“Land Park News” (2/26/2015) & “East Sacramento News” (3/5/2015)
“The Land Park News” & “East Sacramento News”
Reprinted from “The Land Park News” – February 26, 2015
Additional content (in italics) from “East Sacramento News” – March 5, 2015
Sacramento children’s musician releases best album yet
(Children’s musician Mister Cooper with his fans from Tiny Tots preschool in Land Park. The group of pirates got together to sing some tunes from “Pirate Ship,” Mister Cooper’s latest album.)
By Monica Stark
Hailed by children at Tiny Tots Preschool in William Land Park, “Pirate Ship,” the new album by Land Park children’s musician Mister Cooper, includes eight Mother Goose rhymes, the title track, and a song about the adventures of a doodle bug.
With many songs kids already know, Mister Cooper mixes in a lot of fun little lines here and there, adding in what he calls, “some new information.” What happens to Humpty Dumpty after he fell off the wall? Well, he says, that’s for the children to find out.
Mister Cooper created a catchy version of “Hey, Diddle Diddle” that is set to the tune of Hank Williams Sr.’s “Hey, Good Lookin’.” With a steel guitar (and a pedal), Mister Cooper’s adaptation of the song invites audience participation with a call back of “Hey, Diddle Diddle,” something, of course, children really enjoy.
Playing for little ones at Tiny Tots, Sutterville, Bret Harte, Camellia Basic, Hollywood Park, and Leonardo da Vinci Elementary Schools, a daycare in the Pocket area, and three libraries, Mister Cooper has built up a fan base among kids, their parents, and teachers who appreciate that his songs enhance their curricula.
The story behind the song, “The More You Read” (a song that encourages reading), has a deep Land Park community connection. “The librarian at (C.K.) McClatchy High School taught (second grade) for one year (2012-13) at Sutterville Elementary, where I sing with the kids. Her name is Donna Vann. And on the door of her room, she put the poster of that song: ‘The more you read, the more you know.’ It had a few lines. I started humming it right as soon as I read it. I didn’t get halfway down before I knew what it was going to be. It recorded well. I’d sing it at the libraries and with the kids at school. They seem to go for it and it’s positive.”
Asked to describe what they like about Mister Cooper and his new album, Tiny Tots children discussed their love of the musician’s storytelling and his invitations for them to dance along during his weekly visits.
Declan, Faylinn, Kate, and Molly reported back saying they like the freeze dancing that Mister Cooper incorporates into his program. Aleah loves “Pirate Ship”; Santi likes “Mister Cooper’s guitar”; and Payton likes “his songs.”
While children love the pirate sounds, adults come to enjoy the line: “My mother’s name is Margaret, the Captain calls her Peg.”
“Hardly any kids are called Margaret anymore and almost no one is called Peggy, so I have adults come up to me and say, I had an Aunt Peggy. Her name was Margaret. That’s hysterical. I love it,” Mister Cooper said.
In the interview with this publication, Ken Cooper, the name behind the moniker, discussed the making of “Pirate Ship” and his long-term involvement singing at local libraries and schools.
To Ken, singing children’s songs conjures up memories of his own youth, specifically memories of his mother singing “This Little Piggy.”
“I remember the bathtub, the little portable bathtub she’d pull into the tub – that’s one of the first memories that I have of her singing that song. So then I started working on that song. After I finished it, I was telling a couple of friends that I’m starting to work up songs for Mother Goose rhymes and then people started giving me books and (saying): ‘Here, look at this website or check this out.’ I had never known that ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’ had five verses in it.” But it’s the adaptation of the songs that makes his music so inviting. He often uses the same melody but different chords, as he does in “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.”
And, on the album’s title track, his voice carries like a scary pirate singing to the tune of a sea shanty.
After 25 drafts and critiques from his most critical listeners – children at his sing-alongs – Ken is proud to say he’s happy with the results. “I just could not get it right. I had all kinds of weird stuff and the kids were going: ‘No, the captains on a ship don’t have dogs. Pirates have parrots. You’ve got to put a parrot in. You’ve got to take the dog out.’ So the dog was out and the parrot was in.” And, in the end, as far as the recordings go, he said “Pirate Ship” is the “Matilda” of his latest recording. Those die-hard Mister Cooper fans would recall Matilda is a singing gorilla from the CD, “Mister Cooper is for the Birds,” which was released in 2011. Suffice to say, children love “Matilda” and they also love “Pirate Ship.”
For instance, shortly before the interview with this publication, Mister Cooper said kids came up to him, holding their tongues, singing one of the repetitive lines: “I was born on a pirate ship.”
Mister Cooper started recording the CD at the end of last June and by October the album was mixed and mastered. In November, it was sent to the manufacturer and he had copies for sale the week before Christmas.
