A Grownup Conversation with Raffi
Interview with Songwriter and Child Advocate Raffi Cavoukian, CM OBC
By Thomas Amoriello Jr.
NAfME Council for Guitar Education Chair
“Sing your little song/ Sing for all your friends, we like to hear you!” is a lyric from Raffi Cavoukian‘s anthem for children, “Baby Beluga.” The song has taken on many forms, including a children’s picture book and an animated video, and has resonated with generations of young ones in its simple, deeper under-the-surface charm. Popular music for children is ever evolving since recorded technology became widespread, yet the catalog of Raffi’s songs has continued to connect with many a child.
National Association for Music Education (NAfME) would like to thank Cavoukian for sharing his wisdom about music with elementary music educators, and students young and old!
Raffi was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Letters from the Vancouver Island University.
You have been a musical advocate for children, singing songs for and with them for many decades. To think and feel like a child again sometimes does not come naturally to all adults.
Do you have any strategies that could help a novice educator find a comfort zone to relate to a younger child in the music classroom?
Respect is key—respect for the child as a whole person. Young children need to feel our love, and to feel seen. Humour is a fun way to connect. Our empathy for children is a doorway to engaging with them in a fun and respectful way.
“Young children’s playful nature and their universal needs do not change. They love to sing, to act it out, to imitate and dance.”
The guitar (and once the lute) has been the tool of the troubadour in performing and songwriting for centuries. It is the perfect instrument for what you do. Do you still find joy and discovery with the six-string instrument after all of these years?
Yes, the guitar has been my friend since I was 16. I enjoy finding new chord inversions, playing the lower three strings only (at times), and it’s amazing what opens up to you when you spend time playing for the love of it. I also have a couple of “cigar box” guitars: a four-string one that sounds a bit like a banjo, and a three-string guitar with fatter strings that’s a bit like a bass dulcimer. As well, I love to play and record with a ukulele.
I bought a hand made one four years ago; it’s terrific—haven’t changed the strings once. I use it for lead uke lines when recording and it sounds warm and bright.
With so much access to technology for the young, do you see a difference in the way children react to your music and songs today as compared to the 1970s and 1980s?
Young children’s playful nature and their universal needs do not change. They love to sing, to act it out, to imitate and dance. My recent family concerts have been rousing singalongs, and the kids I’ve met afterwards have been a total delight. In this digital era, it’s important for parents to limit screen time, to let the joys of our three-dimensional world of wonders make lasting impressions. That’s the priority, not tech.
Music is so important to children helping them to develop vocabulary, auditory skills, creativity, and social skills. Looking back, do you have a moment that is unique and stands out above others in your musical communication with children?
Early in my work making music with and for the very young, I learned that they like to rhyme, love to laugh and that fun makes for great learning. The hugs they give me are the best communication ever. I hear from “beluga grads” (adults who as children grew up with my songs) that my music was “the soundtrack of [their] childhood.” Quite an honour to know that, and it shows how deep and life-affirming early musical impressions can be.
Many members of NAfME are music educators of PreK to upper elementary students. Do you have any words of wisdom or a message you would like to share?
Recently, I’ve worked on a number of projects that impact educators; here are three.
- My foundation created an online course in Child Honouring (a philosophy I’ve developed over the past 20 years-plus), and its nine principles for conscious living. In the climate emergency we all face, this course invites and inspires those who take it to become change-makers for a viable future—a world fit for our young, for beluga whales, for koala babies.
- Recently I’ve written and released two new climate songs: “Young People Marching” and “Do We Love Enough” (a ballad). “Young People Marching” was inspired by Greta Thunberg and highlights the passion and energy of young people in awakening adults to do their duty in stabilizing the climate. This rousing song urges all of us to stand up for our young. My climate activism goes began in the 1990s. In 2007 I wrote the song “Cool It,” what some have called climate anthem. “Cool It” is in a rockabilly style, and its singable chorus urges us to “cool it, cool it, cool this planet down!”
- I just produced a new kids’ album for singer-songwriter Lindsay Munroe of Massachusetts called “I AM KIND: Songs for Unique Kids.” For Lindsay (a mother of three kids under age 11, all on the autism spectrum), this is her first kids’ album, and it is a gem. With a voice that’s lovely and engaging, Lindsay’s endearing songs will uplift and delight kids, parents, and yes, educators! An important album for neurodiverse kids and their families, and for the teachers who embrace inclusion in their classrooms.
Read past articles by Thomas Amoriello Jr.:
- Yay Storytime! Musical Adventures with Children’s Picture Books, Part Four
- A Conductor’s Tale: Interview with American Young Voices Conductor Francisco J. Núñez
- Yay Storytime! Musical Adventures with Children’s Picture Books, Part Three
- A Cultural Treasure: Interview with Sharon Isbin, Julliard Classical Guitar Program Founder
- The Season’s Greeting’s Guitarist: Trans-Siberian Orchestra’s Al Pitrelli
- Yay Storytime! Musical Adventures with Children’s Picture Books, Part Two
- The Student Teacher in the Guitar Classroom
- Double Trouble: Interview with Innovative Musician Gabriel Guardian
- The Patriotic Guitarist: Master Sergeant Alan Prather of “The President’s Own”
- Interview with Progressive Funk-Rock Guitarist DeWayne “Blackbyrd” McKnight
- Heavy Metal Guitar: Neo-Classical Style
- Heavy Metal Guitar: From Times Square to Netflix and Beyond
- Make a Sound! Interview with Drummer Michael Bland
- What about the Electric Bass?
- An Article for Jazz Educators: Interview with Guitarist Kevin Eubanks
- Hip Hop Empowers: Interview with Harlem-Raised, Boston-Based Hip Hop Artist Billy Dean Thomas
- Heavy Metal Guitar Style: Virtuoso Shred Guitar with Toby Knapp
- Adult Education: Rock Camp
- Musical Adventures with Children’s Picture Books
- Empowering the Musician in Your Classroom
About the author:
Thomas Amoriello Jr. serves as the chair on the NAfME Council for Guitar Education and is also the former Chairperson for the New Jersey Music Education Association (NJMEA). He has had more than fifty guitar and ukulele advocacy articles published in music education journals in Michigan, Ohio, Virginia, Washington, Illinois, Rhode Island, and New Jersey. Tom has taught guitar classes for the Flemington Raritan School District in Flemington, New Jersey, since 2005 and was also an adjunct guitar instructor at Cumberland County College, New Jersey, for five years. He has earned a Master of Music Degree in Classical Guitar Performance from Shenandoah Conservatory and a Bachelor of Arts in Music from Rowan University. His primary teachers have been Alice Artzt, Glenn Caluda, David Crittenden, and Joseph Mayes. He has performed in the master classes of Benjamin Verdery in Maui, Hawaii, and Angelo Gilardino and Luigi Biscaldi in Biella, Italy.
During his time on the NJMEA board he has directed guitar festivals and drafted the proposal to approve the first ever NJMEA Honors Guitar Ensemble. Tom is an advocate for class guitar programs in public schools and has been a clinician presenting his “Guitar for the K–12 Music Educator” for the Guitar Foundation of America Festivals in Charleston, South Carolina, and Columbus, Georgia; Lehigh Valley Guitar Festival in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Philadelphia Classical Guitar Society Festival, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; NAfME Biennial Conferences in Baltimore and Atlantic City; as well as other state music education conferences in New Jersey, Massachusetts, New York, and Virginia. He has twice been featured on episodes of “Classroom Closeup–NJ,” which aired on New Jersey Public Television. He is the author of the children’s picture books A Journey to Guitarland with Maestro Armadillo and Ukulele Sam Strums in the Sand, both available from Black Rose Writing. He recently made a heavy metal recording with a stellar roster of musicians including former members of Black Sabbath, Whitesnake, Ozzy Osbourne, Yngwie J. Malmsteen’s Rising Force, and Dio that was released on H42 Records of Hamburg, Germany. The record released on 12-inch vinyl and digital platforms has received favorable reviews in many European rock magazines and appeared on the 2018 Top 15 Metal Albums list by Los Angeles KNAC Radio (Contributor Dr. Metal). His next recording is a 5-track EP called “Dear Dark,” which will be released by Ice Fall Records on cassette in March 2020 and features former members of Megadeth, King Diamond, TNT, and Dokken. Visit thomasamoriello.com for more information.
The National Association for Music Education (NAfME) provides a number of forums for the sharing of information and opinion, including blogs and postings on our website, articles and columns in our magazines and journals, and postings to our Amplify member portal. Unless specifically noted, the views expressed in these media do not necessarily represent the policy or views of the Association, its officers, or its employees.