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Saturday, May 5, 2012

BaristaKids: Coffee with Alisa Harmon

Coffee With….Alisa Harmon, Director Music for Aardvarks in Montclair
BY  |  Monday, Mar 12, 2012 1:30pm

Alisa Harmon wears many different hats—Director, Montclair Music For Aardvarks and Other Mammals, Certified Teacher at the Developmental Learning Center (DLC) in Montclair, Parents Who Rock performer and band member—and mother to her 3 children, Tanner, Zoe, and Eva.
As the owner of HARMONIZE and Director of Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals (MFA) in Montclair, Alisa epitomizes a groovy approach to playing and teaching music. MFA is a departure from the “sweet and cuddly” approach to music education for young children. Whether she’s singing about snow or babysitters, city life, or aging grandparents, fire engines or bagels, or even the Guggenheim, Alisa brings a sense of whimsy and joy to her classes. There are also fun instruments, sign language interludes and at least 10 minutes of zany dancing.

Barista Kids appreciates that Alisa took time out to chat with Nicole Gray-Chan about music, multitasking and the lessons she’s learned along the way…

Q: How long have you been singing?
I have always been a musician. I grew up singing in church, doing a lot of solos. I was also in choral groups. During freshman year in high school, I was in a folk music band—The Budds. Then as a senior, I joined a rock and roll band, and I was also in a small madrigal group.

Q: You really are a multi-tasker.
Multi-tasking is what I do. I wear a lot of hats, but I’m most me when I’m singing. Singing for me is oxygen.

Q: Which vocalists inspire you most?
I used to fantasize about being Stevie Nicks.  Growing up, I listened to a lot of Fleetwood Mac, the Eagles, and Heart—especially because I was in the South. I love the Eagles because of all of the harmony. Sometimes I would sing my own harmony lines against their songs. Imagine my surprise when I moved to Montclair and met Mark Walsh (the little brother of Joe Walsh from the Eagles)—and then started performing with him.

Q: You’re from the South?
We moved to Alabama from Oregon when I was 13. It was like a foreign country. I finished college there before heading to California as part of a church mission.

Q: When did you start teaching music to toddlers and preschoolers?
We moved to New York City in 1992, and I starting teaching Music Together in 1993. I taught Music Together for eight years. While teaching through the Music Together program I met David Weinstone, the founder and national director of MFA. Our family moved to Montclair in 2000, and I started teaching MFA in Montclair in 2001.

Q: What makes Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals so special?
Music for Aardvarks is not intended to be “perky.” It has a definite beat. It’s fresh and vibrant and goes beyond clichés. MFA has an urbane sensibility. The first song, “Taxi,” which David introduced in the late 1990’s, really captures the attitude of the approach to the music.  (Cue melody: Taxi, taxi! Riding in the back seat. Roll the window up. Roll the window down. Put the money through the slot, “See ya later” “Thanks a lot.” Sure beats walking ‘cross town. )

The interesting thing about ‘Aardvarks’ songs is the dichotomy. Some of the songs are very simple, “Take me to the park, to the park, to the park, to the park, to the park.”

These songs are based on the best parts of life for children. I remember that during that time, every day, I picked up my kids and took them to the park. Another example is “Brush, brush, brush, brush, brush your teeth.” All of these things are relevant. You can say to your baby, “This is your music.” They can own this music.

But then, in a complete 180, there are the lullabies. The lullabies are full of musical genius. David uses a lot of jazz chords and the songs are so, so poetic. The imagery they evoke is amazing.

Rick Celano, my guitarist and Web master, and I get a tremendous amount of pleasure sharing this music with toddlers and their parents.
Q: The lullabies are really deep and nuanced. What is one of your favorites?
I have lots of favorites, but one of my favorite favorites is “Simple Things.” One part that really speaks to me is:  “The day will come, When you’ll be off and I’ll be all but done. You’ll leave this place, But, you’ll leave me with a smile on my face. The simple things, is the stuff of dreams. And I watch you sleep, in these precious days.”

Now that I am at the age that my children are almost “off,” I can recall those years when I sang this lullaby to them. Now, it has come to fruition in my life. In a sense, I’ve come full circle.

Q: There is a profound quality to this music, a sense of bittersweet joy and quiet longing. Do kids get it?
Remember, parents also listen to the music—and they pay attention to the lyrics. The kids understand the power of the melody and the lullaby calm that it imparts.

Q: Is there a story behind the name “Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals?”
I don’t think that there is a special reason that David chose “aardvarks,” though I should point out that “other mammals” is also part of the name.

Q: You are also an educator in the public school system.
Yes, I started working at the DLC, a preschool for children with special needs in Montclair, in 2002.  As a certified teacher there are many interesting things that I bring to teaching these students, including elements of occupational therapy, music therapy, speech therapy, and fine and gross motor skill development. When teaching, I use world music. Montclair is an incredibly diverse and open community—in a way that is absolutely unique—and I try to capture that in choosing from a selection of multi-ethnic music. Music is not mandated in special education, and I am pleased to be able to integrate this dimension into their early education.
Q: How long have you been involved with Parents Who Rock?
I met Alma Schneider, the Founder of PWR, when she brought her first child to Aardvarks. I was excited about singing with her and the other parents in the bands.  I’ve been pleased to be a part of such a great effort.

