Two of The Playgrounds’ favorite children's artists to feature, Raffi and local musician Lindsay Munroe, will release their third album together in three years on Friday, May 6th. The collaborative duo recently sat down with web services coordinator Nora Onanian to talk about the collection of reworked classics, Nursery Rhymes for Kinder Times, the playful creative process, their legacies, and more.
You can read WERS’ interview with Lindsay Munroe from May of 2020 alongside her debut album I Am Kind here. And you can read one done this past August with the release of her second album, Frogs and Birds, here. Plus, be sure to tune into The Playground Saturdays from 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. and Sundays from 6 a.m. to 7 a.m.
WE’RE JUST A FEW DAYS SHY OF THE NEW ALBUM, NURSERY RHYMES FOR KINDER TIMES, COMING OUT ON MAY 6TH. CAN YOU INTRODUCE THE CONCEPT OF THIS ALBUM?
Lindsay Munroe: Well, this wonderful educator, Pam Gettleman, contacted us with her rhymes, Nursery Rhymes for Kinder Times, and we loved them. And we just loved the idea that we could help create nursery rhymes for a new generation of children. Nursery rhymes about kindness and empathy and gratitude.
Raffi Cavoukian: Mm-Hmm. And she had already adapted lyrics to all these nursery rhymes. And I think she sent maybe 18 or something.
Anyway, I went through them and thought about which ones would be best for a musical refreshment, if you will. And the 15 we ended up with, I sometimes would do just a little lyric adaptation just for cadence, and singing and such. And then for many of them, I had to create new music, which was fun.
It was such a joy to have Lindsey sing so beautifully once again on this album. And, you know, we've been told our voices blend really well together and the harmonies sound good. And then on top of all that, Lindsey, your daughters, sang on this album again, didn't they?
LM: Yes, Emma and Mem both sang on the album, and it's just such a joy to sing with them and to sing with you, Raffi. It was so much fun.
RC: Indeed, and Nora, this is interesting, this is our third album together, Lindsay and me, in three years, if you can believe that.
I KNOW! I WAS GOING TO COMMENT ON HOW FAST THEY’VE BEEN COMING OUT — I WANT TO ASK, WHAT HAS BEEN MOTIVATING BOTH OF YOU TO GO WITH SUCH PASSION AND SPEED?
RC: Well, part of it is mutual delight in our ability to make music together. That sounds good and that delights people, eh Lindsay?
LM: Yes, absolutely. And I think… it was interesting— we made our first album together, I Am Kind [and] it was released during the pandemic. And then we recorded the second album during that period of time. It was just so great I know for me, and I think for both of us, to have music during such a difficult time. And to be able to create beautiful music for children and families and then bring some joy to, you know, a world that was having a really hard time.
DEFINITELY. I KNOW THE PROCESS OF RECORDING WAS DONE VIRTUALLY BECAUSE OF TRAVEL RESTRICTIONS ON YOUR LAST ALBUM. WHAT WAS THE PROCESS OF MAKING THIS ONE?
RC: Well, as producer of the album, I took a different approach this time. I said to Lindsay, I would like the rhythm instrument in this album, the primary one, to be ukulele instead of guitar. So right away, that gave it that gave it a more intimate and tender sort of feel instrumentally.
Now on top of the ukulele, of course, we added all kinds of instruments for the sheer delight of, you know, a variety of sounds. But I wanted to keep the approach, I don't know how to put it... not delicate, but tender somehow. And I think, well, correct me, if I'm wrong, Lindsey, did I send you some rhythm tracks and you sang to them? Is that how it worked?
LM: That's right.
RC: I know previously you played your own instrumental tracks, rhythm tracks that I'd worked with.
LM: This was different. Previously, I would record the ukulele or the guitar and send it to Raffi, who would produce it. This time, Raffi sent the rhythm tracks to me. And Raffi played the ukulele, which was wonderful. So I would sing over those tracks.
RC: Yeah. And then Lindsey would send those vocal tracks to my engineer, Ken. And Ken and I would go, ‘Oh yeah, isn't that great?’ — usually.
And so it's remarkable that one can record an album with an artist living 2,500 miles away and not in the same room.
I LIKE HOW YOU DESCRIBED THE VISION, MAYBE FOR THE SOUND, AS LIKE TENDER. ALSO, I PICKED UP ON AN ELEMENT OF PLAYFULNESS, WHICH I MEAN MAYBE IS IN ALL OF YOUR WORKS…
RC: You think? (Laughs).
