Sukey Molloy is a musical artist with a bevy of awards proudly in hand. A beloved children’s musician, Sukey Molloy makes melodies that put a big smile on traditional favorites and mixes them with original songs, poetry, and a story for the October 5 release of her fifth album titled “Five Little Oysters!”
October 5 will also see the release of two companion audio picture books by Sukey Molloy titled “Five Little Oysters!” and “The Story of Little Flame in the Arctic.” Featuring colorful felt art images, these books are designed to be read while listening and singing along to Sukey’s songs, courtesy of a song download link provided in each book.
There are certain songs that should be part of the childhood experience for every child. With her new album “Five Little Oysters!” Sukey Molloy turns tradition upside down, shining a new light of fun, fun, fun on this classic repertoire with updated lyrics, a seemingly endless flow of irrepressibly humorous sound effects, and many delightful punctuations from the percussion department guaranteed to produce a parade of giggles. All of this hilarity is imbued with the magic of the up-close, cheery, participatory style that has become Sukey’s calling card.
Joining Sukey as co-producer of Five Little Oysters! is Grammy-winner Larry Alexander (Diana Ross, Bruce Springsteen, Bon Jovi, David Bowie), who has served in this capacity for all five of Sukey’s albums. Together they have created a recording for children that will surely set the standard for years to come with its graceful flow from beginning to end and a clean, clear sound that echoes first-rate production values. The musical integrity of the album, the cultural significance of the classic material, and the sweet nuances of Sukey Molloy’s original lyrics and melodies present a trio of impeccable assets.
Sukey Molloy recently discussed this album and more via an exclusive interview.
Meagan Meehan (MM): How did you initially get interested in music and how did you create your defining sound?
Sukey Molloy (SM): I grew up listening to classical music. My mother was a graduate in voice from Julliard, and much later became the manager of the Hartford Symphony Orchestra. After school, she would take me to the theater where the orchestra would rehearse, and while doing my homework, I would just take it all in. I remember listening to Peter and the Wolf and being completely amazed. My mother also took me to see Wagnerian opera, and to the ballet, so I had very rich exposure to the arts. Later, as a professional dancer, music was an active part of my listening and moving. And upon leaving the dance world, I returned to piano, which I had left behind many years before, and eventually embarked on a career exploring music and movement with very young children.
My defining sound has its origin in the relationships I discover with the children I create music and movement programs for, and for whom I record and perform. The children are my teachers, and they help to create my sound. While teaching classes and observing how words and sounds and movement invite participation, I found I could use traditional melodies with adapted lyrics, as well as make up tunes on the spot. If a melody attracts the children’s learning, I continue to develop it. I also discovered that my voice is sometimes like a magnet to the ears of the very young. By changing my tone, or rhythm, or volume, or quality, or tempo, I can call the children’s attention back to the moment.
The look on a child’s face when they actually connect with what they’re doing and hearing and experiencing is the most nurturing experience I can have. So, my sound has come from seeing what particular sounds and movement and play materials bring a child’s response, and helps them to engage completely. I guess the essential child inside my own presence is what sings out to the children before me, and I try to stay true to that measure. Singing and moving with children is not a performance, it is a sincere and real moment, revealing a very real relationship. The most important thing to me with my music is to create a direct and authentic relationship with the child listening – to form a real connection together that feels personal and human, trusting and fun.
MM: What inspires your songs and do you typically write lyrics or melodies first?
SM: What inspires my songs is being together with families and children, and learning what brings them into relation with each other, and the activities we engage in together, whether on stage or in a library or at a school.
To support learning and self-expression, I love to change up lyrics to traditional songs. It’s fascinating how a song will last for hundreds of years. What is it about that song that keeps calling us back? I choose a song, like “It’s Raining It’s Pouring” (“A Tisket a Tasket”) and develop it so the children can participate while singing. I think carefully how each new verse relates developmentally to the age and interest of the child, and can serve learning, creativity, fun, and a sense of self.
When I write my own songs, it happens two ways. Sometimes while driving, sometimes going for a walk, a melody and lyrics will come all at once. I may be interested to write for Sunny & Tick Tock, or a new song about the sun shining on different parts of the body, or a special moment or feeling about sounds and creatures from nature.
