Vanessa Trien, the (Super) Girl Next Door

Have you lost control of your car stereo?  I have.  I think I now know what it’s like to be a DJ during an all-request hour, except imagine that the callers are TODDLERS!  Nothing against Sesame Street Live or The Wiggles, but my husband and I needed a change in the car.  FAST.

Enter Vanessa Trien and The Jumping Monkeys (note: Trien is pronounced “tri-ehn”).  My husband and I took the kids to see Vanessa perform at The Regent Theatre in Arlington on a very cold Saturday morning.  The Regent, by the way, is a fabulous venue that offers “Family Fun Shows” each weekend throughout the cold winter months.  My son is 4-years old and my daughter is 2, great ages for a show like this.  I would guess the kids in the audience ranged in age from infant through 9 years.

Now, Vanessa is the girl next door that everyone liked in high school – probably voted Miss Popular or Person You’d Most Want to be Your Sister.  This resonates in her onstage presence as well as in her music.  She has this relaxed natural way about her that is very authentic, nothing showy.  Just pure raw talent and a joy for music that emanates when she sings.

After her lively, uplifting concert at The Regent, we purchased her “Carnival Day” CD.  Carnival Day has fourteen tracks that make any family road trip go by faster (read: our Thanksgiving trek was pure bliss).  One play of the CD after dinner also turns our family room couches into stages and our throw pillows into air guitars.

What I particularly admire about Vanessa’s music is that she transcends genres and introduces a variety of musical styles from Hispanic influences to pop to country to jazz.  Vanessa was classically trained on piano from age 5 into her teens, following in her father’s footsteps (her father having been a jazz pianist).  In her teens when she picked up the guitar and quit piano (one of her biggest regrets) and then onward through college, she was influenced by folk music and her time in South America where she penned her first song.  After college, she lived in New York City, introducing music to young children in the public schools there.  In addition, she performed at various venues in NYC as half of a folk duo.

Vanessa loved working with kids and that’s what inspired her to go to grad school.  She moved to Boston in 1995 where she received her graduate degree at the Harvard School of Education.  She then started teaching music at Cambridge Montessori school with Sarah Wheeler (of Little Groove fame) and wrote a musical.  She also played at Club Passim.  A few years later, she met SteveSongs and Alastair Moock, both big influences on her children’s music career.  SteveSongs at the time (1998) had just quit his job because “I wanted to do this”, she recalls him saying.

Motherhood arrived in 2004.  When Vanessa got pregnant, she was just about to record another adult album and was not feeling particularly inspired.  So she “followed her heart” and made her first kids album, Hot Air Balloon.  It took a long time to finish because she had had first child.  However, soon thereafter, she performed her first kid show in 2006.

Her voice is incredibly pure without losing the pure fun component that truly resonates with children.  Her harmonies are beautiful – just listen to “Let us Sing” and you’ll see what I mean, a song she considers a homage to singing and dancing and why she has chosen this vocation.  Every song is catchy, but never annoyingly so.  I also love the way she personalizes her music by incorporating the voices of her children on some of the tracks.  You feel like you’re in THEIR car for “Driving in My Car”, our new family favorite, and you can’t help but be touched by the voice of her son in “Big Brother”.

Another neat feature in Vanessa’s music is her ability to write lyrics children can remember and she accomplishes this not only through repetition, like in “Down in the Ground” and “Cockadoodle Doo!”, but also with memory games as in “Driving in My Car”.  Once your children see the choreography at a live performance, the music and dance moves become one and the same.  She does a fantastic rewrite, by the way, of Five Little Monkeys – one that every kid will love.  Finally, she closes her Carnival Day CD with a soothing “Bedtime Waltz”, surely a one-way ticket to dreamland for your little ones.

I got to know Vanessa a bit more in a recent interview in which I asked her about some of her influences, particularly about some of her favorite Boston children’s performers.  She mentioned she was a huge fan of Alastair Moock, with whom she did a show at Club Passim and will do another one at Brattle Theatre in Cambridge on May 7, 2011.  In addition, she likes Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem who just put out their first kids CD.  “What did you think?”, I asked.  “LOVE it”, she raves.  She is also nostalgic about SteveSongs, having met him soon after moving to Boston.  In terms of venues, she loves performing at The Regent Theatre in Arlington, The Coolidge Theatre in Brookline, and TCAN (The Center for Arts) in Natick.

What’s next for Vanessa Trien and The Jumping Monkeys?  She is thinking about putting out her third CD in 2011.  When she heard the newly released Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem CD’s rootsy and spontaneous sound, she thought “that’s exactly how I want my next one to be.”  She also has two new band members – a bass player and a drummer.

Here’s the more important question:  where can you find her next?  Vanessa continues to teach at Music Together in Brookline, where she has been teaching for over five years.  You can also attend her upcoming holiday break performance, “Vanessa and Jumping Monkeys Friends Holiday Show!”, at the Temple Sholom in Framingham on Tuesday, December 28 at 10:30 a.m.  See her upcoming schedule below.

As great as Vanessa’s music is at home or in the car, I highly recommend you see her in person.  She really had an impact on our 2-year old daughter who is probably going to get a guitar from Santa.  You also get the benefit of bringing home some great choreography which brings to life Vanessa’s wonderful music.  Now, every day I hear from my kids, “Mommy, can we listen to Vanessa?”  Geez, they’re already on a first name basis with her?  It’s sort of like Madonna, or Cher (ouch, dating myself).  How ‘bout Rihanna?  I digress.  But honestly, she doesn’t need a last name.  She’s just “Vanessa”.  ‘Nuf said.

Here are some more upcoming concert dates:

Mon, 17 Jan 2011:  Temple Sinai, JCC Sharon in Sharon, MA

Sun, 30 Jan 2011:  Temple Beth Shalom Children’s Center in Needham, MA

Sat, 26 Feb 2011:  The Center for Arts in Natick in Natick, MA

Sat, 7 May 2011:  Brattle Theater, Cambridge in Cambridge, MA

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