(LAUGHING) YES! LIKE THE HARP-BASED TRACK, “LONDON RAIN IS FALLING DOWN.” THAT WAS FUN. AND THEN THERE'S YOUR SIGNATURE— I LIKE TO DESCRIBE IT AS SCAT-LIKE STYLE OF SINGING LATER ON.
RC: On which song? Maybe a couple of songs, right?
RC: (Mimics the sound of instruments)
(LAUGHING) SO, DID YOU HAVE FUN ON THE PROCESS OF MAKING THE ALBUM?
RC: Gee, I’ll have to think about that (laughs). I had a ball. I mean, I remember when we did, let's see… on the “Three Kind Mice” track, I played harmonica for the first time. That was amazing for me. And then, you know, “Diddle Diddle Dumpling” — I mean, so many of these songs, they have cadences that are just fun to sing, you know… (Singing): “Ring Around Sweet Roses”
And then to have “Rockabye Baby,” which when I heard Lindsey's vocal on it, I just said to myself, ‘Oh, this turned into a beautiful ballad.’ Because Lindsey sings it with such sensitivity.
LM: Aw, thank you.
RC: And now, it's not a cradle that falls with baby at the end of the song. You know, this song is actually a happy song, of brother and sister looking in on baby. Right, Lindsey?
LM: Yes. And I had so much fun recording all of the tracks. There's a lot of playfulness and fun, and bringing my daughters into it to sing with me was just so joyful. So much fun.
YEAH, I LOVE THAT! I WAS ACTUALLY GOING TO ASK — SO LAST TIME, WE TALKED ABOUT YOUR KIDS AND THEIR MUSICAL INCLINATIONS… I NEED A PROGRESS UPDATE. HOW IS IT GOING?
LM: Oh my goodness, they are all so musical. Our house is just filled with music all the time, playing instruments, singing together. When I do live shows, my girls come up on stage and join me for some songs. My son Jack is going to a rock band camp this summer to play in a rock band.
RC: Really? Wow, cool!
LM: And every Saturday morning we make a big breakfast and we put on The Playground. And my kids, we all love it. JayJay does such an awesome job.
We love the selection of music, and when my songs are played sometimes, the kids my kids will hear, you know, the intro to, let's say, “Little Red Caboose,” which I believe is Raffi going “woo woo.” When they hear that they go, “Oh, it's us. It's us, mom!” They get so excited and it's so much fun.
THAT'S GREAT! IT SOUNDS LIKE YOU HAVE SUCH A MUSICAL HOUSEHOLD. WE ALREADY TOUCHED ON IT A LITTLE BIT, BUT THIS IS YOUR THIRD ALBUM, THE THIRD TIME COLLABORATING ON AN ALBUM TOGETHER. HAS IT GOTTEN EASIER? ARE THERE WAYS YOU'VE SEEN A SCENE THAT YOU'VE GROWN FROM ALBUM TO ALBUM?
RC: I would say, yeah, there’s a natural evolution. You know, we've gotten to know each other very well by now. Musically, when we collaborate, there's an ease to it because we know what we can expect.
And we always leave room for surprises and delights and sometimes they come through the instrumentation that I kind of hear in my head as I'm arranging these songs. I think on this album, the concert harp added a beautiful dimension to “London Rain Is Falling Down.” On that one and maybe on one other song, oh — “There Was a Nice Lady.”
My friend Cameron Wilson played violin beautifully in a classical kind of style on one of the songs. And just yeah, a musical richness to it that I think continues. I mean, I always have, you know, a presentation of a diversity of sounds. And every album is different, so this one has its own unique signature.
I ALWAYS LOVE TO ASK DUOS, WHAT DO YOU THINK THAT EACH OF YOU BRINGS TO THE TABLE THAT COMPLEMENTS ONE ANOTHER PERSONALITY WISE?
LM: Well, I think for me, I mean, obviously working with Raffi is just a dream come true, and I'm learning so much from him. I'm so lucky to have such an amazing mentor. The process of recording and songwriting it’s just, you know, I'm obviously learning so much from you, Raffi.
RC: Well, that's very sweet. And I, you know, in hearing the purity of your voice and the care and and love that your voice expresses, the kindness that comes through. How wonderful to be working with an artist who brings such, well, again, I'll use that word “caring” to the work. It's just beautiful. I love it.
LM: Aw, thank you so much.
