Interview by Nadia Duncan
Children’s singer/songwriter Kyle lives in Oldcastle Co. Meath with his wife Brigid and their two young children. Kyle provides original, entertaining and engaging music for families with young children that speaks to both the experiences of childhood and parenting. His songs are drawn from many musical genres including folk, punk and reggae.
Q) What are your favourite traditional tunes for children and why?
It has to be ‘Wheels on the Bus’. The song may be aheadwreck to a lot of parents, but what it does for children is immeasurable. The simple repetitive melody provides the base for lots of learning. It’s got sounds and movement together and ticks a lot of boxes. For a bit of craic, I love playing ‘I’ll Tell Me Ma’. It gets the children moving. Maybe because its been sung in houses, pubs and at many a good session for generations, but also because the tune is infectious. Children love a good tune as much as any adult. I think traditional children’s tunes sometimes get a bad rap, mostly because they are done poorly. Children’s musicis meant to build a bond between parent and child. They’re meant to inspire confidence and ease of learning. It is when they are done well and done simply that they have the most effect.
Q) What are your thoughts on music therapy and why is it so important to introduce music to children from birth?
I find it tremendously effective. It isn’t constrained to any specific special needs or rehabilitation. I have seen it work with children going through quite intensive physical rehab, children with profound special needs and children with varying degrees of autism. Music adds a layer of accessabilty or familiarity and at the most basic level can be a distraction from the challenging work that is happening. It can provide an anchor, a path to development and self-confidence. It’s not only about doing therapy specific music either. You can see progress using Bob Marley or Beethoven. Similarly, with the introduction of music, it’s vital that the spectrum is broad, the styles are varied and exposure is early. Singing is a heightened version of our own speech. Melodies make it easier to understand meaning and allow the developing brain to start building the pathways to understanding earlier. Music at it’s core is communication and the more we connect with our children the more they thrive.
Q) How does a younger audience react to music differently than adults?
Children react quickly and mercilessly. Adults are more forgiving or more polite. Children need engagement and attention, even when there’s only one of me and a whole lot more of them. I never enter into any show for kids with expectations as to how they’ll respond. I create a set list and build an arc into my show, but it’s only a framework. There is a give and take of energy with every audience, but I try to keep a keen sense of what’s going on with the kids. I’ll change the order of songs, or change my physicality by sitting or lying on the floor. Sometimes I just chat with them for a minute to change the tone of the moment and let them know I’m listening to them. I give them respect. I try to change with their needs and it goes a long way to them enjoying the show and everybody having a great time.
Q) What do you enjoy most about performing to children and is there a downsides?
I love the pure joy, watching the confidence grow in them and the surprising ways in which they engage through the music. I’ve never played the same show twice because children are so vastly different from one another and that means each show is special, it’s a one of a kind. We jump in with both feet at the top, develop a rapport very quickly and go on a little musical adventure that is unique to that show. When I’m touring, I gig most weekends, so I rarely get two days in a row off with my family. It’s a good problem, so I’m not complaining, but when we do get those elusive weekends together we make the most of it.
Q) You have two young children, do they get involved and could you see yourselves becoming a group one day?
They don’t have a choice! Kidding…My son, Eoin (7), has always been a little tricky with my public performances. He’s never liked sharing my attention, whether it’s with his sister or a perfect stranger. When he comes to a show, he’ll sit back and watch the whole thing, but won’t join in. Aisling (5), on the other hand, joins right in with the other children and gets totally involved in the music. She’ll practise with me and really loves it when we sing together. They both like that they are the inspiration for my music and are fierce critics as well. Everything I write goes past them first. They know which songs are theirs and they’ll always have them. I asked them about being in a band with me – Eoin ‘NO’, Aisling ‘YES’. That being said…I know he wouldn’t let her have all the fun.
Look out for Kyle at this year’s Eastside Arts C.S. Lewis Festival (3-7 November 2018). For details of his upcoming shows visit kylejamesriley.com