The folk scene seems to be largely switched on to the fact that engaging with kids and getting them involved early is important.
This is neither startling news, nor is it in any way new news. If anything it borders on the screamingly self-evident.
It’s worth dwelling on for a while, nonetheless.
Festivals have for years been at least incorporating youth elements into their programs, or holding self-contained and separate kids’ festivals, sometimes devoting a discrete area specifically for the kiddies. Woodford boasts a kids’ program that’s as extensive and packed as some whole festivals.
I’ll spare you, dear reader, from further personal insights and observations on topic. Much more illuminating (and hopefully, more interesting) are the experiences and motivations of younger performers and the adults who help nurture the burgeoning young talents.
I’ve had the chance to broach the topic with a handful of pint-sized performers and their support staff (typically labelled ‘Mum’ and/or ‘Dad’) and hope to bring a few of their stories into print from time to time.
The Bond Traps come in all shapes, sizes and ages, but their two centre-pieces have only just turned 11 years old. Ellena and Isabelle Bond grew up immersed in the music of their father Luke, and the singing of German nursery rhymes by their mother Beata.
Luke is guitarist and singer with the Bond Traps and had himself grown up in a musical family, was classically trained and played in bands, then turned his hand to home-growing his music and nurturing the talents of his twin daughters.
Luke and Beata both encouraged Ellena and Isabelle without forcing them. “Part of the thinking of getting the girls into performance at a young age,” says Luke, “was for them to be able to ‘go for it’ before they become too self-conscious.”
“Beata and I have encouraged them since they began primary school to get up in front of people and have a go at whatever is on offer, be it performing, singing or dancing.”
“I figured if my girls could perform and enjoy what they are doing with music, they will learn more and be self-motivated. Combine this with a confidence to perform, they will give pleasure to others and in turn gain pleasure from writing and playing music.”
The rest of the Bond Traps are a wee bit older. Tim Snowdon is an artist who was painting the Bonds’ house (that was with a roller, not water colours, by the by), so the natural progression from there was playing bass with his clients’ band. Ben Phillips is an ex-colleague of Luke’s, and he ran into the Bonds one night while getting a pizza after the family had been performing, and from there Ben was cast as fiddle player.
Their music is a blend of bush ballads, Australian folk, and American blue country, drawing inspiration from the country around them, their farm life, and whatever takes their fancy. A stand of bamboo growing in the backyard, for example.
Back to the kiddies.
Both the girls sing. Ellena plays accordion and recorder while Isabelle plays percussion, recorder and harmonica. There’s something inspiring about watching a child play any instrument, but it’s another thing again to watch someone barely in double figures mastering a piano accordion: the musical equivalent of patting your head, rubbing your stomach and simultaneously compressing and reinflating several kilos of ballast strapped around your neck.
I first met Isabelle, Ellena and Luke at the 2007 Music at the Creek festival at Majors Creek (near Braidwood – the Bonds live on 100 acres near rural Bungendore. You don’t have to listen too hard to hear the country that makes up their home in their songs, for example, on ‘Down in the Valley’, a song inspired by the old bushies Luke has known in the region.)
Having played around Bungendore and Queanbeyan for some time, the girls were having their second crack at the kids’ competition at Majors Creek, with the prize of tickets to the National providing more than enough incentive. The Bond Traps were ultimately joint winners of the competition and performed in the youth competition at the National in March where they were worthy competitors.
For all of the focus on practice, performance and the element of competition, it’s always refreshing to see kids just want to be kids. As Luke and I talked about weightier matters to do with music immersion, motivation and other arm-chair pseudo-psycho-musicology, Isabelle and Ellena excuse themselves for a while to go muck about on the nearby swings, returning later to give their own insights on their music.
I remark on one of the songs they performed (‘Bamboo’), and how Ellena had casually introduced the performance by saying, ‘I wrote this a few years ago’.
How many years ago was it?
Ellena: ‘About eight’.
‘No,’ Luke corrects his daughter. ‘You were about eight!’
Pause while the interviewer quickly composes himself, driving away images of Suzuki-method training for very young singers, and a toddler in nappies scratching out notes and lyrics on an Etch-A-Sketch.
Earlier, while the swings had proven more inviting to the girls than speaking into an MP3 recorder, I’d asked Luke where the kids got inspired to write songs. Was it spontaneous or was there some parental urging?
“It works both ways. We’ll play all sorts of music at home, from folk to rock – maybe not so much jazz, but blues and even things like The Pogues, for example – and I’ll hear the girls humming a song or singing it without even knowing the words. Some of their concepts will be inspired by some of the songs that they’ve heard. And when they come up with an idea or a concept, I’ll usually record it on the hand-held recorder and keep it, and maybe we use it and maybe we don’t.”
Does it ever become a chore for the girls? Is it something that you or they feel they have to do?
“They always have the option to pull the pin if they don’t want to do it, but they’re always keen to go on.
We wanted the kids to learn music and to be able to use it practically. That way, hopefully it would generate some enthusiasm and it has. And as well as the band they do music at their primary school.”
What is it about singing and performing that the girls like?
Isabelle: “Well, it’s just really fun when you get up there. Everyone’s watching you. And you get a good feeling afterwards when they say, ‘You’ve done really well’. And they’re there to watch you perform and you’re there to make them happy; they’re there because they like you.”
And how about the process of writing songs? (It’s always humbling to be chatting semi-earnestly with girls who were then all of ten years old about the creative process to blend combinations of music and lyrics.)
Ellena: “Well, writing songs is sort of… it’s hard; you don’t get it right first time and then you add on to them over time.”
Isabelle: “It’s kind of fun writing songs because you get to feel what it really feels like and then afterwards you have to write the song…”
Ellena: “You’re proud of yourself.”
And what of the difference between singing one of Dad’s songs and one they’ve written themselves?
Isabelle: “If we write it it’s easier. And we practice a lot at home; we practice heaps! We just have the book there to turn the pages and see what song we’re at.”
Luke: “It’s also a security thing. I’ve been in the situation half-way through a song and you just go ‘Er, ar, mental block’.”
The Bond Traps have taken their music a step further now and their debut album “Out There” is, well, it’s out there now. If you’re within striking distance of the Bungendore Bowling Club on Saturday 26 July, you can catch the album launch. The Bond Traps will be playing with The Fuelers.
For more details, contact Luke Bond on 0409 440 619 or click on to http://www.myspace.com/bondtraps.
More kids in folk in a couple of months’ time.