On Spiritual Life and Children Music with a Message: An Interview with Red Grammer by Patricia K. Colleran

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Red Grammer, an award-winning singer of inspiring music for children, brings to his audience a message of peace, cooperation and oneness–a message much needed by all audiences throughout the world today.

Back in 1981, Red began singing with the Grammy-nominated folk trio, the Limeliters, and traveled nationally and internationally with the group for 8 years. Red and his wife Kath, who coauthors much of the music Red sings, created their first album for children in 1983. Red Grammer has appeared on NBC’s TheToday Show with Katie Couric, the CBS This Morning Show with Mark McKuen, and Nickelodeon, as well as on his own Disney Channel Concert Special.

After using Red’s uplifting and hopeful music over many years as a means of teaching children principles of peaceful cooperation and mutual understanding, I was happy to meet Red at the NAEYC (National Association for the Education of Young Children) annual conference in New York City in the Fall of 2002. There I discovered the spiritual origin of many of the principles found in his music, and in the months that followed, our correspondence led to this interview for Seeds of Unfolding.

Q. You began your career as a folksinger for the well-known group, the Limeliters, and later did many albums of music for children. Can you tell us how you got interested in creating children's music?

R.G. My wife Kathy and I started writing songs together around the time our first son, David, was born. It was a natural thing for both of us to make up funny little ditties for David, and one day Kathy said that maybe we could make a cassette of these songs and sell them at Limeliter gigs. That first recording is still in print as Can You Sound Just Like Me? People really liked it and it resulted in an interview on NPR's All Things Considered. It wasn't until a couple of years later when we put out our Teaching Peace CD that we both realized that this was a major life assignment.

Q. Was music important to you as a child? Did you have a favorite singer, or a favorite group?

R.G. I began to discover music in 4th grade with school chorus, school band, church choir, and singing along with records at home. I felt comfortable and alive singing and ached to learn to play the drums and the guitar. I taught myself to play my older brother's guitar in 5th grade, and in 6th grade I got the first piece of a drum set that took me through various rock bands through Jr. and Sr. high school.

Something happened at one of the dances we played in 8th grade that I have never forgotten. I was singing the song, Get Together. For that number I had come out from behind the drums and was sitting on the edge of the stage, eyes closed, pouring my heart into that wonderful song. When it was over I looked out and was surprised to see a group of girls in the very front with tears in their eyes. They had felt the same thing I had. It was a quiet but earthshaking realization for me, that music had the power to generate love in my heart and in the hearts of others.

My favorite singers were The Beatles; Peter, Paul, and Mary; and Johnny Mathis. Looking back I see clearly how each of them touched me. From the Beatles I connected with my playfulness, rhythm, and inventiveness. From Peter, Paul, and Mary I found my desire for meaning and togetherness fulfilled. And singing along with Johnny Mathis revealed to me the astonishing beauty and flexibility of the human voice. Many thanks to each of them.

Q. What do you hope to share with children through music?

R.G. Kathy and I believe that human beings are pre-wired for positive social interaction. We have aspired to write songs that playfully remind children of that reality. It appears to work.

Q. From my experience teaching young children, I’ve seen how it does work. Kids love the songs, and at the same time they are finding models for peaceful social interaction. I’ve recognized some very clear spiritual messages in your songs, in albums such as Teaching Peace and Hello World, which express values like friendship, communicating, working out differences, living in harmony. Do your songs come from principles that you yourself strive to live?

R.G. Yes. Kathy and I have both been followers of the Bahá’í Faith for thirty years, and many of our songs have been directly inspired by the Bahá’í Writings. After reading The Promise of World Peace, a statement from the Bahá’í World Center about humanity and world peace, we went through it page by page and tried to write songs about the topics it addressed: the equality of women and men, the elimination of all kinds of prejudice, the oneness of humanity, consultation, etc. and ended up with, Teaching Peace, our signature recording. The most gratifying thing is that kids love the songs. The children of today are naturally endowed with a great capacity for oneness and are instinctively drawn to those things that truly express it. Of course, it doesn’t hurt that the songs are often silly and playful.

