When children's entertainer Glenn Colton takes his act on the road, it features six strings, 10 fingers and a songbook of up to 500 tunes -- not bad for a former third-grade teacher who discovered music early in life.
Colton, 46, packs plenty of lessons into his 50-minute shows, performing regularly at schools throughout the area. This fall, Colton will be inducted into the Buffalo Music Hall of Fame, a lifetime achievement for the song man who introduced a generation of Western New York children to Ducky Wucky.
>PeopleTalk: Writing children's music must be a challenge.
Glenn Colton: The challenge is to create music that parents and children could enjoy together. When I started doing kids shows, I knew I did not want to be a Barney or a Rafi or Sesame Street because I really didn't enjoy that kind of music, songs that really don't say anything, purely whimsical nonsense songs. So the songs I write are actually educational and motivational except for that one song, "Ducky Wucky." It took me five minutes to write, and I deliberately choose not to write a sequel, "Mr. Turkey Wurky." That's not what I'm all about.
>PT: When do you do your best writing?
GC: When the kids go back to school, I plan on the quiet of a Tuesday morning -- 9 o'clock, get my coffee, my pen, paper and guitar -- and try to repeat the process I've done for 20 years.
>PT: You grew up with a guitar?
GC: Yes. My first lesson was at Music Mart in 1973. Five dollars once a week, and I would have my half-hour lesson. My dad had a guitar. He would strum, and I would dance. Fast-forward to middle school, and the guitar sat in the closet until a student-teacher who actually played in a band gave me lessons. I credit Tom Lorentz with giving me the tools I use today.
>PT: Can kids be a tough audience?
GC: Oh yeah. You walk into a school, and maybe the level of controlled discipline is not there, so my challenge is to size up the energy and perform material that will allow them to enjoy the show. A teacher friend described it as lassoing the crowd with a rope and trying to hold them from the edge of a cliff. When it's over, they had a good time.
>PT: How do you know you're making a connection?
GC: Elementary school audiences are very honest. If you're not entertaining them, you'll know very quickly because they're easily distracted, especially if you put 500 of them together.
>PT: It takes a special person to do what you do.
GC: Want to hear the ultimate payback? I was at a show in '95, met a teacher. We married in '97. That was a once-in-a-lifetime show. My dad was there. My grandmother. Three generations for a magical memory.
>PT: What is your next great show theme?
GC: The New York State Test Prep Rally, a celebration of ways to get the most out of a testing experience. Schools are always preparing for tests. I'll give the kids a strategy on how to prepare, not the content but the attitudes.
>PT: How was that born?
GC: Listening to my friends who are teachers, who see I have 20 themes already. I've got the patriotic show, birthday show, reading, bully, the character show, music through the decades show, Christmas show, back to school. What is missing?
>PT: Star Wars.
GC: My son likes Star Wars. (What did Luke Skywalker say to the cowboy? May the horse be with you). I grew up with Archie comic books and music. I had hundreds and hundreds of albums. I bought my first stereo in middle school. Music has always been my thing.
>PT: You've played in many bands through high school and college. Doesn't that scene seem so long ago?
GC: Yes. For years I was in the Dooleys, a cover band. We actually became very involved with the release of Batavia native Terry Anderson. On the fifth anniversary of his capture, we were invited to Washington and performed in the Senate with Phil Donahue and Bob Dole. Besides that, it was just a three-piece rock and fun band that played Scotch & Sirloin, Merlin's.
>PT: Describe today's child.
GC: Comparing to when I grew up? I see kids lacking basic respect. I see a lot of kids immersed in technology, listening to everything and anything. I see parents giving their kids carte blanche to take the easy way out. It's not all gloom and doom though.