhood?
KRN: Music for Early Childhood crept up on me; it was never a conscious decision to make it a full time job. After my son was born and in nursery school I started sitting in on the music circle time more to get out of cleaning toilets and making snack than because I was interested in children’s music. I had been singing a bit with my kids but I started doing a bit more because the teachers and kids seemed to like it. Around that time a friend asked me to sub a library class for her. I was terrified but she was stuck so I did it. Then she decided to give me the class when she moved on to something else. These were classes for preschoolers – 3 to 5. This lasted for a few years until I decided that it was too much work and aggravation for the amount of pay so I quit and moved from Toronto to Aurora in 1986.
I really did not intend to do it again! What happened next set my course for the future though I didn’t know it at the time. I took my children to the Aurora library to take a look around and get library cards and see what our town library was like. While we were there I overheard a patron registering for the music class. I had seen an ad in the paper for a music teacher and had dismissed it without too much thought. I heard the librarian describing the class saying that they didn’t know who the teacher would be because the previous one had left suddenly and they were looking for a replacement. Well curiosity got the best of me so I applied for the job! I had never worked with babies before but I was willing to give it a shot. I asked for enough money to make it worthwhile and after 25 years I am still working at that library! I took on more and more classes at different libraries and at one point I was doing 21 classes a week.
I made my first recording ‘Tickles and Tunes’ in 1994 and now I have 11 CDs and one DVD. So you see I really slipped in the back door and I love what I am doing but I never would have predicted it.
Q: Who are the musicians and individuals that have inspired you the most, and why?
KRN: As a young folksinger I was drawn to the new kind of singer songwriter appearing on radio, TV and festivals; Judy Collins, Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Phil Ochs and many many more. They appealed to me because they were singing about things that mattered to me, in a way that I knew that I could learn to sing as well. Judy Collins reminded me of the chorister that I had idolised so I found myself trying to sing with as much power and conviction as she did.
When I started learning children’s songs I found the Ruth Crawford Seeger collections, American Folksongs for Children, Animal Folksongs for Children and American Folksongs for Christmas. The recorded versions of the books by her children and grandchildren were wonderful not only as resources but to listen to, sing along with and learn. I loved the way that traditional songs resonated with me and above and beyond that I loved the way that Mike Seeger had arranged the songs to make each one unique. Our Canadian children’s music pioneers Sharon Lois and Bram and Raffi, have been a big influence as well. The quality of their recordings has been a benchmark for me to aspire to. I have also been so very fortunate to have Ken Whiteley as a producer and friend. He, like Mike Seeger, has been able to wed each song with an arrangement that is at once enjoyable for the adults and children and different from every other piece on the recording.
Q: Why do you think musical experiences are vital to a child’s learning and development?
KRN: I think that art in any form can open windows in a child’s mind. They see and experience things that pique their imagination in many ways. They want to try to reproduce the experience for themselves. AS they try to do that, they discover that though they may not create something exactly the same, they can create something that gives them pleasure and drives them to try harder.
Q: How has your career as a musician and educator evolved over time? What is one of the most satisfying experiences your work has provided?
Well I have answered that a bit already, the transition from folksinger to children’s musician and from teaching preschool to early childhood. What I find the most satisfying now is being able to teach the teachers and pass on what I have learned to others who are working in the field. In particular seeing my daughter and daughter-in-law teaching has been a real treat. Hannah, my daughter had been quite adamant that she was not going to be a children’s musician but recently has decided to give it a shot and she is a natural! She is actually teaching me a few things. I feel like we are coming full circle. Another great thing is seeing my grandson singing along and doing fingerplays. The proof is in the pudding!
Q: Which one of your recordings is your favourite, and why?
KRN: A favourite recording – that is a tough question, usually it is the one that I am working on now or the one I just finished! I am pretty happy with Reaching to the Stars though; this is the one with the most songs that I have written on it. It also has a few of my favourites; Love Grows One by One by Carol Johnson in particular.
Q: What recommendations might you make to anyone considering a career like yours?
KRN: Go for it! Enjoy it! Be aware that it may take awhile to make a living doing it and it may have to be just a part of your career. Making CDs is becoming less and less attractive since less people are buying them and more people just want to download them, legally or illegally. So before you decide to spend thousands of dollars making a CD, consider carefully whether making back your investment is important.
Here is a just a small taste of what is to be enjoyed on Kathy Reid-Naiman’s most recent CD, “When It’s Autumn”. To discover more of Kathy’s recordings and products, visit http://www.merriweather.ca/.