What do you get when you combine a classically trained composer and a hobby for deconstructing and reconstructing electronic equipment? The uniquely talented composer Bruce Haack, that’s what!
Besides creating some of the most ahead of its time music of the 1960’s, Bruce Haack produced a series of albums for children that almost defy description. The series began with the release of Dance, Sing and Listen, an album made public on Haack’s own Dimension 5 Records in 1963. Martha Hill, former Director of the Dance Department at the Juilliard School of Music, quaintly opined on the original album liner notes that Dance, Sing and Listen “provides delightful material for children’s classes in dance and rhythm and also for children at home. The ideas are fresh and imaginative. Miss Nelson’s voice and Mr. Haack’s music are evocative in their rhythmic invention and in the variety and color of instrumentation.”
Bruce Haack began his formal music career at Edmonton University, although his breakthrough came when he was accepted to New York City’s Juilliard School of Music. His time at Juilliard was limited, but he met a likeminded musical friend in Ted Pandel, and the two forged a lifelong partnership.
After composing music for stage and writing commercial jingles, Haack’s creativity shifted to a different field as he began to accompany children’s dance teacher Esther Nelson with his original compositions. Nelson and Haack then began to collaborate to create remarkably unique, especially for the early 1960s, children’s music albums. With Pandel, they started their own record label, Dimension 5 Records, on which they released 1962′s Dance, Sing & Listen. Two other records followed in the series, 1963′s Dance, Sing and Listen Again and 1965′s Dance, Sing and Listen Again and Again.
The Music of 'Dance, Sing and Listen'
Dance, Sing and Listen kicks off appropriately with a brief “Introduction,” as Haack and Miss Nelson rap over a primitive cut-and-paste musical background. Next follows a strange banjo-keyboard version of the classic “Clap Your Hands,” wherein children are encouraged to follow the movement instructions of Miss Nelson. “Sunflowers” begins with the buzzing sounds of an oscillator, followed by Bruce and Miss Nelson encouraging listeners to act out the life cycle of a sunflower, accompanied by skittery electronic bleeps, random percussion sounds, and plucked strings of some kind.
The follow the leader movement song “Skating Party,” sung by Miss Nelson, sounds like a cross between a Frank Zappa musique concrète piece and a waltzing classical music composition, while the brief “Medieval Dances” features a variety of stately tunes played on an ancient electronic keyboard. “My Bones” is a piano-percussion movement piece in which Miss Nelson rhymingly describes the human body, accompanied by a background scat trumpet vocal; and “A Little Discussion and Eine Kleine Gebouncemusik” features a discussion with children about exercise, paired with a jaunty instrumental.
Island-influenced music begins the eight and a half minute “Coco the Coconut,” a short story told and sung by Miss Nelson, followed by “Sailing,” a movement song sung by Miss Nelson that is surrounded by electronically produced sound effects and melodies. Bruce Haack then tells “A Stuffy Story” that involves a pig that meets a bevy of characters represented by keyboard-produced sounds, set against a background of jazz combo samples and electronic flute. The lengthy “Pussycats” is basically a “cooling down” movement tune sung and narrated by Miss Nelson, while the short “Trains” closes out Dance, Sing and Listen with another movement and hand clapping activity song led by Miss Nelson.
Dance, Sing and Listen may not be your cup of tea, but the album specifically and Bruce Haack’s children’s music compositions in general deserve a place in kids’ music history if only for their brazen adventurousness. Start your Bruce Haack musical trip with Dance, Sing and Listen, then follow the whole “Dance” series, including 1963’s Dance, Sing and Listen Again and 1965’s Dance, Sing and Listen Again and Again, and see what you think.
Released 1963; Dimension 5 Records
- "Clap Your Hands"
- "Skating Party"
- "Medieval Dances"
- "My Bones"
- "A Little Discussion And Eine Kleine Gebouncemusik"
- "Coco The Coconut"
- "A Stuffy Story"