If you were in choir back in the days of grade school, chances are that you remember just how unruly kids can really be. Forced to sing the same songs (or at least similar ones) year after year, the time that was supposed to be spent raising voices in one glorious sound most often became goof-off time for most. By the time that performances actually rolled around, most harmonies were lost and everyone just sort of coalesced into one big mass blog of random melodies and volume.
It could be blamed on a lack of discipline, but I'm willing to bet that a large part of it came from the actual choices of music. Most teaches simply assign songs, and while sometimes they have the best interests at heart, kids just want to sing what they know. The beauty of the Langley Schools Music Project is not only that kids are singing interesting songs, but they're doing it pretty damn well. The quick rundown on this project is that in 1976-77, music teacher Hans Fenger recorded a choir of 60-some grade schoolers and everyone pitched in and copies of the record were given to familes, etc. 25 years later, the recordings were basically rediscovered, remastered, and are now available again outside the small circle they were originally intended for.
The whole thing rings of novelty, and I'll be the first to admit that I would hear it and write it off as nothing more, but there's simply something very pure about the release that transcends whatever preconcieved notions you may have about it. This wasn't music that was produced in order to sell thousands of copies, and it was by no means recorded with fancy techniques (2 mics in a gym on a two-track recorder), so it simply boils down to a celebration of music for those creating it, and that comes through in spades on the actual recordings.
The music itself is all over the place in terms of song selection, with a big dollop of Brian Wilson/Beach Boys. With somewhat minimal backing (gamelan and other percussion, electric and acoustic guitar, organ, and spare piano), the album consists of 19 songs and over an hour of music. "Good Vibrations," "I Get Around," and "Help Me, Rhonda" all sound just about perfect in their re-interpretations, while the kids version of Bowie's "Space Oddity" is absolutely amazing. With weird percussion, an odd slide guitar and some inspired singing, the track takes on a spacey, melancholy feel that is at least on a par with the original.
Much of the feeling in the track probably goes back to the above statement of kids singing what they want to, and there's a reason the album is called Innocence and Despair. While many of the tracks are rollicking and upbeat (the huge, stomping and overzealous "Saturday Night" is a particular winner), there are also melancholy moments, as on the solo by a 9 year old Sheila Behman on "Desperado." With a spare piano backing, it works with a clarity that the cheesy original lacked. Most people born before 1980 (and many after) will know most of the words to a majority of songs on this release, and while there is novelty in singing along with a chorus of 60 kids as they belt out "Sweet Caroline," it also feels a lot less silly than belting it out with Neil Diamond. A little bit odd, and all heart, this is one of those releases that makes me smile whenever I hear it.