Mr. Rogers Introduces Kids to Experimental Electronic Music by Bruce Haack & Esther Nelson (1968)

Exper­i­men­tal elec­tron­ic musi­cian and inven­tor Bruce Haack’s com­po­si­tions expand­ed many a young con­scious­ness, and taught kids to dance, move, med­i­tate, and to be end­less­ly curi­ous about the tech­nol­o­gy of sound. All of this makes him the per­fect guest for Fred Rogers, who despite his total­ly square demeanor loved bring­ing his audi­ence unusu­al artists of all kinds. In the clips above and below from the first, 1968 sea­son of Mr. Roger’s Neigh­bor­hood, Haack intro­duces Rogers and a group of young­sters to the “musi­cal com­put­er,” a home­made ana­log syn­the­siz­er of his own invention—one of many he cre­at­ed from house­hold items, most of which inte­grat­ed human touch and move­ment into their con­trols, as you’ll see above. In both clips, Haack and long­time col­lab­o­ra­tor Esther Nel­son sing and play charm­ing songs as Nel­son leads them in var­i­ous move­ment exer­cis­es. (The remain­der of the sec­ond video most­ly fea­tures Mr. Roger’s cat.)

Although he’s seen a revival among elec­tron­ic musi­cians and DJs, Haack became best known in his career as a com­pos­er of children’s music, and for good rea­son. His 1962 debut kid’s record Dance, Sing & Lis­ten is an absolute clas­sic of the genre, com­bin­ing a dizzy­ing range of musi­cal styles—country, clas­si­cal, pop, medieval, and exper­i­men­tal electronic—with far-out spo­ken word from Haack and Nel­son. They fol­lowed this up with two more iter­a­tions of Dance, Sing & Lis­ten, then The Way Out Record for Chil­dren, The Elec­tron­ic Record for Chil­dren, the amaz­ing Dance to the Music, and sev­er­al more, all them weird­er and more won­der­ful than maybe any­thing you’ve ever heard. (Don’t believe me? Take a lis­ten to “Soul Trans­porta­tion,” “EIO (New Mac­Don­ald),” or the absolute­ly enchant­i­ng “Saint Basil,” with its Doors‑y organ out­ro.) A psy­che­del­ic genius, Haack also made grown-up acid rock in the form of 1970’s The Elec­tric Lucifer, which is a bit like if Andrew Lloyd Web­ber and Tim Rice had writ­ten Jesus Christ Super­star on heavy dos­es of LSD and banks of ana­log syn­the­siz­ers.

While Haack­’s Mr. Rogers appear­ance may not have seemed like much at the time, in hind­sight this is a fas­ci­nat­ing doc­u­ment of an artist who’s been called “The King of Tech­no” for his for­ward-look­ing sounds meet­ing the cut­ting edge in children’s pro­gram­ming. It’s a tes­ta­ment to how much the coun­ter­cul­ture influ­enced ear­ly child­hood edu­ca­tion. Many of the pro­gres­sive edu­ca­tion­al exper­i­ments of the six­ties have since become his­tor­i­cal curiosi­ties, replaced by insipid cor­po­rate mer­chan­dis­ing. What Haack and Nel­son’s musi­cal approach tells me is that we’d do well to revis­it the edu­ca­tion­al cli­mate of that day and take a few lessons from its freeform exper­i­men­ta­tion and open­ness. I’ll cer­tain­ly be play­ing these records for my daugh­ter.

via Net­work Awe­some

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Mr. Rogers Takes Break­danc­ing Lessons from a 12-Year-Old (1985)

Mr. Rogers Goes to Wash­ing­ton

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness.

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