Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Signing Your Child up for Music and Dance Lessons

This is the time of year when many parents consider signing their children up for lessons:  music, dance, karate, art, the list goes on and on.  I'd like to offer a few helpful hints for those of you considering music or dance lessons for your child.

1.  Do your research!  Just because someone "hangs out a shingle" to advertise that they give lessons doesn't mean they are truly qualified.  Ask about the teacher's background.  Does he or she have a degree in music or dance?  Are they certified by any professional organizations?  Do they, themselves, perform?  Be sure they can give you some sort of credentials.  We made this mistake with our daughter's first dance teacher.  She was the owner and main teacher at her studio.  Our girl took lessons from her for five years before we discovered that the woman's degree was in Business and she had never studied dance beyond high school. By then our daughter was attached to her and it took us five more years until she was mature enough to realize that she'd learned all she could there (and had several years before that!)   When we switched studios we discovered that our daughter did not know any of the proper technique or nomenclature, and she had to work very hard to learn all over again.
2.  Who else teaches at the studio?  If your child is taking more than one dance class they will probably have more than one teacher.  Go to the Open House at the beginning of the year and talk to all the teachers.  Ask them about their backgrounds, and their personal theories about the art. 
3.  Ask the owner of the studio if any of the older students ever teach classes.  This is okay in some cases, but not always.  Make sure you meet EVERYONE who is going to be teaching your child.
4.  Ask for references and call them.  Better yet, ask your friends and acquaintances where their children study.  You'll get a more honest answer than if you get references directly from the teacher.
5.  If your child is taking music lessons, make sure the teacher includes Music Theory as part of every lesson.   The teacher should approach every student as though he or she is going to be the next great musician or composer, and therefore should teach every student music theory!
6.  There are  varying theories about the age at which your child should begin music lessons.  Personally, I don't believe in starting children on any formal training on an instrument until they are at least five years old.  Their motor skills are simply not well-developed enough at that age and it can be very frustrating.  Better to go to "Music Together" type classes with your young children if you want training.  Or just expose them to lots of different types of music at home, in the car, wherever.  Make sure you bounce them on your knee when they are babies, dance with them, and do everything to encourage a development of a sense of rhythm.  This is most important!!
7.  Here I speak only about piano lessons, because it is my area of expertise:  if your child has been taking lessons for a year or two and wants to quit:  DON"T LET HIM OR HER!  They are just reaching the point where things are getting a little bit harder, and maybe the excitement of first being able to play has passed and they might be getting a little bored.  Ask the teacher to work with you to help the child regain interest, perhaps by adding a few popular songs to the repertoire, or playing some musical games as part of the lesson.  But don't let them quit.  This is NOT a decision your child should make.  I know this can be very hard, and you will have to lay down the law and go through tough times when your child doesn't want to practice. They may throw tantrums like my own child did (she went on to be a music major in college).  Don't fall for it.  After all, if they hated school , would you let them quit?  Tell them to ask this question to every grown-up they meet for a week:  "Do you know how to play a musical instrument?"  I guarantee you that most people who don't play an instrument will tell your child that they wish they could!  Some will say, "I took lessons when I was a kid, and then I quit.  I wish I hadn't quit."  No one will EVER say, "Yes, I know how to play an instrument.  I had to practice a lot when I was a kid and it was really hard.  And I'm so sorry I did.  I wish I did not know how to play an instrument."
Now, if your child has been playing for a number of years and is now going into the upper grades in school, and wants to quit, that's another story.  By this time you should know if your child has the talent and passion to pursue music as anything other than a hobby.  If they do, then by all means find a way to let them continue lessons and help them manage their time.  If they are only an average player, and have lost interest in lessons, and have other priorities, then consider letting them quit or just take time off.  If they've studied for six years or so, they have a firm foundation and will be able to play at parties and for their own pleasure for the rest of their lives.
Because I am biased toward the piano, I believe every child who shows any sort of musical talent should have the opportunity to take piano lessons.  Piano lessons provide a base in music education  that will make it easier for the child to then learn other instruments if they wish.  And if your child sings, he or she will never have to look to anyone else for musical accompaniment!  Of course, music lessons help develop skills that translate into other academic areas, especially math.  There is absolutely not one bad thing to say about exposing your child to music lessons.  Start looking for a teacher today!!!

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A Question from the Mail Box

We just got a letter! We just got a letter!  We just got a letter!  Wonder who it's from?

It's from Leigh Ann, and she asks:
We were wondering how you chose the books you talk about in "Reading Our Way"?

