More Than Raffi: Jim Gill
Ask any children’s librarian if they’ve heard of Jim Gill and their reaction will be an exasperated yes followed by an insistence that you need to check out everything on shelf followed by a rambling, star-struck story about when they met him. Jim Gill has been making the library circuit for quite some time, spreading his delightful love of music play to all families. From the very beginning, Gill has focused his music primarily to be moved with, sung along with, and, finally, laughed on the ground with. Jim Gill began using music in his early twenties with a weekly play group for families with young children with special needs. The parents soon saw this deceptively casual play group have an impact on their children’s development, encouraging physical and language development and interpersonal skills.
Jim Gill has gone on to record six albums full of high energy songs encouraging movement, musical expression, and play. Finding a balance between singing and dancing and play is a tightrope that Gill constantly walks. Raffi and Pete Seeger represent beautiful song writing that you might freely dance along with, or enjoy seated in the car or during quiet time. The Wiggles represent music that invites play where children are encouraged to dance along in certain ways. Jim Gill provides a delightful medium between the two. In fact, Gill went to graduate school at the reputable Erikson Institute to study child development and the power of play, giving him an educational background for his groovin tunes. Performing with his trusted banjo, his music is not overproduced and his lyrics shine through, inviting play in a myriad of ways.
One of the greatest musical games to play with children are waiting games. “The Dance Along Gong Song” from The Irrational Album has an invitation for dancing through the lyrics. “Oh dance along! Oh dance along! Until Kevin plays the—-” and a loud crashing gong interrupts the rollicking banjo, drums, and slide guitar. Children are sure to giggle until their sides hurt while trying to follow the rules of this very silly song. And parents need to yuck it up when dancing along, encouraging kids to be silly and have fun.
“Spin Again…Again” from Jim Gill Sings Do Re Mi on His Toe Leg Knee features one line: “”There was a girl named Lucy Finnegan. She would spin and spin and spin again. When the song was over she’d beg to begin again. Poor Lucy Finnegan.” Gill is egged on by a very insistent little child to “Spin again!” Clocking in at 0:57 seconds, this short little ditty does not elicit applause for its musical composition, but it will get a child off their rear and into high gear spinning in circles–but not for too long. In addition to these simple songs, Gill also has a delightful way of incorporating stories behind his invitations to dance. I had the pleasure of seeing Jim Gill perform “Took a Bath in a Washing Machine.” Guess what? You get to dance as if you are being washed in a washing machine. And the whole group of families couldn’t stop giggling at their silly dance moves.
A storytime favorite, “List of Dances” is a great song for various movement for ages 2+. In this song, Gill lists a variety of made up dance moves including “hop, stop, slow, tip-toe, curl, twirl.” Kids understand these actions but love incorporating them in sync with the music. True to his educational background, Gill decides to invert the list “cause though we danced it one time the list would seem brand new if we read it from the bottom to the top.” This provides children an opportunity to reimagine and rethink what they just heard.
Final Review: A+
Audience: 1 years-elementary school
Jim Gill is a masterful musician. His education in childhood development shines through as he encourages movement and play through his folksy and rocking tunes. Best listen to these albums where there is room to play and move together.