By Howard Pousner
While some great music has come out of the explosion in children’s entertainment of the the last decade or so, any parent of young children can reel off several kids’ CDs that set their teeth absolutely on edge.
So it came as good news that Decatur singer-songwriter Caroline Herring — she of the critically acclaimed 2009 CD “Golden Apples of the Sun” and the recent appearance with Garrison Keillor on “A Prairie Home Companion” — had created a “children’s musical” based on the 1943 book “The Little House.”
Herring debuted her song cycle based on Virginia Lee Burton’s Caldecott Medal-winning book on Saturday afternoon at Eddie’s Attic to an enthusiasitc crowd of little ones and their parents.
“The Little House” tells the story of a pink home on a hill built way out in the country and surrounded by apple trees that little by little gets encroached upon by the nearby city. The pink house eventually gets swallowed up by that natsy big city and falls into disrepair, until a woman recognizes its beauty and history and has it moved out into the country.
It’s a sweet little story, and Herring’s 12 songs, performed with a three-piece acoustic band, expanded Burton’s winning narrative, further making the house seem like a living, breathing soul that all the listeners could relate to. The songs were short, probably each under three minutes, and were lovely, with arrangements that touched on folk balladry, bluegrass, jazz and country.
Sylvia Cross of Decatur’s Sycamore Place Gallery served as narrator, giving a clear and empathetic reading of Burton’s text. Even before Cross would finish a passage, Herring and band would begin the instrumental lead-in of each song, knitting the text and music/lyrics together. Slides with lyrics and story illustrations were projected on a screen, encouraging some singing-along.
The show lasted less than an hour, and Herring chose not to do an encore despite the audience’s encouragment. As a mother of two, maybe she knew she could only expect to keep the kids seated and maintain relative order so long. Or maybe she felt a song unrelated to the book would feel extraneous.
Afterward she was asked if she planned to record the show, which she titled “Shelter — A Children’s Musical.” Herring said she wasn’t sure and that she might record a different children’s album at some point.
We who’ve gritted our teeth to saccharine kids’ CDs in the car hope she’ll reconsider. For a new creation, “Shelter” came across as a smart and creative undetaking, something special that Herring shouldn’t close the book on anytime soon.