Tuesday, October 12, 2010
Musician Kevin Roth joins us in studio to sing some lullabies. We'll talk about the history of lullabies and why these simple songs have stood the test of time. This is radio that is meant to put you to sleep.
It's one of the most universal forms of music - the lullaby. Mothers and fathers around the world, in every different language - sooth their babies with gentle songs.
Kevin Roth is a musician and author of a new book and a CD series called "My Quiet Times," a collection of lullabies, children's songs and bedtime stories.
I'm Maureen Cavanaugh, and you're listening on these on KPBS. It's one of the most universal forms of music. The lullaby. Of mothers and fathers around the world in every different language soothe their babies with gentle songs. Now while everyone can sing a lullaby, not many can make them sound like my next guest. Kevin Roth has been a singer for the shining times station based on Thomas the tank engine. He's the author of a new book and CD series called my quiet times, featuring children's songs lullabies and bedtime stories. Kevin Roth, thank you so much for coming in today.
KEVIN ROTH: Oh, it's a pleasure.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We're gonna start with a song, this is Kevin Roth singing hush little baby. With that's music four little dreamers, part of his new collection, My Quiet Times. Kevin, that was lovely, thank you so much.
KEVIN ROTH: Thank you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: How how did you get started with lullaby.
Well, you know, in 1986, I've been recording since 1974 as a dulcimer player, but in 1986 I made this record called lullabies for little dreamers at the request of a lady I knew who was starting a new small record company. And I had a freight time just picking out songs that I knew, and lullabies go so well with the dulcimer, and kind of the mellow sound. So I started to just collect them, I wrote a few, and I recorded it, and the record began to sell in 1986 and hasn't stopped selling.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now, is what you're praying here a dulcimer.
KEVIN ROTH: This instrument is the only kind it's called a guitarcimer, and it's the only kind of in the world right now. It looks kind of like A Weisenborn lap guitar, what we did is we put a dulcimer fret board on it, the whole thing about what I do with my quiet times is about the heart. So it sounds really just a cross between a guitar and a dulcimer, that's why we call it a guitarcimer.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Just so the listeners know, you're keeping this here, you're resting it on your lap as if it were a dulcimer, but it kind of resembles a guitar.
KEVIN ROTH: Yeah, someone called it a dulcimer more on steroids.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That highlights this kind of sound, this kind of combination dulcimer guitar sound. Can you pray that song for us.
KEVIN ROTH: Sure, it's a very early song of mine and I'll be actually putting it on a new recording, but here it is for you live.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's a tune called song, and it was performed by Kevin Roth, you may know him from the singer of the hit PBS TV show shining time station. He's here sharing his bulla byes, and his new series my quiet times with us. Now that's a hulla by without any words.
KEVIN ROTH: Yes, yeah.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: What makes a good lullaby, Kevin?
KEVIN ROTH: You know, I think something that's mellow, soft, soothing serenity. I think anything that's very gentle, that sounds good and gives you peace. The world that comes to me mostly is serenity where you hear, you know, ah. (Sigh).
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Yeah.
KEVIN ROTH: Which is what we call need to do more these days.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: It's very true. Now, are there differences in the types of lullabies that people sing throughout the world or is it pretty standard.
KEVIN ROTH: You know, that's a wonderful question. No one can pinpoint the exact origin of a lullaby. If you, of course, you know, go on the Internet and look, you'll see that lullabies have been sung since really the beginning of time in all kinds of languages and this are wonderful collections of hulla byes from throughout the world on folk ways from the Smithsonian. The earliest mention of a lullaby is where a child was put up again a mother's chest, and if you think about it, (humming) there's something that happens mentally, physically, spiritually, and I'm sure psychologically when you're up against a mother's chest and you're hearing and feeling this vibration, and that's where they very first started to think about what is a lullaby, just to calm a small child down. Of course, I think that lullabies are great for adults.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. How do adults benefit from lullabies.
