In Children's Music, Diana Panton Finds A Few Lessons For Adults

Apr 19, 2016
Originally published on April 19, 2016 10:28 pm

For more than 10 years, Diana Panton has been quietly building her jazz career. She's also a high-school French teacher by day, which means she mostly records and tours while her students are on vacation. But on her latest album, she's aiming for a new audience.

I Believe In Little Things is Panton's first release made for kids. She decided to record it after some parents told her they were already playing her albums for their children.

"When I make an album, I always do try to find really well-written songs that have great lyrics, and this was no different," she says. "I didn't really change the way I sang, because I thought, 'If parents and kids are already connecting with those songs that I did on the other albums, then I don't need to dummy this down. I don't need to change it.' So we really pretty much stuck with our format. It's just that we tried to find, lyrically, songs that were more suitable to children."

Speaking with NPR's Kelly McEvers, Panton explained how she assembled Little Things' track list (which includes a few numbers from Sesame Street) and got some candid feedback from a 4-year-old fan. Hear more of their conversation at the audio link.

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(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN A WORLD OF MY OWN")

DIANA PANTON: (Singing) Cats and rabbits would reside in fancy little houses.

KELLY MCEVERS, HOST:

For more than 10 years, Diana Panton has been quietly building her jazz career. The singer is also a high school French teacher by day. And so she's been recording albums and touring during school vacation. And on her latest album, she's aiming for a new audience.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IN A WORLD OF MY OWN")

PANTON: (Singing) When I'm lonely in a world of my own.

MCEVERS: Diana Panton's new album is called "I Believe In Little Things." And it's her first record made for kids. She decided to record it after some parents told her they were already playing her records for their kids. But she says when she decided to make an album of kids music, she didn't want to change her approach.

PANTON: I mean, for me when I make an album, I always do try to find really well-written songs that have great lyrics, and this was no different. And I didn't really change the way I sang because I thought if parents and kids are already connecting with, you know, those songs that I did on the other albums then I don't need to dummy this down and I don't need to change it. So we really pretty much stuck with our format. It's just we tried to find lyrically songs that were more suitable to children.

MCEVERS: There are several recognizable songs here, I mean, for those of us of a certain age. Here's a song that I think we would remember from our childhood. Let's listen.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "SING")

PANTON: (Singing) Sing, sing a song, sing out loud, sing out strong. Sing of good things, not bad. Sing of happy, not sad.

MCEVERS: So of course this song comes from "Sesame Street." It is a well-known song from "Sesame Street." You've got other songs from that show that actually aren't as well known. Tell us why you chose some of those.

PANTON: Well, I mean, I - that was a song I did recognize, you know, when I was starting to look at songs. And I was, like, the Carpenters of course did a famous version of it. And it was happy, you know?

When I started to dig a little further, I was like, oh, this is by Joe Raposo and then I'd find another song and I'd say, oh, this is by Joe Raposo, too. And I'm like, who is this Joe Raposo that I keep turning up with all these great songs? And what fascinated me about his music was how diverse it was. And he was a big advocate for having children be exposed to music from different cultures and having kids hear different styles of music. So his songs were, like, sort of, like, the perfect fit, and as such, we included four of his compositions on this album.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "IMAGINATION")

PANTON: (Singing) I look inside and discover things that are sometimes stranger and new. And the most remarkable thoughts I think have a way of being true.

MCEVERS: I know musicians don't necessarily like to hear reviews of their work, but we did want to play you one recent assessment of your music.

PANTON: OK.

SOLVEIG SMITH: It's nice.

MCEVERS: That's 4-year-old Solveig Smith.

PANTON: Oh, that's awesome.

MCEVERS: She happened to be in our office today, and she is the daughter of one of our producers. She listened to some of the record. Here is how she described it.

SOLVEIG: Beautyness (ph).

(LAUGHTER)

PANTON: That's awesome.

MCEVERS: So, I mean, have you been getting other kinds of feedback like this from other younger fans?

PANTON: I have, oddly enough, been hearing from a lot of 4-year-olds, so that's interesting that you had a 4-year-old in the office today. I don't know why, but it seems to appeal to them, so that's great. I think that's wonderful what she said. It was - what did she use? Beautiess (ph).

MCEVERS: Beautyness, yeah.

PANTON: Beautyness.

(LAUGHTER)

MCEVERS: Exactly.

PANTON: That's great (laughter).

MCEVERS: I want to play another song. It's called "Halfway Down The Stairs."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS")

PANTON: (Singing) Halfway down the stairs is a stair where I sit. There isn't any other stair quite like it. I'm not at the bottom. I'm not at the top. So this is the stair where I always stop.

MCEVERS: Tell us about why you chose this one.

PANTON: Well, I was a "Winnie The Pooh" fan when I was little. And this song is actually written by A.A. Milne, who wrote that book. And what I love about it is that it's obviously written for children, but I also feel like the message in it for adults is very interesting, too. You know, how you have a child who will go up the stairs and just stop in the middle and of course an adult would be like, well, where are you going, you know, you heading to the top?

MCEVERS: They're like, let's go. We got a thing to do.

PANTON: Yeah, and, you know, they are like, no, I'm just in the moment. I'm right here. And so the way a child thinks I think is a good model for us sometimes, you know, as adults not to always be goal-driven, always be looking at the endpoint but, you know, to sort of stop and smell the roses.

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "HALFWAY DOWN THE STAIRS")

PANTON: (Singing) So this is the stair where I always stop.

MCEVERS: Well, Diana Panton, thank you so much for talking to us today.

PANTON: Oh, thank you so much for having me on.

MCEVERS: Diana Panton's album is called "I Believe In Little Things."

(SOUNDBITE OF SONG, "I'M GOING TO GO BACK THERE SOMEDAY")

PANTON: (Singing) There's not a word yet for old friends who've just met, part heaven, part space or have I found my place? You can just visit, but I plan to stay. I'm going to go back there someday. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.