Q. Can you tell us something about how you became interested in the Bahá’í Faith?

R.G. While being raised a Methodist in Little Silver, New Jersey, I asked a question in Sunday school: “What about the followers of other religions like Islam and Buddhism? What happens to them?” The teacher's answer about Christ being the only way felt uncomfortable to me. I instinctively sensed that the unity I was after would not leave out huge portions of the world. In college I became familiar with the profound beauty of Buddhist and Hindi writings. So when I eventually discovered the Bahá’í teachings on the oneness of God, religion, and humanity, I felt like I had been a Bahá’í all my life.

Q.Bahá’í originated in Iran, didn’t it?

R.G. Yes. The Bahá’í Faith was founded by Baha'u'llah (Arabic for the Glory of God) in 1863 in what was then Persia. Baha'u'llah's teachings on the oneness of religion, the oneness of humanity, the equality of women and men, and the need to eliminate all forms of prejudice were embraced passionately by many, and this led to brutal attacks by the ruling clergy. Bahá’ís, which make up the largest religious minority in Iran, have been subject to widespread persecution there ever since.

Q. From what you say, it seems there are three important principles in the teachings that have quite a message for the world today: the oneness of religion, the equality of the races, and the equality of men and women. Are these values we need to teach to our children? How can we do this?

R.G. The act of determining that these three issues, and others like them, deserve our daily attention is an important start. This is one of the great functions of religion: to help us prioritize the relative importance of the many challenges before us.

The Bahá’í Writings describe racism as the most challenging issue facing America. So that’s pretty clear. Mutual tolerance is not enough. This generation of children has an inherent aptitude for the oneness of humanity. They were born with it. What we need to do to nurture this in them is to make sure that our families are open to others who are not just like us. If we take the lead our children will pick up the ball and run far beyond what we ourselves are capable of.

Children have a great need for hope. They need to be constantly reassured that world peace is not only possible but inevitable. They have a tremendous role to play in its achievement and their natural optimism and idealism must not be blighted by hopelessness and despair.

As for the equality of women and men, we adults must model the willingness to show up over and over for this issue. It is a simple principle: that God views women and men as spiritually equal and is asking us in this day to bring about full equality in our society as well. But the notions we carry around with us run so deep and get in the way so often it requires commitment and prayer and assistance from God for us to clear the path to real equality. Again, this is truly what religion is intended to do, get us to make the hard changes.

Q. Yes, there seems to be something in us that makes it hard for us to change, even when it is evident the changes are necessary. That reminds me of something you said earlier, describing what you realized after you put out your album, Teaching Peace. You said you and your wife realized that writing music for children was for you a “major life assignment.” What do you mean by that?

R.G. When we are going about the business of life it seems there are moments when something shows up (sometimes contrary to our own expectations) that rings so clear and is so deeply compelling that we seem to have little choice about pursuing it. That was the case with Teaching Peace and our journey into children’s music. I was fully engaged at the time in getting a deal for my adult music and becoming the next Dan Fogelberg or Kenny Loggins. But after finishing Teaching Peace it was obvious that we were blessed with a special ability to create fun, playful music that speaks to some of the important needs of our time, and that there wasn’t anything more important for us to do in the world than this musical work for kids and families. When you have that feeling, you know it’s a “major life assignment.”

Q. Your message to children is clear in your music. What is your message to the adults of the world?

R.G. We are first and foremost spiritual beings, that the spiritual journey is the most exciting and fulfilling available to us, and that these times we live in give us more opportunities to display courage, heroism, and inventiveness than perhaps ever before in history.

Resources

For more information on the Bahá’í Faith, contact the official Bahá’í websites (U.S. National Center: www.us.bahai.org, or The Bahá’í World Center: www.bahai.org

Recordings for children and families:

Teaching Peace(Parents Choice Classic Award)

Down the Do Re Mi (Parents Choice Gold Award)

Hello World (Parent’s Choice Gold Award and USA Today Kid Pick)

Red Grammer’s Favorite Sing Along Songs(Early Childhood News Director’s Choice Award)

Can You Sound Just Like Me?

Videos for families:Hooray for the World

Recordings for adults:Soulman In A Techno World and Freefalling

All available from www.redgrammer.com, Red Note Records at (800) 824-2980, and from www.amazon.com as well as Borders Books and many local educational and children’s book and toy stores.