Updated ditties for kiddies are this trio's specialty

August 09, 1991|By Mary Maushard | Mary Maushard,Evening Sun Staff

ENTERTAINING in an inner-city school in Toronto, Lois Lilienstein asked the youngsters if there were any songs they would like to sing.

"Do you know 'Disco Man'?" asked a young child. (Or is that ". . . disco, man?")

Either way, Lois drew a blank.

"Can you sing it?" she asked the youngster.

"Sure," said the little girl:

Disco Man, he played one,

He played knickknack on my thumb,

With a knickknack paddy-whack,

Give your dog a bone,

Disco Man came rolling home.

"That's how the folk music process works," says Bram Morrison, laughing about the youngster's adaptation of the children's classic, "This Old Man," as remembered by his partner.

Lois and Bram know a lot about music growing and changing through generations and cultures. With Sharon Hampson, they make up the highly successful trio of children's music-makers, "Sharon, Lois & Bram." Adaptation is a cornerstone of their eclectic style, which incorporates folk, jazz, swing and classical as well as ditties and doo-wops into a fast-paced repertoire.

"Individually and collectively, we're interested in many, many different styles of music," Morrison said during a telephone interview from his Toronto home. "We try to do them in as authentic a way as possible."

Over the last 13 years, the trio has won fame as purveyors of children's music that also gives adults "license to be silly" and reason to listen, he said. The trio's newest recording, "Sing A to Z," includes such well-known selections as "The Name Game," "On the Sunny Side of the Street" and the 1960s' anthem, "New World Coming."

"We know that the family is our audience, rather than just the children. Everybody's getting something different from the experience," said Morrison. "There are multi-levels and that's OK."

Sharon, Lois & Bram are making their third trip to Baltimore for two shows on Saturday at Pier Six Concert Pavilion. Last year, the trio's packed performances closed the old Pier Six. "We love Baltimore; we're looking forward to the new pavilion," said Morrison.

Sharon, Lois & Bram are playing to ever-growing audiences, leaving behind the Canadian classrooms where they first met to play junior high auditoriums, symphony halls and, now, state fairs and big-time exhibitions, such as the Calgary Stampede.

Their signature song, "Skinnamarink" -- a camp song reportedly shared with Lois by a young American cousin in 1978 -- is a household tune among families with young children.

The trio has 10 recordings, numerous videos and "Sharon, Lois & Bram's Elephant Show" five days a week on Nickelodeon, the cable television children's network.

Television has brought them "a groundswell of fans," said Morrison. "The power of TV is absolutely extraordinary."

It's had another effect on the trio's audience, he said. The 11 a.m. weekday showtime "automatically edits our viewing audience," eliminating school-age children. "We have seen our audience get younger and younger." This distresses the musicians, who say they have much to offer older children.

"We give them an alternative. Children can accommodate affection for many musical styles at the same time," said Morrison. "Taste is primarily determined by exposure; you get to like what you see the most."

Morrison credits the group's early and continuing success to the individuals' solid musical backgrounds and their affection and respect for children.

"We've spent a lot of years doing our journey work," he said.

Morrison was a folk singer and a teacher when he met Hampson and Lilienstein, who both had extensive musical training. The women were separately involved in children's music programs in Toronto schools while their own children were young.

"We're really connected with children," he says. "We grew up, musically, in much smaller arenas."

Most important to their success is their commitment. "We want to make good music. We don't try to overtly teach lessons. Our aim is to delight and entertain. Any lessons that happen along the way are gravy."

Sharon, Lois & Bram are scheduled to perform at 4 and 7 p.m. 1/2 Saturday at Pier Six. Tickets are $12.50 for reserved pavilion seats and $10 for lawn seating. For more information, phone 625-1400.


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