Songs that heal our hearts
By Sue Baldani
During the height of COVID-19 in 2020, how many of us thought in terms of “maybe by next year?” Maybe by next year we can be with our families again, maybe by next year we can go out with our friends, and maybe by next year we can celebrate holidays and milestones together.
Kid Pan Alley, a nonprofit organization founded in Virginia in 1999 that gives children a platform to express their feelings through songs, recorded an album and song titled after this sentiment. “Maybe by Next Year” was released this past December, and it features a collection of songs written and created by children that deal with the struggles and fears experienced during the pandemic. It was their 6th studio album.
“One of the best ways to work through stuff that’s difficult is to take it and turn it into something creative, because the creative act allows you to reshape it, allows you to step back, and allows you to give it meaning,” says founder and artistic director, Paul Reisler, who is also very well known in the music industry as a composer, producer, song writer, performer and recording artist.
Kid Pan Alley works with children in various schools all over the country, including Hawaii, and in many local schools right here in Virginia. “We’ve done a lot of things over the years in Fauquier County, and are going to be doing some more this spring,” he says. The PATH Foundation, along with the Phillip A. Hughes Foundation, he adds, allow many schools in Fauquier and surrounding counties, which don’t have a lot of funding, to take part at almost no cost.
From working with over 70,000 children throughout the years with Kid Pan Alley, and diving into every imaginable topic such as special needs, mental health and diversity, Paul finds that children view things very differently from adults. “Children look at things in a very unique and refreshing way. They don’t have the same experiences going in that we adults have, so they often have a way of looking at things that can actually change our point of view. I continue to discover that in the thousands of songs I’ve written with kids.”
When COVID hit in March of 2020, he and his team worked hard on transforming what they were doing to the virtual world. “Ryan [Benyo, director of licensing and creative] and I have a lot of experience, so the technical stuff was not that difficult,” says Paul.” I’ve been making records since 1975, and Ryan, from Rappahannock County, is a recording engineer out in Los Angeles.”
He said the production of “Maybe by Next Year” came about naturally; he didn’t set out to make an album dealing with the pandemic. “We had so many songs that came up about kids’ struggles, hopes and the challenges they were going through with COVID, and it occurred to me that we had way more than an album’s worth of material. We started thinking about creating an album about six months ago [they released an EP of four of the songs within three or four months of the pandemic] and finished most of it by October. There are 11 different songs on the album and many are hopeful, such as the title track, ‘Maybe by Next Year.’”
Other songs are about challenges such as “Staring Out My Window” and “Dead On Arrival.” The songs, he says, are deep, have insight and are very meaningful.
All Kid Pan Alley albums are expertly produced and recorded by professional artists, and have included such well-known names as Amy Grant, Sissy Spacek, and Kix Brooks of Brooks and Dunn. Members of the band Alabama also asked to take part in an album.
“Many artists want to give back to children, and they recognize the quality of the songs and the fact that we have had people of their caliber on our recordings, so actually, we don’t have any trouble finding artists to perform the songs,” says Paul.
During COVID, the recording of the songs was somewhat of a creative process itself. Through some innovative software, they found a way to successfully do it. “Ryan would record some things in California, and I would record people here, and we also did a lot of recording remotely,” says Paul.
Paul and Ryan also played instruments on the album. “Ryan is a wonderful musician, and plays keyboard and bass, and a lot of the guitar was me,” he says. Others he has worked with over the years, like Howard Levy, cofounder of Béla Fleck and the Flecktones, also contributed.
“Maybe by Next Year” can be purchased on Amazon and streamed on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon Music, and other music services. To listen to some great music, find out more, and support this wonderful organization, go to kidpanalley.org.