ELORA – Thirteen children’s songs are touring the world from Elora in a new app to help families locked down by the pandemic.
Kids can sing along to the Treetop Tunes album. They can play with chord and lyric sheets. They can color illustrated songbooks.
“I think there’s a lot of stress for kids right now and a lot of boredom,” said singer-songwriter Bonnie Pearson Hirdes, who has a doctorate in applied psychology.
“I thought it would give them the opportunity to get into different things, maybe learn music, maybe get their parents to dig up their old instruments to get more family involvement. Because there are so many people stuck inside.
Hirdes wrote “Stayin’ in Blues” about a boy stuck indoors who finds his groove using his old running shoes. Other songs are about nature, pets, sighs and feelings, disagreements, boredom and days when you feel all screwed up.
“I always told myself that I would never forget what it was like to be a kid,” said Hirdes, who has been writing songs since he was 12. “I think my songs kind of channel that kid in me.”
Eight-year-old Saige Semaniuk loves “Jericho.” It’s a song about a frog who discovers how to live a full life after birth without a web between his toes.
“It’s a beautiful message that it’s okay to be different and that you can use words to solve problems instead of fighting,” Saige said from her home in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
Saige plays the piano, is learning the violin and drums, and enjoys singing and dancing in the Highlands. The stresses of the COVID-19 pandemic are eating away at her. “I really want to have a lot more excitement outside my home,” she said.
The Treetop album inspired 14-year-old Jacob Marchewka to try something new. “With the app, I tried to learn to play guitar,” he said from his home in Mississauga.
Jacob got used to the pandemic. But he wants things to go back to how they were, citing the times he was unable to visit his grandparents. “It was a little weird,” he said.
Her mother, Melissa Marchewka, enjoys turning to the app when parental exhaustion sets in and “you’re so confused with this alternate reality that you don’t really know how to cope.”
Hirdes recorded most of the songs long before the pandemic, on a farm near Elora with the help of local musicians. She wrote about Jericho the Frog while working as a researcher with severely disabled children.
“I thought, my God, there’s a lot of kids here who have really limiting disabilities, but they’re able to find a way to do the job, basically, to get what they want from the life,” she said.
The app contains over 100 pages that can be printed and colored or imported into digital coloring apps. Digital artist Katherine Olenic illustrated the album.
It costs $2 or less to download Treetop Tunes from the App Store or Google Play. “I would have loved to give them away, but I needed a way to get them out to the public,” Hirdes said, citing the distribution fee. Educators and health service agencies can contact her through treetoptunes.com for a free download code.
She hopes that if the kids are feeling blue as the pandemic drags on “maybe that will help lift their spirits a bit and channel some of their energy.”