“Pirate Ship” lists the following musicians as the album’s “singers and players”: Leo and Max Adams, vocal; Marisa Atha, vocals; Eric Bianchi, bass and vocal; Ethan Bianchi, vocal; Keith Cary, steel guitar; Richie Lawrence, piano, accordion, and vocal; Michelle Lewis, vocal; Scott McChane, drums and vocals; John O’Kennedy, dobro; and Mister Cooper, everything else.
In order of release date Mister Cooper’s albums include; “Mister Cooper,” which was released in 2006; “This World,” on Jan. 1, 2009; “Mister Cooper is for the Birds,” April 2011; “I Like Your Hat,” March 2013; and “Pirate Ship” on Jan. 6, 2015.
The Friends of the Pocket-Greenhaven Library and the Friends of the Belle Cooledge Library pay for the music program with Mister Cooper, but, for the Colonial Heights Public Library, Mister Cooper said despite the best efforts by that branch’s Friends of the Library, there was not enough money from book sales and other fund-raisers, so parents formed the Facebook group: “Mr. Cooper Funding: Maintain the Weekly Music Program at Colonial Heights!” The following announcement was posted on the page on Feb. 26: “Great news! We are funded through May!! I am so encouraged by how we are doing this together and how so many parents and loved ones are using their talents to be generous!”
Beaming with gratitude, Mister Cooper said the following regarding parents’ ongoing efforts; “They’re chipping in wherever they can and it seems to be working out all right. So, I’m very thankful.”
One of the mothers, Sarah Mertyris, explained more about the group in a message to the “East Sacramento News” stating that the entire year of 2014 was covered by a single anonymous donor. Then this group of parents came together and are doing all they can to stay ahead of the game and keep Mister Cooper at Colonial Heights. Heather Lavezzo Downey has stepped up as the group’s leader, organizer, and treasurer.
The group has collected the necessary money, through individual donations, to fund Mister Cooper’s weekly shows through the end of May 2015. The group has shared the PayPal information with friends and families and made the suggestion for donations in lieu of Christmas and birthday presents for their little ones.
Sara Jacobsen is another mom that makes gift tags from recycled materials and has been selling them as a fundraising effort, donating all the sales to Mister Cooper’s fund. Sarah started a fundraising project by making crochet totes out of recycled plastic bags. The group has also done research on possible grants available in the community, but have not found a good match yet, Sarah explained.
Sarah jokes that her 22-month-old daughter is a Super Coopie or a Mister Cooper groupie. “She absolutely loves him and his music. We started going to the weekly shows sporadically when she was 16 months old, but her interest grew and I could see how much she enjoyed the shows. We have been weekly attendants for the past 6 months. We have 4 of his CDs in the car and that is pretty much all we listen to if she’s in the car with us.
“She’s in that language stage that she is gaining multiple words each day and can mimic like a parrot. The radio no longer felt like an option in the car due to inappropriate lyrics. Mister Cooper’s music is catchy, easy to listen to and enjoy, and teaches her the days of the week, months of the year, colors of the rainbow, good morals to live by, recycling and caring for the Earth, nursery rhymes, and a whole host of great vocabulary. We also play the Mister Cooper Pandora station when we are in the house. She is thrilled to go to the shows and proudly wears her Mister Cooper t-shirt. He has taken the time to learn her name and greets her individually each week. So, as you can see, Mister Cooper is part of her day, every day, in some way or another.
“I think it speaks for itself how much Mister Cooper’s music has become a part of our daily lives. I value his talent and that he shares it with children in such a responsible and enriching way. His music teaches not only content, but also appreciation of music itself. My daughter is very attentive to all kinds of music now and loves dancing to different beats and tempos. She listens to lyrics and learns them quickly. She has fun! I value above all else the pure joy and excitement I see on her face every Thursday when she knows it’s Mister Cooper Day.”
It is hard to say for certain what is in store for the future for Mister Cooper’s sing-alongs at Colonial Heights, Sara Jacobsen explained. “We have looked into other sources of funding to get a larger sum, but so far we don’t qualify. Our eyes and ears are still pealed for something that will keep him around even longer. I know myself and other parents are trying to come up with different fundraising ideas (enter shameless plug for my handmade gift tags that I sell to try to raise some money). I can only hope that the momentum continues and Mister Cooper receives enough to keep the program running.”
Heather keeps track of all the books, making sure what the group accomplishes is completed according to the library’s rules. “We want to support Mister Cooper to be here. I was thinking in the next couple of weeks, I’ll put out on Facebook that we’ll have a more formal fundraiser, like a multi-family spring cleaning. We might organize a concert in the park and charge people to listen to him. We are hoping in the next few weeks to talk strategy. I’m just facilitating the group.”
Go online: At MisterCooper.com, you can find a complete calendar listing of upcoming events and you can buy any of Mister Cooper’s albums.
(Edited by Mister Cooper)