If you’ve ever met a five-year-old, you know the attention span of a kindergartner tends to be in the range of 12 seconds. Unless, that is, said kindergartner is under the melodic spell of Adam Marshall’s catchy tunes.
On one recent morning, a crowd of kindergartners arranged themselves cross-legged on the carpet and sat in cheerful attention from 8:30 to 9 as Marshall sang and played his guitar, the little ones singing along to every word. And we’re not talking about the ABCs or “Old MacDonald,” we’re talking The Bazillions originals, like “Counting on a Friend” and “Super Sonic Rocket Bike.”
A special education assistant in the autism program at Kenny Community School, as well as a founding member of the kids rock group The Bazillions and indie rock group The Humbugs, Marshall has melded his two worlds of music and education.
Once a week, three classrooms of kindergartners gather together and spend half an hour singing along with Marshall and his guitar. The same goes for classrooms of first and fourth graders.
Sneaking in some teaching with the tunes, Marshall plays songs like “Preposition” and “The Color Song.”
Marshall started bringing music to the students as soon as he started working at the school. Karen Peterson, a kindergarten teacher at the time, was the teacher he first worked with and also one of the people who hired Marshall. She admits his musical background is, in part, what got him hired, citing the importance of music in education, especially for younger students.
On Marshall’s first day, Peterson, came to him with lyrics for “The Color Song” and, knowing Marshall was a musician, asked him to write music for it. He sat down at a piano and wrote the song while Peterson was at lunch.
After hearing the song, Marshall remembers Peterson said, “Well, you’re going to be singing every week with these kids.” And so he does.
This doesn’t mean, however, that Marshall was well-versed in children’s music to begin with. Peterson is now a fourth grade teacher, with students who were part of that first kindergarten class. When it began, Peterson said, “He had no repertoire of kids songs at all. Finally, it was like, why aren’t you writing kids songs?”
That question may just have been the impetus for the formation of The Bazillions and songs like “Mac -n- Cheese.”
Marshall’s wife Kristin, a former music teacher, is also a special education assistant in the autism program at Kenny, as well as a band-mate in The Bazillions and The Humbugs. She also plays music with Marshall for special events at the school, like carnivals.
While they have plenty of experience playing for crowds of kids and adults alike, the Marshalls hinted that the younger concert-goers make for a more fun audience.
“Kids are way more up to just letting go, playing along and dancing,” Kristin Marshall said.
Their own son Felix is already aspiring to be part of The Bazillions. The Marshalls joked that it’s his goal to be part of the band by age two. Supporting that dream, they’ve decided to start letting him stand on stage with his toy guitar.
Their daughter Naomi is already something of a music whiz herself at age four.
“Naomi picks apart instruments in the songs,” Adam Marshall said, “She says, ‘I hear mommy, I hear the bass.’”
For the Marshalls, music and fun are a way of life.
“We have family dance parties,” Kristin Marshall said, “Saturday morning dance parties.”
“That’s a goal of The Bazillions,” she added, “ to get kids into it—to encourage kids not just to listen to music but to be a part of it."
If you’d like to see The Bazillions in action, and you don’t happen to be a student at Kenny School, you can catch them Feb. 19, 1 p.m. at Creative Kidstuff in St. Paul.