Tuesday, October 23, 2007
Spinning Wheel, Part V: Eric Ode
One of my favorite aspects of this children's performer interview series is discovering tiny windows into other people's life-stories. While I'm a staunch believer in appreciating artists' work independently of their personal lives, it's a bonus to talk with someone via email or (even better) in person and find out that the performer is actually someone whom I think would be good company. Eric Ode, today's featured performer, is one more person I'd like to add to the House of Glee's welcome table. Special thanks go out to Spinning Wheel alumnus Eric Herman for introducing us.
Eric Ode (pronounced oh-dee) is a singer, song-writer, author and poet based in Washington State. He has a full schedule playing concerts, creating music albums, publishing books (including his brand new cowboy poetry book, Tales of the Wild West) and leading writing workshops for children. A new studio album, "When You Smile" is planned for release really, really soon. Eric's website features games and poems like "The Ghost You Think You Saw" and "The Campfire Vampire." Eric says, "I received a fun surprise late last year when a text book company in Norway published my poem 'Cat and Mouse' in one of their grade 8 text books designed to teach Norwegian students english. The poem shares a section with Shel Silverstein and Mary Frye."
Eric's site also contains resources for teachers and scrapbooks of photos from his travels. One photo definitely missing is that of a grumpy, rained-on, deprived-of-coffee Eric Ode. I suspect that no such photo exists. It's just as well: with all of the woes of the world, it's gratifying to meet a person whose joy is contageous. If you don't believe me, just check out the video for This Song Has No Elephants. I rest my case.
Eric Ode with Spinning Wheel alumna Nancy Stewart, who is no slouch at merriment herself
Saints and Spinners: What exactly do you do for a living?
Eric Ode: I get to write and share music and poetry for children and families. That's the "short 'n sweet" response. I don't like to say that I am a children's performer as that gets everything out of focus. It's easier to think in terms of being a host, creating a time and a place where everyone is singing and laughing and enjoying themselves and each other. It probably still looks like a "performance" from the outside, but it looks much different from my own perspective. If I'm focused on my guests instead of myself I think everyone has a better time. I know I do!
S&S: How long have you been working in your chosen profession?
EO: I released my first album of children's music in 1995. You can probably guess that collection was on cassette. I didn't jump into children's music full time until 2002.
S&S: What prompted you to perform for children?
EO: I've been working with children since high school when I was leading various children's choirs at church. That's also when I started writing music. I graduated from college with my Bachelors in Education, later picking up a Masters in Educational Technology, and taught in the elementary classroom for twelve years, mostly working with fourth graders. By now, it's hard for me to imagine NOT working with kids.
S&S: Why do you continue to do it?
EO: Working with kids is absolutely the best - a privilege and a joy. There's no room for cynicism in children's music, and I really appreciate that. People say that the perfect career is where your God-given gifts and the needs of the world meet. This feels a lot like that.
S&S: Which performers are your inspirations for your work?
EO: That's a terribly difficult question. Many are not performers in the traditional sense. When it comes to song writing, I'm a big fan of Joe Raposo and Jeff Moss, the original Sesame Street songwriting team. Going back to the "host" analogy, Johnny Carson was so successful because he put his guests at ease. He played with them and he let them shine. I've seen Fred Penner live, and he seems to genuinely enjoy what he's doing. You can't fake that.
S&S: What are some of the things you enjoy doing outside of your profession?
EO: I love to travel with my wife and kids. That can mean within the state or well outside. And I certainly enjoy reading - a lot of anything but often biographies of people I admire. I'm in the middle of another book on Walt Disney (I've gone through a couple) as well as another on the Beatles.
S&S: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?
EO: A few months ago, Meadowbrook Press released my first "solo" book of poetry for kids - Tall Tales of the Wild West (And a Few Short Ones). It's a collection of humorous cowboy poems. What most people don't know is that I am very allergic to horses!
S&S: Was there ever a time when your audience surprised you? What happened?
EO: My audience constantly surprises and encourages me. A few times I've had little boys turn up to a program with their own guitar in hand. One even wore a modified headset microphone similar to the one I use in concert.
Eric Ode in concert
S&S: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod lately?
EO: Stevie Wonder, Lyle Lovett, Fountains of Wayne, Corinne Bailey Rae, Counting Crows...
S&S: If you could headline a festival with three other performers, who would they be?
EO: Three? Man, let me just hang out on stage with Paul Williams. Let me sing a bit on backing vocals and provide a little keyboard work. I promise to not get in the way. That guy floors me. Any songwriter who has written for everyone from Elvis to the Dixie Chicks to the Muppets while slipping in as many movie rolls as he has gets my vote as the coolest thing on wheels!
S&S: What’s the song or story that never gets old for you?
During the summer and through October, I provide several shows a day at Remlinger Farms Family Fun Park in Carnation, WA. That means I'm sharing many of the same songs a dozen or more times a week. But as long as I'm writing new material and throwing in a newer song now and again - something fresh that I'm really excited about - it keeps the rest fun as well.
The Pivot Questionnaire is a set of questions popularized on “The Actor’s Studio" and introduced to me through Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast. I ask you now:
What is your favorite word?
What is your least favorite word?
Can't (That's a contraction. Does it still count?)
What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?
Rain, a good cup of coffee, and a little peace and quiet.
What turns you off?
What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
Holy cats! (It's actually a very interchangeable sort of phrase and works nicely as a more positive interjection.)
What sound or noise do you love?
If I'm at home in the afternoon, I can just make out the sounds of the kids on the elementary school playground a few blocks away. And at night, if the window's open, we can hear the trains in the valley. Those sounds make me smile.
What sound or noise do you hate?
Any noise my car makes but that it's not suppose to make.
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
I'd like to run a little coffee shop - someplace with excellent baked goods and a jazz trio in the corner.
What profession would you not like to do?
Taxi driver. Heavy traffic makes me nuts after a while.
If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
I used to worry that God had a very specific plan for each person and that we either got it right or got it wrong. I was afraid of standing before the throne and hearing God say something like, "Well, Eric, that children's music thing you had going... that was kind of cool. But it's not quite what I had in mind." Anymore I recognize that we're given opportunities every minute of every day, and all we can do is keep trying to do the right thing. I want to hear God say, "Well done," but I'm never going to get there through my own actions. Grace is a mighty good thing!