By Art Edelstein
There was a time when American songs were regularly taught in public schools across the country. Even in cities like New York and its environs, grade-schoolers learned patriotic American songs and had visits from musicians like Pete Seeger who performed and taught the songs that were created as the nation grew.
Today, however, many school districts have tight budgets, and music and the visual arts are frequently not funded. As a result, children are not learning to sing or play instruments with the frequency afforded their parents and grandparents.
Katie Trautz, traditional musician and executive director of Randolph’s Chandler Center for the Arts, is trying to bridge this gulf in music education with her first volume, of a scheduled four, that teaches harmony singing with children in mind.
“American Harmony Singing, Book 1: Kid Songs” was recently released by Trautz. It contains 12 songs with music and lyrics, and a short explanation for each. There are two CDs accompanying the book. On CD 1, Trautz sings the harmony parts to each song, and on CD 2, there are performances of the songs by several groups that Trautz leads. Tracks by Trautz and her musical partner, Julia Wayne, in Mayfly, also have instrumentation.
Trautz, who lives in East Montpelier, said the target audience for this first volume “includes novice singers and experienced educators alike.” This can include adults, parents of children, caregivers, and singing groups.
“Whoever is interested in American folk songs and harmony singing,” she said.
While the music is written out in notation, the CDs make reading music unnecessary. The book could be used in conjunction with a camp or church group catering to kids or, for that matter, adults who want to sing American songs. Trautz, who also teaches fiddling and has run singing groups including the Olabelles, who appear on the performance CD, said she hopes to start a group singing class that focuses specifically on these songs.
There are a number of ways to approach the material in this book. According to Trautz, “Singers can read the music and learn the parts, or they can listen to the CDs and learn by ear.”
The book and CDs are arranged so each harmony part has its own track to listen to, and the parts can be memorized. Another approach is to listen to CD 2, which demonstrates what the songs are supposed to sound like when sung in a group with all the harmony parts present.
The CDs are well done, so they make for a short but pleasant album. Trautz said, “Young children will love the music.”
Trautz is a strong believer in the idea that folk music should remain accessible to all. “I hope this book facilitates the easy-learning of these traditional songs. I also hope it aids the preservation and continuation of the music for generations to come,” she said.
The writing of books on American harmony singing is an ongoing project for Trautz. Other planned books will focus on country songs, gospel and hymns, and close-harmony Appalachian songs.
“American Harmony Singing”
Katie Trautz’s “American Harmony Singing, Book 1: Kid Songs” can be ordered from www.katietrautz.com for $20. The book is expected to be on sale at local music stores soon.