Planet Preschool

The Heartbeat of Little Airplane: An interview with Jeffrey Lesser

I love Jeffrey Lesser.  He has great warmth, talent and personal dignity.  His passion for music is as deep and profound as anything I have ever experienced in my life. For ...
March 24, 2009

I love Jeffrey Lesser.  He has great warmth, talent and personal dignity.  His passion for music is as deep and profound as anything I have ever experienced in my life.

For those of you who don’t know Jeffrey, he is the Musical Director at Little Airplane and he oversees every composition and every musical performance on all of our shows, including “The Wonder Pets!” and “3rd & Bird!”  In 2008, he won an Emmy for his work on “The Wonder Pets!”

But before joining Little Airplane in 2003, Jeffrey had already won Grammy Awards and worked with amazing artists such as Barbra Streisand, Lou Reed, The Chieftains, Joni Mitchell, Linda Ronstadt, Sinead O’Connor and Sting. 

I wanted you all to get to know Jeffrey a little better so I asked him to let me interview him for Planet Preschool and he graciously agreed. 

So, without further ado, I’d like you to meet my colleague and my friend, Jeffrey Lesser.

JOSH:    What would your one piece of advice be to someone who was writing their first song for children?

JEFFREY:  Be real!  They can take it.  Write about their world.  Make ‘em laugh.  Give it heart.  Be sincere.  Make it comfortable for them to interact.  Keep the story logical.

JOSH:    Do you feel that young children are more open to new musical styles than grown-ups?

JEFFREY:  Almost every musical style is new to a preschooler!  They’ve only been around for three or four years.  The musical palette in “The Wonder Pets!” is vast.  I have seen our audience transfixed on the show.  The marriage of music, story and animation all work together to keep their attention.  We have been able to introduce so many musical influences.  Once an overlooked demographic, this age group is being introduced to music that stretches the imagination well beyond what was dreamed of in the early days of broadcasting.

JOSH:    Do you think that music conveys emotion better than words?  If so, why?

JEFFREY:  Music is such a partner in storytelling.  It totally enhances the emotion and sometimes drives it.  On many of our shows, the music succeeded in finding emotion that was not totally apparent in the written word.  All of a sudden a scene got funnier or more poignant or more exciting.

JOSH:    What kind of music don’t you like?

JEFFREY:  My biggest issue is with music that is trying too hard.  There is a theater term that has a parallel in music:  “The suspension of disbelief.”  If a piece of music can keep you in the moment, it is a winner.  Music can tell a story without words.  Self-conscious music makes me uncomfortable.  When the craft of the song writing overshadows the mood and heart of a song, the listeners drift and you’ve lost them.  I really don’t like music that “dumbs down” for a preschool audience.  It really isn’t necessary.  I also don’t like “perfect” music.  It’s too easy to make every word perfectly in tune and in time.  Give me heart and performance over perfection anytime.

JOSH:    Tell us about the Grampu Fishing Song.

JEFFREY:  As you know, my first experience with Little Airplane was on the “Oobi!” show.  There was a song in the middle of the Fishing episode that was struggling to find its feel.  Grampu and Oobi were sharing a beautiful bonding moment as they sing “The Fishing Song” on the side of a lake.  Before my involvement, several approaches to this song didn’t seem to capture the scene’s sensitivity.  So you asked me to take a shot at re-imagining the song.  I took it to a place of innocence.  What if the music sounded like these two characters were sitting around a campfire and they were playing all the instruments themselves?  The approach worked.  Sometimes simple is best.  This song sparked the beginning of our incredible relationship at Little Airplane that continues to this day.

JOSH:    Outside of watching quality preschool TV, how can families bring music into their homes?

JEFFREY:    Enthusiasm is contagious.  Singing songs together can be as fulfilling as telling stories.  When my daughters were preschool age, we kept music alive and fun.  One game we used to play was “Ballerina.”  They would dress up with tutus and slippers and act out the musical moods of my singing silly opera and ballet music.  They seemed to love the giant musical leaps from wild and frantic to calm and dreamy.  One moment they were a growing flower and the next a runaway train.  Bang on a box.  Play a kazoo.  Music is fun.  That’s probably why we say:  “Playing Music.”


JOSH:  How did you feel when you first heard the score for “The Wonder Pets!” pilot?

JEFFREY:    The show came alive!  How cool to have a child’s version of an opera.  Sticky Melodies, Ear Worms and Hum Bugs all reveled in this eleven and a half minute extravaganza. The music, performed by a live orchestra, added even one more level of heart.  We all felt we were on to something.  This was different.  I couldn’t imagine at the time that I would think of those first sung lines anytime a phone would ring:  “The phone!  The phone is ringing!”

JOSH:  What has been your proudest moment as a Music Director?

JEFFREY:  Standing in front of such an amazing group of talented television professionals to accept the Emmy Award was an evening that I will cherish forever.  It is a thrill to be noticed and recognized for the music in “The Wonder Pets!”  Music has impacted and enriched my life in such a deeply significant way.  I am humbled and honored to be in a position to share the gift of music with our young audience.  I take that responsibility very seriously.

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