Here's my answer!
Hi Leigh Ann,
Are you asking specifically about the books I mention in that one song, or throughout the CD?  I'm going to assume it's throughout the CD.....
First of all, as with all the books, places and "weird things"  on the CD I chose what has been special to my family over the years.
Secondly, I undertook a ton of research to find books that were specific to various states/regions around the country.  It was a lot of internet research, plus writing emails and asking librarians.  Some books were an automatic "given," such as Make Way for Ducklings  and Misty of Chincoteague because they are so closely associated with places.  Others were not so easy.  For example, I was totally surprised to find out that the "Ramona" books took place in Oregon!

As for the specific "Reading our Way" song, that song came from personal experience.  I have read to my children from Stephen King books (yes, even when they were young...I just chose the stories carefully!) and we have gone to see Eloise at the Plaza Hotel and read and done the other things mentioned in that song as well.  We have traveled to 49 US states and read to each other and listened to audiobooks all along the way.  We didn't go to Alaska, but we did go looking for Balto in Central Park, and we found him, too!

I hope this answers your question.  Thanks for writing!

If you have any questions for me, don't hesitate! Send them TODAY!  Just click "contact Judy" on the home page of my website to get my email address.  Maybe you'll see your name here on my blog!

Monday, March 7, 2011

WANTED: New Dancers for the Judy Crew

It's just so much easier for me to post the official press release than rewrite all the info, so here it is:


March 5, 2011
For immediate release

Grammy Nominated Children’s Performer Judy Pancoast is looking to add fresh faces  her fabulous Judy Crew dance team, and auditions are Saturday, March 12 from 1-3pm at Bedford Dance Center, 172 Route 101 in Bedford, NH.

The Judy Crew Dance team performs with Judy at her major stage shows, performing choreographed routines, skits, and moving into the audience to dance with the children during the last part of the show.  They are an integral part of Pancoast's stage show, and, as such,  prospective Crew members must have professional dance training or experience dancing on stage.  Judy is looking for boys and girls between the ages of 12 and 17 who love to perform, are comfortable with young children and are energetic, enthusiastic and fun-loving!  You must be available to travel around New England this summer.

Teens  of all shapes and sizes are encouraged to attend.  Being  “Disney Perfect” is not necessary, but a positive attitude is a must.  

Past Judy Crews have accompanied the singer to perform at the New York Kids 4 Kids Carnival and Robert DeNiro's Tribeca Street Fair in New York City, among other shows.

Come prepared to learn a short routine and demonstrate your dancing skills.   You must be accompanied by a parent or legal guardian. You will meet other members of the team and be able to learn first-hand about their experiences performing with Judy. Please note that there is no monetary compensation for being on the Judy Crew, but travel expenses for overnight stays are covered and meals are provided for day trips.
Although car-pooling is often arranged, Crew members are responsible for their own transportation to rehearsals and shows.

For more information, email

It Was a Wonderful Time!

By now you probably know that I didn't take home the Grammy, but I want to thank Pete Seeger for winning because it was much easier to save face when losing to a LIVING LEGEND.  And I was okay.  It was the most glamorous and exciting weekend of my life and I got to share it with my whole family and everything went swimmingly.  I want to thank everyone who prayed for me, for our safe trip and everything....and sure enough,  I'm home now, and I can still sing!

In fact, I've already begun work on the next CD, which, after long negotiations with the North Pole, will be entitled "Judy Pancoast Presents Christmas with Mrs. Claus."  I have had a close personal relationship with the dear lady ever since I began producing her TV show here in NH back in 2004.  You can take  peep at a portion of that show here:  and it will give you some idea about what an enthusiastic person Mrs. Claus is, and she's very excited about this new venture.

I've also been booking shows for spring and summer, which is always a big project and does not get easier every year, as you might think.  With Arts funding and support for libraries being cut right and left, and donations to festivals and community celebrations down it is harder and harder for people like me to make a living.  But that's okay, because I've got my biggest project ever in the works ...the "Weird Things are Everywhere!" multi-media stage show for theaters and performing arts centers.  I'm working with some brilliant young production designers and this is going to be an unbelievably fun show, with cool stuff to see AND hear along with me and the Judy Crew Dancers.  We're premiering the show at the Regent Theater in Arlington, MA on April 23.  You can find out more about that here:

If you want me to come to your town this spring or summer then please know that my best booking agent is WORD OF MOUTH!  Talk to your librarian, fair or festival presenter or parks and rec person about me and send them to my website.  My best bookings come from fan referrals!  And thank you from the bottom of my heart.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

To God be the Glory

I've been thinking about this a lot, of course.   What will it be like to be the one sitting there in the audience as they announce the nominees and waiting to see if it's my name in that envelope. I'm sure my blood pressure will be sky high.   For two months I managed to be pretty cool, saying, "Well, I'm probably not going to win, but I'll get nominated again.  Now that my work has been recognized, I'll get nominated again..."
But then lately all of the people I see are saying "I know you're gonna win!" and stuff like that, and I'm beginning to worry, because of course, deep down, I really do want to take home that statue.  I want to bring it to show all my friends and family and all the people who have supported me.  I want to post pictures of it on FB so you can all see it.  I want to put it on my mantle and be able to see it every day and think, "Yeah....all these years of making music have been validated in a big way."
I want to show it to the little kids and say, "Look!  I got a trophy!"

