Mr. Songflower Man Shares Love of Music with Kids The Itsy Bitsy Spider better watch out: The young people of Syracuse, N.Y. are singing some new tunes. An engaging music teacher is expanding the schoolroom repertoire -- to include classic tunes by Sam Cooke and other, non-Disney characters. Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers introduces us to Mr. Songflower Man.
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Mr. Songflower Man Shares Love of Music with Kids

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Mr. Songflower Man Shares Love of Music with Kids

Mr. Songflower Man Shares Love of Music with Kids

Mr. Songflower Man Shares Love of Music with Kids

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The Itsy Bitsy Spider better watch out: The young people of Syracuse, N.Y. are singing some new tunes. An engaging music teacher is expanding the schoolroom repertoire — to include classic tunes by Sam Cooke and other, non-Disney characters. Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers introduces us to Mr. Songflower Man.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

The itsy bitsy spider better watch his back. The young people of Syracuse, New York, are singing some new tunes. An engaging music teacher is expanding the schoolroom playlist to include tunes you might already have in your iPod. Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers introduces us to Mr. Songflower Man.

JEFFREY PEPPER RODGERS reporting:

The first time my son came home from kindergarten singing a classic pop tune by Sam Cooke, I knew something unusual was going on in his music class.

(Soundbite of "Cupid")

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN and Group of Children: (Singing) Cupid, draw back your bow and let your arrow flow, straight to my lover's heart for me, for me.

RODGERS: The guy leading this sing-along calls himself Songflower Man, or formally Mr. Songflower. He teaches every day here at Creative Environment Day School near Syracuse, New York, and at a few other schools in the area.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: Are you guys going to help me out with my "Peter Cottontail" song?

Group of Children: (In unison) Yes.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: Well, it's been such a long time. Let's hear it.

(Soundbite of "Here Comes Peter Cottontail")

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN and Group of Children: (Singing) Here comes Peter Cottontail, hopping down the bunny trail, hippity-hoppity, Easter's on its way.

RODGERS: Songflower Man wears bright yellow shirts and carries a flower-covered bag filled with puppets, hats and magic tricks.

(Soundbite of "Here Comes Peter Cottontail")

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN and Group of Children: (Singing) ...Easter joy, things to make your Easter quite...

RODGERS: The bag of songs is equally full of surprises.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: (Singing) He sees you when you're sleeping...

(Soundbite of kids reacting in disapproval)

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: (Singing) ...he knows when you're awake.

Unidentified Child #1: No, that's Christmas!

Unidentified Child #2: Yeah.

Unidentified Child #3: It's Easter!

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: Oh...

RODGERS: Songflower Man is also known as Tom Anzalone. Back in the '80s, he toured the booming comedy club circuit. But when the boom went bust in the '90s, Anzalone refocused on performing for kids and Songflower Man was born.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: I did one show and somebody filmed me and it was just me being Tom Anzalone, and it was terrible. I had no focus with the children. As soon as I became Songflower Man, everything kind of, you know, fit.

RODGERS: Over time, the identities of Tom Anzalone the comedian and Songflower Man the music teacher began to merge. So now he cracks up the kids with impersonations of Elvis, Johnny Cash, and Bob Dylan.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: (Singing) (Imitating Bob Dylan) Sunday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday.

RODGERS: Songflower Man's music class draws from not only his comedy act, but his background in opera. He recently appeared in "Tosca" with the Syracuse Opera.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: (Singing) O where, O where has my little dog gone? O where, O where can he be?

RODGERS: In class, Songflower Man makes up songs with the kids about whatever sparks their interest. This song was inspired by the kindergarten science unit.

(Soundbite of song)

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN and Group of Children: (Singing) Insects, insects, crawling all around. Millions and billions to be found, on a tree, on a leaf, on a log or in the sand, on the water, on a wall or even on your hand.

RODGERS: In the loose, improv atmosphere of Songflower Man's class, the kids often pipe up with their own songs and jokes.

Unidentified Child #4: Knock, knock.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: Who's there?

Unidentified Child #4: Pencil.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: Pencil who?

Unidentified Child #4: Pants'll fall down if you don't wear a belt.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: Pants'll fall down if you don't wear a belt? Da, da, da, da, da, da, da.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Unidentified Child #5: This one's called "When Mr. Songflower Wears Glasses."

(Singing) Mr. Songflower wears glasses. He must have been too close to the television.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: She wrote that right there on the spot. That's what I live for, when you get those moments, when they're not afraid to show their feelings and sing about it. I think it's wonderful.

RODGERS: As a parent and a musician, I've always wanted my kids to experience music as something more than a CD track or a Disney theme song, and I'm grateful for what a teacher like Songflower Man brings into kids' lives day after day.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: They're missing the personal aspect of music. Everything's like a cartoon. They watch so much cartoons, and there's hardly anybody out there who's just doing a live show, you know, somebody who's actually a person, you know, and'll talk to them and listen to them. I think that's kind of, like, what's missing and I think that's why I wanted to be a music teacher.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN: Thank you very much, everybody.

Unidentified Child #7: Yeah! Thank you, thank you, thank you.

RODGERS: Over the course of the school year, kids learn scores of songs; pop songs, folk songs, Tin Pan Alley, and unclassifiable originals. But to my mind, the most important thing they learn from Songflower Man is how good it feels to make a big sound of their own.

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN and Group of Children: (Singing) ...have a nice day.

RODGERS: For NPR News, this is Jeffrey Pepper Rodgers in Syracuse, New York.

(Soundbite of "Put A Little Love In Your Heart")

Mr. SONGFLOWER MAN and Group of Children: (Singing) Think of your fellow man, lend him a helping hand, put a little love in your heart. If you see it's getting late, oh please don't hesitate, put a little love in your heart. And the world, and the world, will be a better place.

(Credits)

NORRIS: I'm Michele Norris.

ROBERT SIEGEL (Host): And I'm Robert Siegel. You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

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