A Pied Piper Who `Makes Something Happen'. Bob Schneider's message of tolerance and self-confidence leaps all kinds of barriers. MUSIC: INTERVIEW
BOB Schneider had an itchy guitar-finger. As he sat on his hotel-room bed the other day, the instrument was a like a third party - a gently assertive presence constantly being tuned (``traveling loosens the strings, you know'') or strummed to create an apt and pleasing obligato to the conversation.Skip to next paragraph
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Sure, he's glad to talk about his work, but he'd much rather demonstrate. And once he does, you know instantly why this Toronto-based performer has become a kind of kiddy culture hero all over Canada and the United States. His sample songs filled the hotel room with a benign and bouncy folk sound so fetching you could all but see an audience of tots responding to simple, inviting numbers like ``Listen to the Raindrops'' or ``I Dreamed a Dream.''
Schneider writes all the songs himself, music and words, and for some 12 years children have been plunging joyfully into their pantomime spirit - moving their hands like birds, wiggling them like fish, shouting responses.
But Schneider is more than an award-winning artist of stage, recordings, TV, and video. Behind his shows - which lure kids 3 to 12 years old - lies an implicit message of tolerance and self-confidence that has leaped over ethnic barriers and turned handicapped audiences into eager show-and-sing choruses.
For one thing, there's the Rainbow Kids, an integral part of Schneider's performances. Drawn from local schools in each city he visits, they are not pros - usually not even hopefuls - but a true sampling of children from the area representing every kind of background. After a mere 90-minute rehearsal, they self-assuredly join him on stage - in jeans and ``Rainbow Kids'' jerseys - forming a happy link to people in the seats.
``The kids are looking up and maybe seeing their classmates,'' Schneider points out. ``I always feel with the Rainbow Kids there's an energy that comes off bigger than me, bigger than any one of the kids. It works so beautifully with audiences of multi-ethnic kids, including new English-speakers, because the language is simple enough to be accessible to the very young, yet hip enough for 11- and 12-year-olds.''
Just a few minutes of a Schneider concert proves his point. He walks on stage in a baseball cap, face beaming, singing and clapping and exhorting kids with a deliberately goofy friendliness that turns them on in seconds. His songs touch the basic realities of their lives - how they feel, what they see - and lets them react in song and movement.
Watching the small faces at moments like these, you feel you're stealing a piece of a child's own wonder. When Schneider launches into a song that uses signing, for instance, the kids are soon making hand movements as they sing ``I can feel.... I can see.... I can dream.'' The show is like a tribal celebration, with Schneider leading them in song rather than merely performing for them.
``I never try to write a preachy song,'' he says ``but the Rainbow Kids are communicating something just by being up there and performing. It might not knock the audience over the head, but they're saying, `Hey, guys, you can do it, too.' The kids responded beautifully, for instance, the time I did a Special Olympics show in front of 20,OOO people, with my chorus drawn from the mentally retarded. My greatest attribute is my ignorance. I didn't study kids or the handicapped and don't what they're supposed to be able or not be able to do. I treat them the same as adults or any other children.''