Of course I do, it's just really hard to admit it, because then there's more of a chance of feeling bad if my name is not called.  Even just writing about it here is a risk because I'll look really stupid if they don't call my name.  So it's better just to say I don't really care.  HA.

As I said, I've been thinking about this  a lot.  The whole insanity of the I dreamed of it when I was young, and how as every year of music has gone by I have felt that I was further and further away from the possibility of it happening.  How when I turned 50 I cried all day, thinking my chance had passed and it was all downhill from there.
Every year of music....

And then it dawned on me.  Every year of my life I have had the ability and the joy of making music.  Even when I was little, before piano lessons, singing was what I did. All the time.  My father sang to me when I was a baby and a toddler in his lap, and my mother always had the radio or the stereo on and would sing in her crazy wild way. And I sang with them.  My mother bought me my first 45, "Georgy Girl," because I knew all the words from hearing it on the radio.  I sang in front of an audience for the first time on the stage in the basement of Notre Dame School in Waterville, Maine.  I sang "Those Were the Days."  (nobody ever said I probably shouldn't sing a song about a tavern in a Catholic school...ha ha!"  I have to laugh thinking of it now.)  In my teenage years I went to church with my father and during the hymns he would whisper in my ear, 'Sing louder, Judy...sing louder!" cause he just loved it when people would turn around to see who was singing, and I loved making my Daddy proud.

The point is, I can take no credit for being able to sing, to make music.  I can take no credit that writing songs came naturally to me.  I can only give God the glory.

There have been miracles in my life, for sure. I'll tell you about them sometime if you want.  But I only just recently, with all this Grammy madness, realized that the biggest miracle in my life is that I can sing.  That I can make myself and other people happy by singing, and none of it was my doing in the first place.  For whatever reason, God decided that I should be one of the lucky ones to get that ability. He gave that same ability to many of you who are reading this, and I've had the sheer joy of singing and making music with many of you. All because of God's grace.

SO whatever happens on Sunday, to God be the glory, because without God's grace, none of this would be happening. I'm not gonna pray that I win, because I don't think that's the kind of prayer God wants to hear.  I'll just be thanking Him (or Her, if you will) for what I've already got.   I want to remember that, to keep that in my heart, cause even if I come home on Monday without a trophy, I'll still be able to sing. Thanks be to God.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

In Defense of Children's Music

A few years ago I met Livingston Taylor after a show he performed at the Mall of New Hampshire.  I purchased one of his CDs and told him that I was a children's musician, to which he blithely responded, "There's no such thing as children's music. All music can be for children."  At the time I was somewhat taken aback.  After all, I've always felt that music written for children should be child-centered, with lyrics about a child's world. I don't know about you, but I don't know of too many adults who have gone bug hunting or enjoyed princess stories or used their imaginations to swim in jello unless they were with kids.  And while I do think that most music can be shared with children, and they may enjoy it, I suspect that they enjoy it more when it's about something they can relate to, just as with adults.

But lately I'm beginning to think that Livingston Taylor was prophetic, because I keep reading the blogs of children's music "pundits" who rhapsodize about children's music "that doesn't drive parents crazy" and children's music that "doesn't make parents want to pull their hair out."  And recently I had a video rejected by "" because the guy who runs it said, "I just don't see much here for the parents."  Well EXCUSE me, silly me!  I thought this was about the KIDS!!

It used to be that if  a child loved something, the parents loved it too because it made their children happy.  But now the tables have turned,.  Now, it seems, a kid can't love music unless their parents love it too.

When Emma was little someone gave her a set of cassettes by "Judy and David" that featured endless hours of traditional children's music like "The Noble Duke of York" and "Old MacDonald."  Was I crazy about them?  Not really.  But Emma LOVED them so we played them over and over until the tapes wore out.  I used to take her and Louisa to concerts by Maine's Rick Charette.  Did "Alligator in the Elevator" offer something for me?  Nothing but the pure joy of watching my kids, and hundreds of others, sing and dance around like fools.