LET'S TALK A LITTLE BIT MORE ABOUT SOME OF THE SONGS SPECIFICALLY. MY FAVORITE PERSONALLY WAS “THREE KIND MICE.” THE THEME OF KINDNESS OBVIOUSLY RUNS THROUGH ALL OF YOUR WORKS, BUT THIS ONE WAS JUST ESPECIALLY SUCH A SWEET AND FITTING REWORKING FOR THE TWO OF YOU, I FELT. DO YOU HAVE PARTICULAR FAVORITES?
LM: That's a good question. I think “Three Kind Mice” is also one of my favorites, just because kindness is such a big theme throughout both of my other albums.
RC: I have a number of favorites, actually. Also on this album, I play bass for the first time. And I play the bass on a three string guitar, oddly enough. I'll even show it to you.
(Gets instrument and starts playing). Here it is. And I play the bass only on the fattest string — this one. And then we put it through an amplifier and we fatten it up a little bit. Sounds great.
So, that was fun… In terms of favorite songs, I mean, I love many of them as favorites. I'm thinking of “Eeny, Meeny, Miny, Mo,” interestingly enough, which turned out to be a beautiful ballad, I think.
LM: Yes, I love that one.
RC: Yeah, there's again, a tenderness to it — the “catch a firefly all aglow.” How beautiful. And I think the second verse is about a butterfly.
And then. “Old Mother Hubbard” is fun.
“Hey, little diddle, can you play the fiddle or a trumpet or the bassoon?” Oh my goodness, the trumpet in that one.
LM: Oh yeah, right. That's one of my favorites because of all the different instruments that you can hear. I just love it.
RC: And my bass playing?
LM: Of course!
I'VE NEVER SEEN AN INSTRUMENT THAT LOOKS LIKE THAT!
RC: A cigar box guitar is one one way that instrument is referred to because it has just like a rectangular box.
WE WERE JUST TOUCHING ON IT, BUT THERE'S THERE'S A LOT OF RANGE MUSICALLY. LIKE YOU SAID, THERE'S SOME SONGS THAT HAVE A LOT OF INSTRUMENTS PILED ON TOP OF EACH OTHER, BUT THEN THERE'S LIKE SOME SIMPLER MOMENTS.
I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT THE CLOSING TRACK, “THERE WAS A NICE LADY.” THAT ONE THAT BORDERS ON MORE SPEAKING RATHER THAN SINGING. COULD YOU SPEAK TO THAT A LITTLE BIT?
RC: Yeah. As I considered how we would dress up that song again, I listened to the cadence. And as far as I knew, there wasn't a melody associated with that song, with that old nursery rhyme. I thought, ‘OK, let's just stay with it as a spoken piece that we adorn with harp.’ And that seemed to be OK with Lindsey. So that's how we did it. What do you think, Lindsey?
LM: Yeah. Well, it reminds me of some of your songs that you did. I'm trying to think of titles, but where you speak as a rhyme on a few of your older albums.
Even the way you layer the vocals reminds you of “Brush Your Teeth or “Five Little Pumpkins,” where you have multiple vocal tracks.
So yeah, I think it was really cool and unique to do something different on the album. That's very Raffi as well… That’s very you, Raffi.
RC: Well, thanks!
SHIFTING GEARS A LITTLE BIT, RAFFI, LIKE MANY KIDS, I WAS A HUGE FAN OF “BABY BELUGA” GROWING UP, BOTH THE SONG AND THE BOOK, OF COURSE, WHICH HAVE NOW BEEN AROUND FOR OVER 40 YEARS. AND NOW I'M A YOUNG ADULT AND I FEEL LIKE THERE'S DEFINITELY WAYS IN WHICH I CARRY THE MESSAGES AND LESSONS OF YOUR WORK TODAY.
COULD YOU SPEAK TO THE SHAPING EFFECT THAT MUSIC CAN HAVE ON YOUNG KIDS?
RC: Well, I'm honored to know that you've been a fan. You know, you beluga grads now swim in a big pond. There's tens of millions of beluga grads in Canada and the U.S. And I think this music, if you grow up with it, it's going to stay with you your whole life, don’t you think?
And I often wonder how this music will play in people's hearts and minds after I'm gone because one day I won’t be here — I'm in my elder-hood now. but it's always very moving for me when fans say 'your music was the soundtrack of my childhood.' And I do hear that. It's a huge honor.
AND THAT KIND OF LEADS ME INTO YOUR CHARITY, THE RAFFI FOUNDATION FOR CHILD HONOURING. COULD YOU SPEAK TO THE AIMS OF THAT?
