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Music Holds Key to Educational Impact of Top Kids’ Programming

From hip-hop to bossa nova to Hawaiian-style ballads, “Sofia the First” draws from a hodgepodge of multicultural influences when compiling its musical soundtrack, a bevy of catchy tunes that has caught on like s’mores at a campfire with the preschool set. (Try not dancing to the bouncy rap ditty “Blue Ribbon Bunny.”)

“We try to use the different types of music as a way to provide a certain type of musical education,” says “Sofia” creator Craig Gerber. “In the first season, we ranged from doing ’50s rock and roll to swing to hip-hop and, as we move through the second season, we’re trying to push the boundaries even further to find other types of music, whether they be specific genres or from specific regions or just a type of music that kids aren’t used to hearing at that age. They keep the numbers original and surprising.”

The Disney Junior series, about a commoner (voiced by Ariel Winter) who becomes a princess overnight when her mom marries a king, has fielded six Daytime Emmy nominations this season, including for music direction and composition, original song for the ballad “I Belong” and original song for the main title and promo.

“We knew that (the song) was going to be (about) her tender search to find confidence and wanting to belong,” says “Sofia” songwriter and musical director John Kavanaugh. “We knew it was going to have a certain sort of vulnerability and hopefully, by the end, a certain triumph. Every song is different, but a lot of times the mood of the song or the style of the song comes out of the story easily and very simply.”

Per Teri Weiss, executive vice president of production and development for Nickelodeon Preschool, plot and story are a collective driving force in most children’s programming, including popular Nickelodeon skeins “Wonder Pets!,” up for music direction and composition; “Yo Gabba Gabba!” in the preschool children’s series category; and “Peter Rabbit,” which scored a nomination for peppy original song “Spring Has Sprung.”

The goal, notes Weiss, is to engage pint-sized audiences with bubbly musical numbers while reinforcing the series’ valuable educational curricula.

“We’re always looking to see how to introduce music to kids’ lives and introduce all the different ways in which you can utilize music to tell a story,” she says. “With ‘Wonder Pets,’ for example, we wanted to introduce kids to the concept of opera, where not only are (the characters) breaking into song, but they are actually singing the dialogue. A kid’s first opera is ‘Wonder Pets,’ and that was something that (creator Josh Selig) was really excited to do. We felt it was a wonderful way to kind of leap off the page with classical music.”

With music programs being axed in schools across the United States, the incorporation of scholastic-oriented songs in preschool and children’s program has never been more crucial, say Scott Kraft and Nadine van der Velde, the husband and wife executive producing team of Nickelodeon’s live-action series “The Fresh Beat Band,” nominated in the preschool children’s category.

“We’ve watched in our own kids’ school those programs being cut,” says Van der Velde. “So for us, getting music out there is really, really important. That’s something that’s near and dear to us.”
“We wanted to create a show where kids became active participants in it and we’re able to do that with the music and the characters and with the lessons on the show,” says Kraft of the series, which has spawned a series of live nationwide concerts. “It’s not just the passive situation of watching it on television. They take it in the car. They take it on their parents’ iPhones and iPads, and it becomes a much larger part of their experience.”

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