Still, the trend in children's music today is toward music which has to appeal to parents as well, so you get a lot of "indie" rock music (now called "kindie") that makes parents feel "hip" and like they are raising cool kids who are "hip" as well. I'm not sure but I think this may have started with "KidzBop," those insidious renditions of pop songs "sanitized" and sung by kids that have sold a jillion copies.  Then along came the musicians with "rock cred" who'd had indie rock bands but had now turned to writing music for kids.   That's great!  There's room for everybody here.  But where is the variety?  Where is the gentle, foolish, silly music that only kids love? Don't kids get to have their OWN tastes?  Their OWN things that are special just for them?   It seems these hipster parents will never expose their children to "Old MacDonald" unless it's done rock-style.  Frankly, I'm a little worried about Winken, Blinken and Nod, to be honest.

I guess I'm making a case for my own music here, which has always been about the kids.  There have been some parents who have told me they love my music as much as their kids do, and while I appreciate that,  there have been some parents who have told me they are sick of hearing my music, as they laugh and say how many times they've had to listen to a particular song in a row. I'm okay with that, too.  I'm aiming at the kids, and if they love it, then I'm doing my job.

There are many wonderful children's musicians out here who are the farthest thing from "kindie" but have made zillions of children happy....people like Barry Louis Polisar, Bobby Susser, Joanie BartelsMarla Lewis, Steve BluntKatherine Dines, Mr. BillyPatricia Shih,   and many more that you can find out about at the Children's Music Network (  We can't let their art, their truly child-centered art, be lost in the "kindie" trend.  So yeah, I love rock music for kids and would probably be getting my kids into the music of Justin Roberts if they were still the right age, but we'd also be listening to the artists I mentioned above.  Because while some children's music can appeal to parents, it really shouldn't HAVE to.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Why Music Education Must be Mandatory in Schools

Yesterday I did something I have never done before.  I went to the NH State House to speak before the House Education Committee regarding HB 39, a bill that would remove Technology Education, Health Education, World Languages, and Arts Education from the mandated core curriculum in our public schools.  As the Representative who wrote the bill said, it would not mean that schools couldn't teach those subjects, it just means they don't HAVE to. Can you imagine how ludicrous this is?  Under the guise of "local control" a local school board could choose to cut TECHNOLOGY education, for crying out loud, if they had to make budget cuts.  But for me, the part of this bill I'm most passionate about is the notion of cutting funding for arts education.  That's why I decided to go to Concord and speak.

I posted my remarks on my Facebook page, but for those of you who don't "do" Facebook, I'll post them here as well:

My name is Judy Pancoast, and I am a resident of Goffstown and a 2011 Grammy Award nominee.

I’m here to speak in anecdotal form about my opposition to H.B. 39.

In 1973, when I was 13 years old, I was bullied mercilessly by the kids in my Jr. High School because I was the fat girl. At home I spent hours playing the piano and singing and making up songs, which brought me relief from the daily torture I experienced.  At school no one wanted to sit with me at lunch, so I used to sneak into the music room and play the piano and sing.

One day, the chorus teacher walked into the room as I was singing.  Next thing I knew, with his encouragement, I was singing a solo in the spring concert.  I would never have been able to do it without his help and confidence in me.  That teacher changed my life.  Soon I was no longer just the fat girl…. I was the girl who could sing and write songs.  Throughout the rest of Jr. High and High School I took every music class offered and participated in chorus and band.  I was fortunate that my high school offered music theory and music history courses as well as performing groups.  Eventually I went on to study music in college.  I have made a living as a professional musician ever since, and I have traveled and performed in 49 US States and abroad because of music.  In two weeks I will be attending the Grammy Awards ceremony as a nominee, and, in 1997, I was honored by the New Hampshire State Senate for my work as a children’s musician.  I am also a juried member of the Arts in Education roster of the NH State Council on the Arts.  I am sure that none of this would have happened without that first music teacher’s encouragement and my subsequent public school music education and experiences.

To me, Music was not just a core curriculum subject it was THE core curriculum subject. Although I excelled in other academic areas they never held the interest for me that my music courses did.   I was one of millions of kids through the years who go to school because of the chance to make music. In fact, many children find their only opportunity to learn music and learn to play an instrument at school.  And many children find in the arts not only a place where they are accepted and a refuge from bullying, but a lifelong passion and a career.

It is a well known fact that when economic times are tough music programs are the first to be cut.  If music education is not mandatory in our schools then how many children like me will lose their chance to grow and shine and benefit their communities and the world?
Just imagine a world with no music because there is no one to make it; then it should be easy to understand why arts education must be a substantive part of a child’s education.   I am here as living proof.