November 22, 2017

The Advocate's Toolbox

Q&A with Grammy Winner Tim Kubart | ClefNotes

Tim Kubart, the host of Sunny Side Up on 24-hour preschool TV channel Sprout, is internationally known as Tambourine Guy on the wildly popular online music show Postmodern Jukebox (PMJ), and in February won the Grammy for his second children’s album, Home. SLJ caught up with Kubart just before he left on a monthlong tour in the UK with PMJ.

static1.squarespace__1454456231_27380redstarHome. Performed by Tim Kubart. CD. 36:49 min. Tim Kubart and the Space Cadets. 2015. $10.99
K-Gr 3–Kubart, host of the Sprout Channel’s morning show, Sunny Side Up, returns with his second album for children. As with his debut, this album is filled with pop songs that will have listeners singing and, in some cases, dancing along. By writing the lyrics from the perspective of a child, Kubart and fellow songwriter Matt Puckett are able to capture the highs and lows of everyday life and convey them in a way that the target audience can relate to. The album is bookended by songs that look at the concept of home in very different ways. “Last Turn Home” emphasizes the fun of going away but recognizes the important feeling of home as the place where you belong. In contrast, the final song, “Moving Day,” shows a different perspective with the acknowledgment that home isn’t a physical place but rather wherever your family is. The songs in between cover topics such as the arrival of a new sibling, the wonders of creating art, the joy of “Dancing in the Kitchen” with your family, and, in “Better,” featuring Laurie Berkner, how much better it is to do things together with those you love.VERDICT Whether stripped down or filled with drums, guitar, and brass, every song on this album is a joy to listen to again and again.–Veronica De Fazio, Plainfield Public Library District, IL 

Congratulations on winning the Grammy. What was that whole experience like?

It was probably the most exciting day in my life. It was a total shock. I had a few names scribbled down on a piece of paper. I didn’t really write anything down. I just decided to say the things that were important to me…about kids and family music. It was a great experience.

Tim_Kubart2_by_James_Daniel_big__1465223239_51710Where did your love of music and performing come from?

When I was a kid, my cousins would always come over and we would put on plays in the living room for our parents. Actually, my song “Showtime” is about that. And then when I was in college, I took a class where I had to volunteer as part of the curriculum, so I volunteered at a homeless shelter for women and children. I worked in the nursery and took care of the kids while their moms looked for work or housing. And the director of the homeless shelter found out that I played guitar and asked me to play some songs for the kids. I learned “Wheels on the Bus,” wrote a song called “The Octopus Song,” and put on a little concert for the kids in the nursery. I knew right then that this is what I wanted to do. That was 10 years ago.

I read that you were a high school band director.

When I was playing music classes and things after college, a friend of mine was the dance captain for a high school marching band in New Jersey, and their director had just left. She asked me if I could do it. I don’t have a degree in music, but I was a drum major when I was in high school, and I did feel that I could do it, and I also really wanted to make a music video of my children’s music. I took the initial job of one season of marching band, and for the amount I was paid for that entire season, I wrote out a check to make my first children’s video.

Your music speaks to the experiences of childhood from the child’s point of view. Where do you draw the inspiration for your songs?

Some of them are stories of my own or of my writing partner, Matt Puckett. Some of them are from working on Sprout. We do a lot of research with kids to find out what’s going on with them and what is important to them. I try to pay attention to recurring themes. Singing in the voice of a kid, I think when kids are listening, that’s empowering to them.

Are there similarities or differences between your current album Home and your first album, Anthems for Adventure?

Both are very personal. They both reflect where my songwriting partner and I are in our lives. When we wrote Anthems for Adventure, we were 24 years old and just thinking about adventure and…all of the things that we [were] going to do. Now that we’re both in our early 30s, we’re thinking about making a home and about all of those small moments in life that I think are more relatable to young kids because that is where they are in the time in their lives, too.

We’re trying to relate to kids right where they are both lyrically as well as sonically. I meet so many kids who already love Katy Perry, Sara Bareilles, Maroon 5, so we decided with Home, why don’t we make songs like that? They’re already listening to that. So why don’t we write songs that sound like that but that lyrically are for four-, five-, and six-year-olds? And that’s what we did with this album.

Many children’s musicians at one time or another perform at birthday parties. You’ve taken that idea in a slightly different direction. Describe Tambourine Kids for me.

I have played over 600 kids’ birthday parties and over 5,000 toddler music classes. I developed a curriculum over the years that I was using myself. I’ve found some other people in New York City and taught them the tricks of the trade. So, when I get asked to do music classes or birthday parties, I always try to do them first, but if I’m already busy, I find someone I’ve already trained to go out and do it.

Let’s talk about your adult alter ego, Tambourine Guy. He has quite a following.

I am the clown of Postmodern Jukebox. It’s very exciting stuff. I like to say that Tambourine Guy is the number one PMJ fan and somehow he made it on stage and he gets to play with them. Scott Bradlee, who started Postmodern Jukebox, is one of my best friends. We were playing kids’ birthday parties and things like that, and he was making these YouTube videos in his basement. He had an idea one day of doing a Nickelback song like it was a Motown song. He knew I had a tambourine, and asked me to play it. I showed up and smiled a bit, and within a day, the video had over 400,000 views, and that’s how Tambourine Guy was born.

One of the aspects of early literacy that libraries focus on is music. If you could give librarians one piece of musical advice, what would it be?

Oh wow. Music is best when it comes from an honest place.

Veronica DeFazio is a longtime children’s music reviewer for SLJ and Head of Youth Services at the Plainfield Public Library District, IL.

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