Tom Knight didn’t wish to turn into a kids’s musician and puppeteer. However he is constructed a reasonably good profession doing simply that.
And now, almost 20 years after he final launched an album, Knight has a brand new one readily available, “Look Each Methods,” which options a number of new songs in addition to new variations of three of his hottest tracks. , initially recorded within the late Eighties and early Nineteen Nineties.
And after weathering many misplaced gigs through the pandemic, Knight, who lives in Haydenville, is again on stage in a wide range of methods: as a singer-songwriter, as a puppeteer, and as a mixture of the 2. , a rarity within the sector. .
“I did not wish to be one other man enjoying acoustic guitar and singing people songs,” he mentioned in a latest interview, wanting again at the beginning of his profession. “It is laborious to face out like that. I needed to discover a technique to make music and make a dwelling doing it.
Knight, 59, who got here to the Valley in 2009 from Ithaca, New York, has been an everyday performer within the space since then, together with venues just like the Inexperienced River Pageant and First Night time Northampton. He has carried out in museums, libraries and school rooms – greater than 1,000 concert events by his estimate – within the Northeast and elsewhere, together with the Smithsonian Institute in Washington, D.C.
It has lengthy targeted on interactive exhibits that contain kids in music and storytelling, whether or not by means of a refrain or getting them transferring, as in “Alligator Soar,” one of many songs that he re-recorded on his new album (“Alligator Soar!” / Alligator slide! / All alligators like to maneuver back and forth.)
It options matters youngsters can relate to, like “The Rubbish Monster,” a bouncy music a couple of Frankenstein-like creature product of trash that sounds fairly scary – till you understand you may. disassemble by recycling all of the paper, cans and bottles he constructed from.
“Youngsters are likely to react very emotionally and naturally to music, which makes them such an incredible viewers,” Knight mentioned.
As a baby himself – he grew up in California – he performed the violin for a couple of years, then switched to trombone in highschool. In school, he realized the mountain dulcimer, then the guitar, a pure complement to the songs he had begun to put in writing.
It was whereas working as a preschool instructor at a Montessori faculty in Ithaca within the mid-Eighties that he first carried out for kids. “I used to be requested to convey my guitar and sing for the children, and it went very well,” he mentioned. “And I spotted that I might write songs for that sort of viewers.”
The Montessori faculty additionally had a puppeteer, who requested Knight to play music for his exhibits. This in flip led to a reference to Elizabeth McMahon, a puppeteer and composer with whom Knight fashioned a duo, Peanut Butter and Jelly Puppeteers, in Ithaca who carried out for about seven years earlier than McMahon went on her personal.
Including puppets to a musical present was one thing of a revelation for him, says Knight.
“I actually like how they’ll interact youngsters and take part in telling a narrative,” he famous. “There’s the visible enchantment, the form and the colour, after which the character and the voice of the puppet.”
When Knight started performing solo, he purchased a stitching machine and realized to make his personal puppets. He has since included them into his exhibits in quite a lot of methods, together with enjoying pre-recorded choices of his music so the puppets can “sing” alongside him. Moreover, he’ll generally costume up in funky costumes as a part of the present.
“There are other ways to make it work, however the level is basically to interact the viewers,” he mentioned. “The youngsters, after all, however the dad and mom too.”
Knight says her transfer to the Valley in 2009 got here partly “to interrupt away and do issues in another way” and join with new artists. Moreover, he labored as a videographer – one thing he had additionally realized to do by making his personal music movies – for a spread of shoppers, together with different musicians.
The pandemic, because it has finished to musicians all over the world, pressured Knight to band collectively, so within the spring of 2020 he created a YouTube program to showcase his songs and puppets. He additionally taught a couple of Zoom music classes and began writing new songs.
“I believe (the pandemic) sort of clarified my focus,” he mentioned. “I needed to make extra music for teenagers…and I felt it was actually time to make one other album.”
“Look Each Methods,” which Knight crowdsourced, was recorded this spring in Waltham, with Boston-area musicians becoming a member of on keyboards, drums, electrical guitar and vocals. different devices. He had a number of new songs to file, like “Wiggly Tooth,” an R&B quantity about how a unfastened tooth “means you are getting fats…you are not a child anymore.”
Knight additionally needed to replace some older songs. For instance, “The Rubbish Monster” went from people to a extra bluesy beat, whereas for “Alligator Soar” Knight changed a salsa beat and requested an Argentinian singer, Mica Farias Gomez, so as to add lyrics. in Spanish ; the complete title of the music is now “Alligator Soar/¡Salta Caimán!”
He had provide you with the concept to collaborate with Gomez after studying that she had sung on an album by fellow Valley kids’s musician, Ben Gundersheimer (aka Mister G.).
“Mica was superior,” mentioned Knight, who added that she sang her elements remotely, but in addition made a brand new video for “Alligator Soar” with him when she was within the space earlier this 12 months to render. visiting household relations in Franklin County.
The revamped songs and a number of the new materials, like “The Museum Mambo”, additionally mirror a number of the modifications Knight has seen in kids’s music over his 30+ years within the discipline. Latin music is extra widespread normally right now, he notes, though audiences for kids’s music have turn into considerably youthful.
“I believe a number of the older youngsters who got here to my exhibits, like seven-year-olds, are much less ,” he mentioned. “Perhaps they’re a little bit extra subtle, or they’re extra into pop music at a youthful age.”
As a performer and songwriter, he says he is additionally turn into extra gender-aware in his materials: “Is there a purpose for this character to be a he or a she?” Moreover, he eliminated sure songs, comparable to “Baa Baa Black Sheep”, from his repertoire as a result of any perceived racial overtones.
“It isn’t about being politically appropriate,” he mentioned. “It is about being inclusive and ensuring everybody feels a part of the present.”
With the discharge of his new album, Knight is wanting ahead to growing his touring — he performed two exhibits final weekend on the Eric Carle Museum in Amherst — and introducing his new songs and puppets to audiences.
“You recognize, if I could make the lyrics work for teenagers, then I can play virtually any kind of music, and it is plenty of enjoyable,” he mentioned.
Extra details about Tom Knight’s music is accessible at tomknight.com/house.