February 22nd, 2012

LISTEN: Bob McGrath From Sesame Street

( Click here to download the podcast )

Sesame Street’s Bob McGrath has been making music with children for over 40 years. Here, Learning Matters producer Cat McGrath talks with her father about music education and his work with Sesame Street, Mitch Miller, and symphony orchestras across the country.

This father-daughter interview accompanies a PBS NewsHour segment about a free after-school music program in New York, the Harmony Program. The program provides music education to mostly low-income children and is modeled on similar efforts in Venezuela, known as El Sistema. You can watch that piece above.

Previously, we released a podcast featuring an interview between John Merrow — the correspondent on the PBS piece — and Placido Domingo. Listen to that here.

You can listen to the McGraths in conversation — and singing! — by clicking the play button above on the audio player.

Thanks for listening to this discussion about music education.

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This interview reminds me of my carefree days watching Sesame Street and singing along with those songs. And now as a mother, it takes reminds me of singing these songs with my own children. Now as they enter their teens and tweens, the music they listen to is quite different. But nonetheless I have embraced the fact that they are still enjoying music and taking music lessons. I appreciate the fact that our city in the San Francisco Bay area is still able support a music program in the schools. Unfortunately, just across the bay, music and art programs have been cut because of funding. The good thing is that parents realize how important it is and offer private lessons. It is unfortunate that those without the funds are shortchanged. Music is an integral part of learning and child development as language and math and should be part of every school. The reality is that money talks and unless we can get a bill passed to mandate music programs, we have to rely on dedicated musicians like Bob McGrath to provide free music programs.

Thank you for this very thoughtful comment, Kimberley.

This podcast brought back many memories for me. I met Bob McGrath in 1974 when I was a seventeen year old studying with the conducting staff of the Minnesota Orchestra and Mr. McGrath was there for the week, performing with the orchestra. Bob and his music director, Lee Norris spent an entire afternoon with several of us, sharing musical scores and explaining what it was hoped the concert would achieve for young people. At the time I wondered why such fabulous musicians were dedicating themselves to children’s music (Sesame Street).

Two years later, I joined the Minnesota orchestra as utility flutist and co-principal flute in the summer seasons. I met Mitch Miller, who frequently conducted our summer pops concerts. Here was another great musician I had underestimated, because “Sing along with Mitch” was such a populist endeavor. He was a fine, serious conductor, and his singalong a kind of missionary work for educating the masses.

Today I am a K-8 music educator, and I understand the great importance and rewards of working with children. I have a favorite song by Bob that I teach almost every year: “Nora, Nora.” Thanks, Bob!

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