KEVIN ROTH: You know, I guess this is the reason that I created my quiet times brand line because with the news and everything that's so crazy today, I needed something to escape. And I have my music, you know? And I thought, up, as I play music for myself on the get tarsimer, or the piano or the flute, or any of the instruments I play, it soothes me. So I thought, if I can find a way to make this work not only for babies and preschoolers but for the parents who upon reading it and singing it and sharing it also get that ah, (sigh) that's a great thing to do in life. So that's how I kind of got into lullabies and decided that's what I wanted to do for the remainder of my life, among other things, and I guess I'm the only performer that really enjoys putting his audiences to sleep.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: But you intend to.
KEVIN ROTH: I intend to. Yeah. It's called a child pill.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's hear another lullaby. This is a recorded one of it's from your album, it's called lullabies for little dreamers, and it's called all through the night.
That's an excerpt of all through the night from Kevin Roth's album, lullabies for little dreamers, not only do lullabies put babies to sleep but they also soothe them. Do you think there are times when people tend to forget that these days that perhaps a little singing could go a long way.
KEVIN ROTH: Oh, you know my theory is that if everybody sung, the world would be a whole lot more peaceful. You know, it's as an adult, I needed to retrain myself to take time throughout the day and just breathe. And I'm lucky that I'm a musician. And when I am not, you know, being the 'cause I have a record label, I guess the independent mogull of my own business, I breathe. That's what I find necessary assab adult. And when you have child, if you're up tight, and you bring that to your children, your children get up tight. And that causes a lot of stuff. It causes anxiety, it causes over eating that's why kids are so over weight now. We don't know how to handle stress. And one beautiful and simple way to do it is to share an experience that is calming, whether it's going here in San Diego, I mean, God, you've got so many beautiful things, I used to live here, I miss it so much. Even going to the zoo is so beautiful, Balboa park. But lullabies and books I've made or albumless I've made are -- the time just to find quiet timeses, your own quiet times and just go, okay, I'm living in the moment, it's cool. It's fine, it's gonna be okay.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Now with that track we just heard, all through the night, and the first performance you just did for us, hush little baby, those are familiar songs. How do you go about constructing a new lullaby?
KEVIN ROTH: Well, for me, the way I construct a lullaby is it begins, it comes to me some sort of, I guess, mystically in a way, through the melody first. And then comes the lyrics. Often they come together. And I don't know what brings them on. It's really kind of an interesting experience. I think you could hear that from any song writer. But I think anything that's soothing, you know, you don't want to make any kind of rock and roll or loud kind of idea, you know, going through anybody's head. But for me, a lullaby starts with a very beautiful simple melody, and a beautiful concept lyrically that is geared towards the idea of serenity and just calming and chilling out. And it could also be a lot of fun.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Right. Now do you you I wonder what kind of a feeling you get when you actually hear kids sincing along with you. Whether it's in concert or on a CD. That must be thrilling.
KEVIN ROTH: It's amazing, because, you know, when I first started out in the children's business, nobody knew any of my songs. And now they do. You know? They know me from shining times station on PBS. My book series, the tales of Wabby, kids are now coming up to me and saying where's Wabby? And we'll talk about him in a minute. He's a little rabbit. But it's wonderful because I feel like I'm leaving some sort of imprint on the world that takes a lot of stress out of it, and you know, there's nothing greater than a kid coming up and singing your song.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Let's hear another lullaby, when you wish upon a star, and that's from Kevin Roth's album, lullabies for little dreamers.
That's Kevin Roth, when you wish upon a star, from his album, lullabies for little dreamers, and he's here to talk about his career and his collection of children's called my quiet times, I do want to ask you just a little bit about shining time station because I think an awful lot of our listeners might be familiar with you from that. You sang the theme song from the television show. How did you wind up doing that.
KEVIN ROTH: Well, ironically enough, Rick sickle co, who was one of the producers of the show, had been given a copy of back then it was an album, lullabies for little dreamers and put his daughter to sleep with it every night. So he tracked me down, and he invited me up to talk to him about this show that he thought would be very successful. And of course it was hugely success.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Indeed. And what kind of feed back did you get back from singing that theme song.
KEVIN ROTH: Well, when I give concerts I call it a medley of my head. There's nothing like being recognized for something like that. And it was a it was an amazing experience. You know? It was kind of surreal when you have sort of a hit song. So few people have them. Of course it wasn't a hit on the radio. But it was a bigger hit on TV. And although that show's been off the air for a while, there's a huge, huge cult following of it on the Internet. And it was it's just wonderful and they were great to work with.