Q: There have been a lot of really big changes in your life recently, including some significant challenges. Yet, you seem as fresh and vital as ever. What exactly is going on?
My two-decades-old marriage was in its final stages when my husband (the father of my four children) made the choice to leave our family.  I had a small stroke in 2005, due to the stresses of my failing marriage.  As I lay in ICU, I realize that the thing I wanted most was be a mother to my children.  I’ve never missed one of my children’s events, and I am proud of that.  They are phenomenal people.

I am also growing personally and professionally. Currently, I’m in a Master’s program in Inclusive Early Childhood Education at Montclair State University.  I have also started a new business - life coaching for women over 40 who are navigating the treacherous waters of divorce.

One thing that I know with certainty: Nothing ruins your life forever!

Q: Your life is in full bloom—and it comes through in your music. What types of songs are you writing and singing now.
I’m always writing and singing songs. Recently, I wrote a poem/song, “Tapestry.” The point of the song is that I weave the strands of my life into a tapestry. It’s mine to weave…but also mine to take apart….

CD #10 Lyrics

I like dirt.  Dirt's what's I dig
I like pokin' around with a big old twig.
I like makin' mud pies and getting' all messy,
'Cause I like dirt and dirt likes me.

Now you may say that I'm a kook
'Cause I like to play in globs of goop;
But that's ok 'cause I'm happy!
I like dirt and dirt likes me.

Everyone Up
Everyone up to start a new day
It’s gonna be a good day.

Everyone out and be on your way
It's gonna be a good day

Everyone's back with something to tell
Something to tell of their day

Everyone off, now it's time for bed
Goodnight, sleep tight sleepyheads.

I got a boo-boo here. I got a boo-boo there.
I bumped my nose and stubbed my toes,
I even I hurt my hair!
I cried and cried and cried some more
And then I finally stopped.
I got a special magic kiss
'Cause boo-boos hurt a lot!

Big Old Dog
Big ol' dog just layin' around
Scratchin' his big ol' fleas.
He don't fetch, won't chase, just takin' up space
Man, that dogs lazy!
But sometimes he says ruff, ruff, ruff

That big ol' hound just lays around,
A bonafide bump on a log
He gets tired and pale just waggin' his tail
Man, that's a lazy dog!
But sometimes he says ruff, ruff, ruff

I can count my fingers one two three,
Four, five, six ,seven, eight, nine, ten.
I can make my fingers disappear --
Now they're gone, now they're here again!

I can count my toes, now that's easy
Ten little toes wigglin' on my feet.
I can make my toes all disappear --
Now they're gone, now they're here again!

Copycat Kid
That copycat kid does what I do.
I wave up high and she does, too.
I swing down low and so does she.
That copycat kid does just like me.

That copycat kid does what I do.
I clap clap clap and she does, too.
I slap slap slap so does she.
That copycat kid does just like me.

Daddy's Snorin'
I jumped up in the middle of the night,
I grabbed my teddy bear and I held on tight!
The whole house was shakin'
Gave me quite a fright!
But it was just my Daddy snorin'

Well, the phone ring-rang and I said, "Hello!"
It was Jigglin' Jane from down the road.
She said "My whole house is shakin',
What's going on?”
I said "It's just my Daddy snorin'"

Get a Life
My parents talk about me as if I wasn't there
They talk about my diapers,
They talk about my hair.
They talk about my sniffles,
And my snuggly, and my height.
If I could talk, I'd tell them  --
"Hey, you guys, get a life!"

Pizza Party
If I were mayor of this town
You know what I would say?
I declare that once a week be Pizza Party Day!
The crowd would cheer and jump and shout "Whoopee!" and "Hooray!"
"Oh thank you mayor! Thank you!
For Pizza Party Day!"

Spring Has Come
Winters' done, and Spring has come
Skies are blue the grass is green and warm
Flowers bloom and raise their faces to the sun
Spring has come.

Winter's gone, now Spring is on
The trees all spread their leaves
A robin sings its song
Children run and play all day in the sun
Spring has come.

Traffic Jam
I spy little eye something fun
We're going on vacation everyone
We're gettin' out of town just as fast as we can
Oh no! looks like a traffic jam!

I spy little eye something fun
Cruisin' in the car with the radio on
We're gettin' out of town now that's our plan
Oh no, looks like a traffic jam!

Oh, so slow even turtles go faster then we are! Let's go!

Rock-a-bye baby it won't be long
One magic kiss and a soft little song
Sleepy head eyes and a great big yawn or two
Goodnight, I love you.

Rock-a-bye baby sweetest of dreams
In honey-combed hills and rivers of cream
Big daffodils, orange and green and blue
Goodnight, I love you.

Goodnight to all and to all a goodnight
The stars have come out
And the moon’s shining bright
I'll see you again at first morning light anew
Goodnight, I love you.

Get Around
East Side, West Side, all around town
Sometimes I'm up; sometimes I'm down
To the bank, to the butcher, to the pastry shop
I get around town with a hop, hop, hop

East Side, West Side, all around town
Sometimes I'm up; sometimes I'm down
To the video store and the vegetable stand
I get around town, now catch me if you can