By Marisa Torrieri Bloom
Earth Day isn’t just about recycling a few plastic bottles, yet many young kids might think of it that way. But good pals Julie Beth (a music therapist) and Anya Rose (a science teacher) believe kids can be inspired to do so much more to make our planet a cleaner, brighter place.
In fact, it’s that thinking that birthed the Philly-area activists’ duo Ants on a Log, which is now performing a musical based on its latest album Curious: Think Outside the Pipeline!
Ants on a Log performing live.
The album and engaging live performance are based on real science and math concepts, filled with pretty harmonies, riddles and fun characters. (Spoiler alert: One of the characters is gender neutral, which is naturally woven into the story line.)
Among the album guests are WXPN Kids Corner host Kathy O’Connell playing “Mom,” John McCutcheon as the “Senator,” and Philadelphia hip-hop artist Sterling Duns as “Businessman.”
We recently caught up with Anya Rose of Ants on a Log to talk about this record and upcoming shows in the spring and summer.
Rockmommy: How did you get into writing this style of music?
Anya Rose: We like to write clever and catchy songs and we can’t help it if they sometimes get in people’s heads. We wanted to experiment with creating a show that had a story arc and characters, as opposed to an album of unconnected songs. We also know that kids respond really well to both storytelling and music, so it’s the best of both worlds if there is a message you want to convey. We also like the idea of an album that is meant to be listened to all in one sitting, as opposed to piecemeal.
Rockmommy: “Curious” delivers a powerful message: What is missing from today’s “kids” music?
Ants on a Log, performing live.
Anya Rose: Well, first I will say that there is a lot of great kids’ music out there today. It is a friendly community of professionals helping each other out. We really love Alastair Moock and Billy Jonas to name a couple. Also, Trout Fishing in America is always a classic.
One thing missing are more female performers. There also aren’t a lot of female duos for some reason. A lot of kids music’ is written for ages 0 to 5, but we write for slightly older audiences. We want our listeners to be able to understand a joke here and there and some of our songs require more listening then songs for the 0 to 5 range, which involve more repetition. Content-wise, we don’t want to be afraid of delivering true messages.
For some reason, the idea of being kind has now been politicized. Pollution, climate change, and fighting for the Earth have also been politicized. This is silly to us, and I think it seems silly to children as well. Yes, there are some complexities and nuances in stories when it comes to business and development, but when it gets right down to it, you just should not pollute the Earth. That’s pretty simple. And we aren’t afraid to say so with our music.
Rockmommy: What do you try to do during live shows to connect with your audience?
Anya Rose: We are constantly developing and modifying our live shows. There are a few things we do in person that we don’t do on a recording simply because the experience is very different. On a live show, we have been developing a drumming and jump rope routine for example. We also want to explore physical comedy more. It’s fun to see how live audiences react and then to modify our future shows accordingly. Julie once led what they named “The Vegetable Game” which would make no sense to anyone unless you were there, and it was absolutely hilarious. I won’t say anymore. You’ll just have to come to one of our shows!
Rockmommy: It’s been noted that one of the characters is gender neutral. Why is that important to highlight for younger listeners?
Anya Rose: We support the idea that kids should be able to be who they want to be. Julie goes by “they” and Anya goes by “she”, but our respective genders are just a small part of who we are. That’s the same for other character, “Taylor” in the musical. We want to normalize it for kids.
Rockmommy: How can kids can be more mindful and conscious of their physical environment?
Anya Rose: One very concrete thing that I see both kids and adults doing is leaving the water running when you aren’t using it. Stop doing that! Just today, I watched one of my 1stgrade students get a drink of water at the water fountain. He turned around to talk to me and he left his hand on the fountain button, running. And he had a very long story to tell me! The fact that water comes out of the tap is essentially as crazy as the idea of money growing on trees. We take it for granted. Clean water — water that will not make us sick, water that is good to drink — comes out of our tap and all we have to do is turn it on! Well it’s just as easy to turn it off. So adults, when you do the dishes, and you step away from the sink for a second, just turn that water off.
Another major one is simply consuming less. You know all that stuff you like to buy? Stop buying new stuff! Thrift stores are incredible places. Clothing swaps are super fun. Also, rocks and sticks are a joy to play with! Many kids are surprised to learn that plastic is made of oil. And oil production contributes greatly to climate change.
Letters from kids can be very powerful. If you are a kid and there is an issue that is bothering you, ask an adult to help you figure out whom to write to. As long as you do your research and your letter comes from your own head and your own concerns, this is a great way to have an impact. Make it personal. Tell a story. Share your feelings. and then send it to the right person who can actually do something about it.
Rockmommy: Who are your musical/artistic inspirations?
Anya Rose: Billy Jonas, Alastair Moock, Lucy Kalentari, Tom Lehrer, Jim Copp, Flight of the Conchords, City Love, John McCutcheon. Three of the people on that list, by the way, are on this album! We also love anything with good harmonies. The very first time the two of us ever got together to play music, we sang a Be Good Tanyas song. That was how we knew we would work well together musically!
Ants on a Log are playing on Saturday, April 27, 10 a.m., at the Day of Play at Parent Infant Center in West Philadelphia, and on Sunday, April 28, at the Earth Day Celebration in Downingtown, PA. The Ants take the stage around 2:15 pm.
Want to learn more, so you can plan a fun, engaging family outing? Details are available online here.