Other times, I go to the piano with a feeling or the hint of a melody, and compose the melody through improvisation, after which I bring words to the song, or leave it as it is, like “Kitten Dance,” which I wrote for my kittens. Or “The Story of Little Flame in the Arctic,” which began as a melody at the piano, had lyrics added, and after the song was recorded for an earlier album, I wrote the new story with the melody as background and sound effects.
MM: What is unique and most exciting about your forthcoming album?
SM: Larry Alexander and I were absolutely thrilled to uncover and bring new life to so many traditional songs, and to arrange them with so many layers of special effects, instrumentation, percussion, and creative nuance. We always keep the children in mind, and never hold back when looking for that perfect sound to enter directly into a child’s delicate world. Larry and I spent hours looking for that ‘just right’ train sound for “I’ve Been Working on the Railroad.”
We also had great fun with some of my new songs, bringing the melodies and lyrics and sounds alive with exceptional musicians who have been on all my albums. It is such a treat and honor to have so many extraordinary musicians to call upon. It has also been a special opportunity to include some quieter music like “Simple Gifts,” which may not be heard by so many children today – and the chance to include “The Story of Little Flame in the Arctic,” which has been years in the making. This album has been pure fun to make and has also made us cry.
MM: Of all your songs, which are your favorites and fan favorites?
SM: Oh boy, that’s a tough question, there are so many. For the children, it seems that “Tick Tock “remains an all-time favorite! For me, “The Story of Little Lamb” and, “The Story of Twinkle Little Star” on my I Am Sleepy album (and of course my new “Story of Little Flame in the Arctic”), all pull on my heartstrings. There are so many songs I love though, it’s hard to choose just a few!
MM: What experiences with fans have been most memorable to you and why?
SM: This is from a post on my blog from several years back:
Magic of the Moment:
I was performing in a Sukey Molloy & Friends concert at a library, and a young child from the audience walked right up to me while I was singing and playing the auto harp. Face to face, she placed herself in front of me, blocking my view of the audience, and insisted on handing me one of the finger puppets I had just given out. She seemed concerned that I didn’t have one! I was very struck with the wish to honor her gesture and wasn’t sure what exactly to do.
I nodded and smiled, saying thank you with my eyes, and she would have none of it! She needed me to take that puppet, and it was clear it was the only thing to do. I stopped playing the harp, brought everything to a halt, and along with the audience, gratefully accepted the gesture. I was reminded there is no “performing”, just the magic of the moment – and that moment is childhood.
And of course, every time I perform “Tick Tock” with my oversized stuffed felt character from the Sukey’s Circle animation and picture book, Tick Tock falls asleep at the end of the song. Everyone in the audience is asked to lie down and ‘go to sleep’ with Tick Tock – and remarkably, the whole space becomes very still and quiet. After waiting a bit in the silence, we all then count together, 1, 2, 3, and call out ‘Wake up Tick Tock!” The whole room cheers and shouts and claps, and even after doing this, hundreds and hundreds of times, I never grow tired of it. It is always a remarkable moment.
MM: When you started out making music why did you focus on music for kids?
SM: When I was 16 years old I worked with inner city children at a YMCA summer program. I choreographed a dance that a group of the children performed and found I was as gratified seeing them dance as if I had danced myself. Something clicked inside but it wasn’t until much later that I discovered a special feeling for creating programs for the very young. In fact, I didn’t start by making music, but rather, after leaving my dance career, I became interested in exploring where movement comes from, how it develops, and what initiates our own unique movement and vocal vocabulary. I studied at the School for Body Mind Centering in Amherst, and with Dr. Garland O’Quinn from Texas. I started from the ground up studying movement in utero, and in the first 12 months of life, and that expanded into movement for babies, toddlers, preschoolers, and finally kindergarten. At a certain point I discovered I was now a developmental movement educator! Along the way, I developed and created music to accompany my programs, and as a natural and necessary outgrowth, ‘found my voice’ – including the auto harp, piano, and vocal range.
MM: You work with a very famous producer named Larry Alexander, so how did that partnership come about and how much creative input does he have?
SM: Without Larry, there would be no albums or videos, or voice of Sukey Molloy. It is Larry’s interest and care and craft that have made all my recording work possible.