RC: Thank you for asking. Child honoring is a philosophy that came to me in a vision that woke me from a sound sleep in 1997. So since then, promoting and honoring as a universal ethic worldwide has been the work of my foundation.
The idea is quite simple. Because the young child, cross-culturally, has the same irreducible need, it's a joy to know that our interconnectedness as a species is most visible in the early years. I think that's profoundly important to notice.
So when we do right with the child, we do right with our entire global community. Our species thrives when children thrive.
These are some ways to speak about child honoring, but I would invite those tuning into our conversation to go to raffifoundation.org, have a look at the Covenant for Honoring Children and the Nine Principles That Arise From It, and to consider taking an online course in child honoring that parents and educators tell us is a wonderful resource for them to step into thinking of themselves as changemakers for a better world.
There's a lot to unpack if you take the time to go through. And I think Lindsay is a fan of child honoring, too.
LM: Yes, I highly recommend taking the course. I took the Raffi Foundation course in child honoring and it was so eye-opening and amazing. It helped me as a mother and as a songwriter to write child honoring music. I feel like all of my albums really are child honoring, and it's great to have this third child honoring album as well.
YEAH, THAT'S GREAT. AND WE WERE JUST TALKING ABOUT HOW RAFFI’S MUSIC HAS SPANNED GENERATIONS AND JUST INFLUENCED SO MANY PEOPLE. AND LINDSAY, I CAN SEE YOUR MUSIC GOING ON TO DO THE SAME. DO YOU HAVE THOUGHTS ON THAT? DO YOU THINK ABOUT THAT?
LM: Oh my goodness. Thank you so much.That’s just the most wonderful compliment. I can only hope so, that would be so wonderful. I'm just honored to make this music for children and families and share the messages in my music, and I'm so honored to work with Raffi in order to share that with such a wide audience.
AND LINDSAY, I WAS LOOKING IN IT SEEMS LIKE YOU'VE GOTTEN THE CHANCE TO DO SOME LIVE PERFORMANCES FAIRLY RECENTLY. COULD YOU TALK ABOUT WHAT YOU LIKE ABOUT PERFORMING LIVE AND GETTING BACK INTO THAT?
LM: Yes, I've been so enjoying doing live performances in the Boston area. I just love connecting with the children live and in person, sharing the music, seeing the joy on their faces. It's been wonderful to be back doing live music again, I just love it.
RAFFI, HAVE YOU BEEN PERFORMING AS WELL?
RC: I haven’t actually. I’ve been… playing with my dog, Luna. Luna and I are spending a lot of quality time together. But I look forward to once again being with an audience again, it's been a while.
ARE THERE ELEMENTS OF LIFE PERFORMING THAT YOU MISS? WHAT WOULD YOU SAY IS YOUR FAVORITE PART OF THAT?
RC: The love. I miss my fans and their love for the music, their love for me. It's love that we share when we come together.
I KNOW LAST TIME, LINDSAY, WE TALKED ABOUT HOW THE TWO OF YOU ACTUALLY MET AT A PERFORMANCE OF RAFFI’S, I THINK IN 2019. SO I GUESS YOU NEVER REALLY KNOW HOW BIG OF AN IMPACT YOUR LIVE PERFORMANCES CAN BE HAVING.
LM: Yes, it's pretty amazing how we met, and it's just been an amazing journey ever since.
YES. DO YOU HAVE ANY LOCAL PERFORMANCES COMING UP THAT WE SHOULD KNOW ABOUT?
LM: That is a good question, so I'm playing a lot of schools which are not public performances. But this summer, I'll be playing in Medford at the Condon Shell, a beautiful outdoor venue on the Mystic River. That's an event with the Medford Family Network, and I would love to see everyone come out and enjoy the music.
IS THERE ANYTHING ELSE THAT WE DIDN'T TOUCH ON THAT YOU'D LIKE TO TALK ABOUT?
RC: I think I can say that the third single from the album is out now, it's “Humpty Dumpty,” and we hope to have a video of that done before long. And we can't wait for the feedback from people when they hear the entire album. That's going to be sweet to hear.
AWESOME. AND, LINDSAY, DO YOU HAVE ANYTHING YOU'D LIKE TO ADD?
LM: Yes, I'm just so excited for May 6th when the album comes out and we can share it with everyone. And it's just been so wonderful talking with both of you today, thank you so much for having us.