Children’s music and music education are not mutually exclusive. But organically fusing the two concepts is a risky proposition. Get too preachy and the kids won’t go for it. Yet if you’re too obtuse, you do your source material a disservice. Internationally acclaimed jazz clarinetist and composer Oran Etkin looked for a way to build deep musical connections across cultural boundaries. The initial result was the Timbalooloo method of introducing young children to music. The second—a resulting CD of musical selections—is now a reality, as Finding Friends Far From Home: A Journey With Clara Net.
Passing on the joy of music through generations is Oran’s mission. To manifest his destiny, in 2005 he founded Timbalooloo, which re-imagines teaching children to become fluent in the language of music. Timbalooloo uses a creative alternative approach to music education, as well as concert performances, recordings, and video content, engaging children around the world to speak an international language of music with the same fluency as their mother tongue.
Finding Friends was recorded and filmed on location in Zimbabwe, Turkey, Czech Republic, Japan, and China with representatives of each country’s traditional music as well as instruments indigenous to that region. Oran uses the concept of his instrument (Clara Net the clarinet) as a method of communication (hence, speaking through song to the world). For instance, the song “Kutapira” was recorded with Musekiwa Chingodza, a Zimbabwean spiritual master of the mbira (thumb piano). On other tracks, Clara and Oran interact with new instrument friends like the accordion, kopuz, balalaika, and shamisen. These instruments have individual personalities (discussed during introductory pieces before each song) that evoke a range of feelings, from joy and humor to weariness and sadness.
There are lullabies, dancing songs, and fanciful tales of nature on Finding Friends. You wouldn’t think a two-string musical instrument could convey emotion. But that’s what happens on the Japanese “Mo Li Hua.” Oran merges his love for disparate cultures and bringing together children with the music native to those regions. His accomplishment is showcasing that music is indeed a language that expresses intense emotion for young children. Finding Friends may inspire children to investigate in more depth than they’re used to; music is indeed a worldwide adventure for Oran Etkin. Have clarinet, will travel.
Here is the video for Oran’s song, “Gratitude”: