Moock moved to Boston after graduation — he and his family now live in Medford — and started waiting tables and singing at open-mike nights around the area. At 23, he released Walking Sounds, his first of five records geared toward adults. To make ends meet, he also took jobs at after-school programs, first at Jackson Mann School in Allston and later at Fayerweather Street School in Cambridge, where he taught sports and music and helped kids with their homework. He figured if the singer-songwriter thing fizzled out, he might make a good teacher.
He began to work on a few songs he could play with the schoolkids, soon writing what would become one of his best-known songs, “A Cow Says Moo.” After his twin girls, Clio and Elsa, were born in 2006, the writing flowed even more freely for the stay-at-home dad (his wife, Jane Roper, 39, is an advertising copywriter and author). “Creativity has its own life, and in some ways you’re a scribe and you’re writing what you hear,” Moock says. “Which sounds funny when you’re writing about bellybuttons.”
Before long, Moock realized he was a musician with one foot in bars, the other in playgrounds. And as his singer-songwriter career started to stall, he wasn’t sure he was ready for the direction his music was pulling him in. “I think I had a vision of what children’s performers were, and I didn’t want to be one,” he says. “That Barney approach to music — yeah, I’m willing to take on Barney — gets kids singing and it can reinforce positive messages, and those things can be helpful. But it’s also inane for adults. To go to a show of that kind of music is torturous for most adults, unless they have a capacity for transporting themselves into being children that I don’t.”
Moock knew Woody Guthrie and Pete Seeger could easily move from singing about labor unions to singing about bath time. Even Johnny Cash and Jerry Garcia recorded kids’ albums. But Moock thought he’d missed the period in music when “people could do smart music for kids that was also musically solid and they didn’t have to give up their adult careers to do it.”
With the 2009 release of his album A Cow Says Moock, however, it turned out he was launching his kids’ music career at a time when lots of musicians were toggling between family and “grown-up” music with relative ease. The hip and indie Austin City Limits Music Festival has Austin Kiddie Limits, a kid-themed section, and Lollapalooza, the alternative music festival created by Perry Farrell of the band Jane’s Addiction, also has a dedicated kids’ stage, Kidzapalooza. At kids’ events, songs are liable to include covers of songs by Dire Straits, Cat Stevens, or The Beatles. (Though sometimes cover tunes can push the envelope, as when a musical duo played The Rolling Stones’ “Sympathy for the Devil” at children’s music festivals a few years back).
Now, Moock can switch between his genres of music, depending on the audience. For kids, he tends to be especially careful, steering clear of songs like “I Know an Old Lady [Who Swallowed a Fly],” for example, because of its creepy refrain, ‘perhaps she’ll die.’ ” He says, “I think the stakes are high with kids.”
Neither Moock nor any of the other musicians I spoke to expressed resentment or disappointment that they “had to” play for children. Anyone with an attitude like that, the consensus is, just won’t make it — kids can spot a fake a mile away. “You have to love children, you have to respect what you’re doing as important work,” says the legendary kids’ musician Raffi Cavoukian, who lives on Salt Spring Island off the west coast of Canada. “Respect them as an audience.”
Which doesn’t mean parents always respect the performers. “There are some shows where parents come with their cellphones [and stand] at the back of the room,” Moock says. “It’s just baby-sitting. And I don’t enjoy it.” The performer Jeremy Lyons, for his part, will sometimes chide, “It’s a singalong, not a stare-along or a talkalong.” Lyons says: “I want to promote active listening and participation rather than passive listening. . . . I think there’s something really valuable in being where you are when you’re there.”
THE SPRING OF 2012 was shaping up to be an exciting time for Moock’s family. His wife had just published Double Time, a memoir of her first three years parenting twins and her successful climb out of the depression that followed their birth. But instead of doing readings and book signings and instead of playing gigs to promote These Are My Friends, Moock’s second children’s album, he and Roper found themselves embedded at Floating Hospital for Children for four weeks as they stared down the path of their family’s new normal: Clio had been diagnosed with leukemia.Continued...