Lifetime musicians enthuse children with the joy of playing
“Lah-Lah is all about introducing children and their families to musical instruments. That’s at the heart of everything we do,” Tina Harris tells Media Super member Clare Kennedy.
There’s an art to holding the attention of young children. But that’s exactly what one group of talented musicians have done with Lah-Lah’s Big Live Band for children.
Following the success of their live band performances, there came two CDs, a series of music video clips and now a brand new TV series, Lah-Lah’s Adventures, created by Tina Harris, Mark Harris and Deborah Ryan.
Partners in work and life
Lah-Lah is the brainchild of creative husband and wife team Mark and Tina Harris, a couple who share a strong creative vision and tend to finish each other’s sentences. Tina is a former singer with Opera Australia and Mark is a member of three-time Aria award winning gypsy-rock band Monsieur Camembert.
They first met at Sydney’s Conservatorium as young adults when Tina was at the beginning of an opera career and Mark was a fledgling young musician. Hop forward twenty years and they have created a musical juggernaut based on their combined musical talents.
Lah-Lah’s Adventures TV series, which was commissioned by CBeebies Australia and Channel Seven, follows the zany adventures of the band’s lively lead singer, Lah-Lah, played by Tina, and the members of the band. Mark plays band leader Buzz and the other talented musicians are Nick Cecire as Tom Tom (drums and percussion), Matt Ottignon as Mister Saxophone (saxophone, clarinet and flute) and Gary Daley as Squeezy Sneezy (piano accordion and keyboard).
Cracking the pre-school market
The band’s sound is best described as jazz, world music, gypsy, rock and a bit of classical while the show itself has the feel of a madcap musical with, one could argue, a French-themed colour palette of red, white and black. It’s quite enchanting.
Aimed at pre-schoolers and intended to engage parents, the series was designed to introduce children to music and musical instruments in a way that’s lively and fun.
It’s not easy to produce TV for pre-schoolers, so what’s the secret? Mark attributes Lah-Lah’s stage and screen success to the fact they are a real band. “When we do a live concert, it’s not just five guys in front of a backing track dancing about. We are a band, we play our own instruments and write our own songs. You’re watching the musicianship happen right in front of you,” he says passionately.
“The comment I always get from parents after the live show is that they love the music and they love the energy on stage. When it comes to a solo, the boys actually improvise and play like they would at a concert or a gig, they really, really blow. I think that is the sort of energy you get when you go out to a gig,” Tina adds.
Team up with passion and wit
The writing team from Australia, and a Canadian-based script editor were briefed to create something unlike a normal preschool TV show. “We asked them to think of it as writing a comedy sketch with slapstick styles and humour operating on two levels,” Tina explains.
“The writers did a really great job and the feedback from the BBC was that the humour is amazing,” she smiles.
“It’s a great project and we’ve said this for the last five years: Lah-Lah attracts the right kind of people to it. It’s a project that is trying to do something really great – to get kids into music and musical instruments. Because of that and the love that’s in the project, the most amazing people have come into its circle,” says Tina, naming script writer Maryam Master along with husband and drama performance director James Evans (Bell Shakespeare associate artist), whom they first met in their children’s school playground, among the talented people involved in the production.
Opening up new territories
The show’s success has opened up unforeseen opportunities for the pair. Last year Lah-Lah Productions partnered with World Vision and, as a result, the band is visiting the Walpiri region in the Northern Territory for two weeks in October.
“The idea is we do some small concerts with the local communities, workshops with the kids and have jams with the adults in the evenings. I think it’s going to be challenging, but a really rewarding trip,” Tina says.
The couple have two children: Lily, 11, and Emily, 8. “We try to get them involved as much as we can, but we don’t want to force it on them, it has to be their choice to want to do it,” says Mark.
“When Lily was six she wanted to be in the show so much that we said, ‘OK, you can get dressed up and come on for the bows at the end,’” laughs Tina. The girls also make an appearance in some of the video clips and TV episodes.
We talk about other players in the pre-school market: Justine Clark, The Wiggles, Hi-5. “We have a lot of respect for all of those groups. What they’ve taught the industry is that pre-school music is viable and something that should be respected and taken seriously. So we’re so grateful to them for paving the way,” she says.
Super is super
The couple have both been Media Super members since they graduated and now it’s the default fund for Lah-Lah Productions. “It just feels like the right fund to belong to when you’re in the creative industry,” Tina says.
Lah-Lah’s Adventures screened on Channel 7 TWO at 8am weekdays until May 14 and could be viewed online on PLUS7 for 30 days following each broadcast. The series premieres on CBeebies in Australia and New Zealand and on BBC’s Kids and Knowledge Network in Canada in September 2014.
Follow Lah-Lah on Twitter @_lahlah
Photo supplied by Lah-Lah.