I was looking to hire a musician to play guitar at my son’s first birthday party. I figured it would be fun to have someone sing a Twinkle Twinkle/Wheels on the Bus/Yellow Submarine medley before we plied the kids with cake and got everyone the hell out of our house so that I could take a nap.
First I asked the teacher from the little music class baby M. goes to if she’d be interested. It’s a brand name here in Brooklyn, one of the “cool music classes” with original songs about living in the city, taking cabs, tall buildings. After many inquiries, the lead performer finally gave me a quote: 300 clams. And that just really gave me pause. Sorry, but are you Linda Evangelista, the supermodel who famously claimed not to get out of bed for less than $10,000 a day? I’m talking 12 kids under five, maracas, maybe some scarves. Forty-five minutes.
One of the great things about living in New York City is that there are artists everywhere. Creative people who are shrewd and resourceful; they’re figuring out how to play music, act, write, paint – all while surviving in one of the world’s most expensive cities. Many of these folks have realized that parents will spend a ridiculous amount of money on their kids in the name of “enrichment.” That means they can ask a lot for lessons and birthday parties and people will pay it. And then they can afford to play their own music at night, go on auditions between gigs or pay rents on their studios.
If you care about music, you’re aware of how overly cheery and precious some kids’ music can be. And how smart and hilarious and deep the great stuff can be (They Might Be Giants and Gustafer Yellowgold are two bands we love listening to and watching on DVD over and over again). It’s thrilling to see the specific genius of art and music created for a young audience, how elegantly these artists get into the brains of our babies.
Our Brooklyn neighborhood is home to hipsters who project their carefully curated culture onto their kids. These are people who insist that their infants really enjoy The Clash and that their 2-year-olds prefer artisanal popsicles to those freeze pops you can buy at the drugstore. So if your toddlers dance like mad to Yo Gabba Gabba, it reinforces the fact that you, too, are still cool (all bands are excited to be booked on that show).
I am not taking myself out of this phenomenon. I took my kids to Yo Gabba Gabba Live, where I overpaid for tickets and an official Yo Gabba Gabba light stick and watched at intermission as the sponsor of the event (Kia) did a live commercial for a captive audience (of children!). To me, it was an example of Good Indie Cool Thing Gone Bad. Which happens. There’s that line when something is lovely and entertaining and then it crosses into being cheesy and compromised. It’s certainly not the end of the world, but I’d rather not overpay for it.
The irony, of course, is that kids are the most opened-minded listeners out there, especially the younger ones. My daughter could not get enough of this damned Elmo potty video when she was aged two to three, and it mortified me to death. We often think we’re providing them with this awesome, homegrown goodness when really, you could stick them in front of a video for Who Let The Dogs Out? and they would go bananas.
Thing is, I probably would have booked the $300-per-hour musician – mostly because I know the music is solid and that the people who write and teach it actually care about their product being quality. But it took two weeks for them to get back to me, likely because they were busy booking gigs. Or hate doing birthday parties. And by then, I had hired an old friend to come and entertain baby M. and friends – a super talented singer-songwriter who is now working his way up the children’s musician world ladder. He was awesome. And cheaper, almost by half. We sang Simon & Garfunkel and Cat Stevens and some other songs I don’t remember, and clapped and then had cake. And then everyone went home, and we all took a nap.