Steve Schuch,
Trees of Life:
Songs of Friendship & the Earth

(Night Heron, 2002)

Steve Schuch has put together 15 songs for parents and educators to use either as a whole entertaining album or separately to complement other educational activities. The songs deal predominantly with environmental issues, although some are definitely there just for fun.

Schuch, noted for his previous work with the Night Heron Consort and as the award-winning creator of A Symphony of Whales, sings in a clear voice and features a children's chorus in sections. The music is highlighted by such wonderful sounds as whales and bird calls (provided by Odds Bodkin), as well as a host of other instruments and lovely, complementary female backing vocals. Notes for ideas on using the songs in lessons and tips for teaching them are included with the lyrics.

Although one of my favorite songs from my days as a Girl Guide is included, I am neither a parent nor a teacher. And much as I enjoy a good sing-along album, I thought I should enlist some professional opinions. I played the CD for my aunt, a former teacher, and her grandchildren.

The teacher gave it high marks for providing a quality recording that not only sounds great, but provides so much detail to assist with teaching. All of us enjoyed the upbeat rhythms and appreciated how much fun all the people on the album seemed to be having. The grandchildren were slightly less enthused, despite falling into the kindergarten to grade 5 age range recommended. Both of the grandkids knew a song or two already and were happy to sing along with those, and showed interest in the other songs, particularly the round and "The Forest is a Wonderful Place."

The songs alternate between slow ballad-style songs to upbeat, occasionally silly songs. "Ibis the Whale" is a sad lament for the dangers the creatures now face. The fun-sounding "The Garden Round" is presented in such a way that it should be easy for children to learn the different parts and comes with a math and music activity to go with it. "The Animal Song" is filled with many animal metaphors and a few plays on words. It winds up being both clever and silly at the same time.

Schuch has fulfilled his mandate of providing quality educational music for children. Anyone dealing with children regularly (including parents, teachers, child minders or guide leaders) should invest in a copy of this album. The ballads are beautifully sung and the faster songs are all songs that children will love to sing or listen to, while the songs will not grate on adults' nerves. Many grown-ups will also enjoy much of the album. Used properly, it will be a hit and provide a variety of fun and educational opportunities.

As if this weren't enough, 10 percent of the profits from each album will go to world hunger and environmental groups. You couldn't ask for a better educational and entertaining album for children.

- Rambles
written by Jean Emma Price
published 30 July 2005