When a close friend first suggested I make an album, a local composer offered to arrange a meeting for me with Larry Alexander, who it turns out lives just 10 minutes from my home! We met at a coffee shop and there was a quiet about him, a kind of stillness – and a quality of steadiness and depth that struck me right away. He invited me to the studio to record one or two vocal tracks and I agreed. After the session I was convinced my voice was a disaster, and that it would never hold up! But Larry heard something in my sound, and in my music, and he knew he could bring that out. And here we are five albums and three DVDs later!
Larry and I thoroughly co-produce every song and album. In addition to being a legendary recording engineer, Larry is also a great percussionist, bass player, guitarist, and arranger, but mostly, his recording and mixing ear reveal a profound level of craft. It is no doubt he has been in the studio with so many famous artists, he’s like a master chef, a total perfectionist, and one of my very dearest friends.
MM: You also write children’s books! So, what was the writing, illustrating, and publishing process like?
SM: While teaching, and even while performing, I always feel it is impolite to ask someone to sit and watch what I am doing, and not offer the same opportunity. Some of my songs, like “Five Little Oysters” on my new album, and “Tick Tock” on my Circle Songs album, offer lots of different activities to interact with. I began with one large felt board for the classes I teach, and even built a gigantic board for the stage, and then had the idea to give each child their own little felt boards. After a while, I realized I could take my own felt creations and create audio picture books, and finally, video animations.
When creating felt art, I find it very calming and ‘close to my essence’. I have an idea, sit down with felt squares in all colors, and begin cutting. Pretty soon there’s an oyster, or a sun, or a bird, or a caribou, and the storyboards grow from there.
As far as publishing, my company, PlayMove&Sing Inc. publishes the books independently. It would be great though to have my books picked up by a leading children’s publisher!
MM: You’ve won some prestigious awards for your work, so what was it like to accept the Parents Choice Award? Were you at the actual ceremony?
SM: I received a letter in the mail with a certificate and felt enormously proud and gratified. It is very special to be acknowledged and honored for one’s work. I hope to win another award for my new Five Little Oysters album!
MM: Overall, what are your biggest goals for the future?
SM: I would truly love to continue making audio picture books, and also to continue with the many animations I have begun with the same felt images. I’m also interested in creating more story telling recordings and venues, which would include original new stories, and also traditional stories. And, as I continue to teach, which remains the foundation of all my work, I would like to expand my role in continuing to help children experience life and learning through love and care and attention.
MM: Is there anything else that you would like to mention?
SM: Celebrity Parents Magazine wrote: “Sukey is deniably today’s Mister Rogers.”
This is the highest compliment I could receive. In Mister Rogers’ acceptance speech for an award from PBS, he said that the six feet of space between the television screen, and the child viewing, is for him, ‘sacred’ – and this has remained the guiding principle in all my work.
I have a little story to leave you with. My husband and I were at Colonial Williamsburg years back with our two sons, Jonathan, a baby, and James, 5.
We were never a big television family, but James watched Mister Rogers faithfully and loved him. We were strolling along the village walkways, with James pretending to be a soldier, and we spotted a large carriage, drawn by four large horses. There was a camera crew both in front and behind, and when I pointed, James suddenly called out, ‘Mister Rogers!’ and started running full speed toward the scene. We ran behind him, and sure enough, there was Mister Rogers, sitting up in the front of the carriage, being filmed! When Mister Rogers saw this little five-year-old boy running toward the carriage, he stopped the crew, halted the horses, and opened his arms wide. James ran up the three carriage steps and right onto Mister Rogers’ lap. My husband and I watched as Mister Rogers asked him his name, spoke with him about ‘things’, and then after a bit, in the most natural and respectful way, told James it was time for him to continue on. They had a handshake, or a hug, I can’t remember which, then waved goodbye, and off Mister Rogers went, down the road in his horse drawn carriage, out of sight.
It was deeply affirming to find that Mister Rogers was truly the same humble man we knew on screen, and to witness him give his love to our child.
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The Five Little Oysters! album will be available at Amazon, iTunes, www.sukeymolloy.com, and at retail outlets nationwide. The Five Little Oysters! and The Story of Little Flame books will be available at Amazon, Etsy, and sukeymolloy.com. She can also be reached via Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube.
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