KEVIN ROTH: Can you do a line or two for me?
KEVIN ROTH: Reach for the speed, reach for the whistle, go where the rail may run, to the shining times stations, where dreams come true, waiting there for you. Notice I picked out the dream line for you.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I appreciate that. I want to also talk about your character, Wabby Wabbit. And this is an important part of your collection of lullabies and songs 'cause these are stories. Tell us about Wabby.
KEVIN ROTH: Wabby is a little rabbit who has a patch of white fur on the side of his head in the shape of a heart. And his stories are based on circumstances that kids go through where they have to learn patient and gratitude. And putting love into things so when he gets into situations that preschoolers get into. When he doesn't know what to do, he rubs his little heart like we scratch our head and go what do I do. But when he rubs his little heart, he says, I need to look deep inside myself and think how do I make this garden grow or how do you make this love soup taste good? Or any of those kinds of things, he hears the answer in the form of a song 678 so the books come with a CD of me reading a story, and then the song. And then Wabby's whole thing is that heart, is teaching children and reminding parents that if you risen to your heart with love and wisdom, you'll always get the right answer.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: I remarked just a little while ago how much you must love getting feed back from children. But you must also get an awful lot of feed back from parents. What do they say to you? Do they say thank you?
KEVIN ROTH: I've never heard anything say thank you but they show such gratitude. You upon, it's really interesting to me because a lot of people who don't have children who see the Wabby, the tale Wabby, for instance one of the books called my present, which is really that Wabby learns about gratitude and he's asked to fill a book full of things that make him happy. I've had adults tell me, I've gotta give this to my friend she was just diagnosed with cancer. Oh, I want to give this to my son. So I try and write stories and songs that have that crossover appeal that don't just appeal to children. Because after all we all carry a child inside of us.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: That's the truth. I've read on your website that you say a good children's song has got to be just a little bit silly. How do you know how much silly to put in 1234.
KEVIN ROTH: When it makes me giggle. I mean look it, I'm a 52 year old man that writes rabbit stories. I mean what a life, you know? And sings lullabies, you know?
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Uh huh.
KEVIN ROTH: I think there's a lot of humor in life if you got the right eyeballs to see it. So along with sweet lullabies, a lot of every story I write, every Wabby story and every album I make always has some kind of fun thing with it. You just gotta laugh. It's one of the great healing tricks of time. They say once a man, twice a child. And it's true. You know? We get so caught up in our adult professionalism that we lose the innocence and the innocence is just waiting to come back out in us. I mean, trust me, I'm an adult, and that's, you know, that's that's the way to go if you can do it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: We've been talking an awful lot about your my quiet times collection. If someplace's interested or they want to find out more or they want to get it. Where would they go?
KEVIN ROTH: Well, our website is WWWmy quiet times, plural,.com and that's where they can order the books and CDs and we'll be coming out with a Wabby plush doll, I'm so excited, and it looks great. And there's also hopefully a Wabby T series.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Wow.
KEVIN ROTH: I don't know if we'll do it on TV or the web but we have a lot 6789 we have a lot of growth coming up.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: A Wabby take over.
KEVIN ROTH: It's a Wabby world take over. Watch out.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Are you gonna be doing any touring for these particular CDs.
KEVIN ROTH: Yes, yes. In fact I'm doing a show in LA tonight and a lot of people will ask me to come and sing at, you you know, for their concert series. Sometimes schools want me. It really kind of depends, you can teach me through the website for that kind of thing. But yeah, I've always performed and recorded and toured and things like that. Of it's just part of it.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Well, Kevin, I want to thank you so much. This has just been so relacks, it has been that ah, moment that you were talking about. Of thank you so much for coming in and talking with us and playing today.
KEVIN ROTH: Well, thank you so much, I'm gonna send you a Wabby to sit by your microphone.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: Believe me, I need it. We want to close on a song that many people am recognize. This is Kevin Roth singing you are you. This is your most popular children's song off the album Unbearable Bears.