Last month we looked at The Wiggles and their growth over the passage of 25 years from educational outfit to supremos in the kid’s entertainment business. Perhaps it is also time to consider another fixture on Australian television, Lah-Lah’s Big Live Band. How do they rate in terms of delivering actual educational content to young people?
Better, it would seem. Both groups are unashamedly kid’s entertainers, but the difference is that Lah-Lah’s BLB tries to use entertainment as a vehicle for teaching young children elementary musical concepts, not as an end in itself. One notices a passing similarity with The Wiggles in songs that are bright, upbeat and aimed at participatory singing and dancing – if again limited in emotional range.
The difference is that their stories are directly music-themed around the band itself, and the music is performed entirely acoustically by well-established musos from Sydney’s jazz scene. These are co-founder Mark Harris (double bass), Matt Ottignon (saxophone), Gary Daley (accordion) and Nic Cecire (percussion). Lah-Lah herself is Tina Harris, the show’s other co-founder, an ex-Opera Australia soprano who has also taught Kindermusik classes for pre-schoolers in the Sydney region.
“We make the lyrics appropriate for children and child-focused, but the actual music is music that you would go out and hear at a jazz club or a world music concert,” she said two years ago. “I hope that what we do in Lah-Lah drives a culture of more children wanting to learn musical instruments and of us having a stronger musical education in this country.”
There’s no question about Lah-Lah’s commercial success. After being taken up by the Seven Network in 2014, ABC TV acquired the broadcast rights to the first of its Lah-Lah’s Adventures series, and their shows are now also televised in the UK (via CBeebies) and Canada (via Knowledge Kids). The group signed to Sony Music last year. Not bad for seven years of being together.
Yet one thinks they could achieve more, in terms of the emotional span of their songs. They do tend to fall into a common trap in this country of thinking that all children’s music has to be “loud, colourful and in-your-face”.
An encouraging sign is that, according to its website, Lah-Lah says it will soon be offering “specialised early childhood music lessons online” that introduce children aged 2-6 years and families to concepts of tempo, pitch, dynamics and so on. Lah-Lah’s Music Room, as it will be called, “has been a dream of Lah-Lah creator Tina Harris for many years, having always wanted to write an educational early childhood music curriculum. Children love learning through fun and play and this is something Lah-Lah does so well with new original songs and games.”
Music Room is promised to come in 2016.