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Producers get into a new groove with music-based kids shows

The fact that most people can hum the theme songs to Sesame Street and Barney with little difficulty underscores the integral role that music has played in preschool-targeted television. But while producers have historically used music primarily as a branding tool or as a means of advancing or reinforcing an episode's narrative, few have seen music education as worthy of a TV treatment. That's starting to change. With recent research linking the study of music to stronger social and math skills, producers are looking at developing shows that encourage kid interest in music.
September 1, 2003

The fact that most people can hum the theme songs to Sesame Street and Barney with little difficulty underscores the integral role that music has played in preschool-targeted television. But while producers have historically used music primarily as a branding tool or as a means of advancing or reinforcing an episode’s narrative, few have seen music education as worthy of a TV treatment. That’s starting to change. With recent research linking the study of music to stronger social and math skills, producers are looking at developing shows that encourage kid interest in music.

It was while struggling to find such a series for his daughters that Phil Chalk, company director/producer at U.K.-based Evoke Entertainment, got the inspiration for Notezart. ‘I started kicking around the idea of how we could show classical musical notation in a way that would be accessible to kids,’ says Chalk, a classically trained trumpet player. From that initial brainstorm, he came up with a world and characters to represent the rudiments of music.

Each episode of the 26 x 11-minute series follows a similar format, with Notezart (the descendent of a famous composer) and his sidekicks Major (a dog) and Minor (a bird) trying to figure out the song of the day. Along their journey through the Land of Harmony, they collect clues about the song from other characters and objects. Once Notezart figures out the tune – one of several well-known children’s songs – he and the other characters recite it.

Chalk has tapped Hollywood film composer Carl Davis to score the theme song of the 2-D animated series, which London, England-based Tell-Tale Productions (of Tweenies fame) is consulting on.

Like Chalk, Zenith Entertainment’s head of children’s drama and animation Julian Scott hopes that his new show MusoMice will help remove some of the barriers that prevent kids from getting psyched about music. Set in an orchestra pit after the musicians have left for the night, the live-action/puppet series stars four mice who pose kid viewers questions like, ‘What objects can we use that will sound like rain?’ and ‘What does a rainbow sound like?’

Comprised of multiple segments, each episode sees the characters introduce a theme, which they explore through rhythm, pitch and stories (most of which are relayed by Minim the cat).

Scott developed the series concept with Melly Buse (who produced Henson’s The Hoobs and scored some of its music) and early childhood music educator Linda Bance. In fact, Scott got the idea for the show while watching his own child participate in a music playgroup that Bance runs. Though watching MusoMice won’t teach kids how to read music, Scott is confident they will be more interested in the subject. ‘What we tried to import from Linda’s playgroups was to get kids to realize that it’s okay to make music and that it’s okay to make a din,’ says Scott.

Promoting kid interest in tunes was also the driving force behind The Musicland Band, a 3-D CGI direct-to-video series from Santa Ana, California-based Touch Studios. Based on an original concept by creator Carla White, the series is about the adventures of characters who resemble various musical instruments. Rather than bore kids ages four to eight with music theory, the US$400,000 series aims to pique their curiosity about music by exposing them to as many genres as possible.

‘Unfortunately, a lot of today’s kids music is dumbed down. With Musicland we tried to incorporate all different styles – Broadway, country, surf music, etc. – but make it really authentic so that kids and parents won’t mind listening to it to,’ says White, who produces and writes all of the series’ music with her husband Tim.

So far, Touch’s approach is winning fans. The first DVD in the series (We Stick Together Like Glue), which was sold exclusively on the web (www.musiclandband.com), has moved 10,000 copies since it was released last year. And an accompanying CD has sold 5,000 units. As modest as those sales are compared to a Disney title, the first ep has since been picked up by Pro-Active Entertainment, which will make it available through large distributors such as Ingram and Baker & Taylor in October.

White is also talking to producers about developing a Musicland TV show, and is in pre-production on the second DVD, due out next spring. Entitled Glamorous Life, the DVD will star the Sticky Twins, two drumstick sisters who decide to enter an American Idol-like contest.

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