We caught up with jazz singer, vocal coach and EChO extraordinaire Libby Hammer ahead of this weekend’s Kids' Concerts and discovered several secret talents.
You’ve been working with WASO’s Community Engagement & Education team for quite a few years now, what is it that keeps you coming back?
I firmly believe that children should listen to good quality music. When my daughter was young, I had to really search hard for music that she loved, but that I didn’t mind listening to over and over. I’m sure most parents know that feeling! What I love about performing for children with EChO and WASO is that the music is of such a high quality I never tire of it. I am also grateful for the opportunity to contribute to the musical education and entertainment of a wide audience. I think every child should have the opportunity to be exposed to orchestral music. Now that my daughter is older, I can see the benefits that her exposure to quality music as a child has brought her. She is open to new sounds and is interested in many different kinds of music. I do see a real need in the market for quality music for children.
Why are programs such as EChO so important for younger generations?
It is now much more widely understood that listening to and making music is beneficial on so many levels. Our society is a nicer place to live when we are surrounded by and have access to high level art forms such as classical music. And as well as being important for the younger generations, EChO’s programs are important for the orchestra and for the incredible history of music it brings with it! Young people’s exposure to concerts such as EChO’s helps to develop open-minded, accepting, tolerant adults of the future. We are creating audiences for high art in the future, so everyone benefits.
Some of your original songs feature in EChO. What goes into the song writing process?
The first song I ever wrote specifically for children is called That’s How I Feel Today and I wrote it to help children understand that feelings are ok, whatever they are, and to give kids some ideas about how to deal with strong feelings. This led to me thinking about other educational topics I might build into songs in a fun and entertaining way. My songs Captain Dynamics, The Musical Alphabet, The Tempi Song and The Picardy Third are also songs that I wrote specifically to teach a musical concept in an engaging way and those songs appear in the EChO show Captain Dynamics, which is aimed at older primary aged kids.
I am particularly interested in song form. One of my aims is to write songs that can be used as tools or can be moulded to the audience’s situation. When I wrote That’s How I Feel Today, I wanted the listeners to be able to recreate the song in their own lives, substituting whichever emotion they wanted to sing about at the time.
I love to write songs that encourage audience involvement, which can be as simple as an opportunity to shout out an answer, sing a simple response, or suggest a silly word to put in a blank space. In our March Along With EChO show, kids are encouraged to contribute ideas for how they can create body percussion in the song Bongo Body Band, and my song Dig Dig Dig allows the children in the audience to choose items with which we’re going to dig and build a tower, and then we fill in the blanks as we go along, sometimes with hilarious results.
Your creative endeavours also include costume making; how long has this been a hobby of yours?
I have always been involved in the performing arts, usually on the stage in some capacity, and also as a vocal coach. In my younger years I was involved in circus performing, and about six years ago, after a fifteen year break from circus to focus solely on music, I returned to doing some stilt-walking. It has been a really fun twist for me to return to costume and novelty performance after concentrating only on jazz singing for so many years.
It has been really good for my development as an artist and composer and it has also revived an old love for me - sewing. I sewed like crazy as a teenager, making all sorts of outfits from my op shop finds, I dare say they were mostly hideous, although 80s fashion is making a huge comeback! But I am intent on squeezing several careers out of my lifetime and so I have started making costumes for stilt-walkers. I have just finished three large Australian wildflower costumes made largely from a textile called tubular crin. Sewing is my happy place, so, time-permitting, in the future you can expect to see more of my costume creations popping up at festivals around the place.
What would you say is the best thing about EChO Kids' Concerts?
I think there are so many benefits to bringing your children to live music concerts and they range from as simple as getting out of the house to helping children develop fine motor skills with finger play nursery rhymes. Listening to live music is very different from listening to recorded music. There’s something about the vibrations in the air that is visceral and uplifting. Watching each player and how they play their instrument is intriguing and helps to hone listening skills. Parents enjoy this music too, and the power of sharing musical moments with your children shouldn’t be underestimated. For some parents it might just feel like an opportunity to sit down and relax for moment while their child is entertained, and who can blame them? Some of my happiest memories are of my parents taking me to live performances. It’s a wonderful thing to do for you and your child.
Do you notice any difference in the audience throughout the performance?
Children are all different, and I love experiencing that as a performer. Some are on their feet the whole time, shouting out and copying everything I do. Some sit quietly on their parent’s lap, just watching. I love to try to reach every child on some level, whether it’s an enthusiastic high five, or a gentle smile. That’s enough for some children at first, but I love to, by my body language, make sure children feel safe and encouraged, and sometimes after a few minutes, the shy ones will wiggle down off their parents’ laps and come a little closer to the action. Performing for children is quite like parenting, actually. Being encouraging, and also making sure the rules are clear. Then we’re all on the same page!
EChO Kids' Concerts
Perth Concert Hall – Wardle Room
Saturday 2 November – 9.45am (SOLD OUT) and 11.15am
Saturday 9 November – 9.45am and 11.15am