In a typical week, Medford guitarist Matt Heaton would spend his mornings entertaining children at libraries, preschools, and playspaces all over the Boston area. Now, with all those places shut amid the COVID-19 pandemic, he’s kept to a similar routine — the key difference being that instead of facing a crowd of rowdy youngsters, he plays to his laptop, which he props up on a board-game box to create “Mornings with Matt,” a sing-along on Facebook Live every weekday at 10 a.m. (www.facebook.com/mattheatonmusic)
With live streams from their homes, local musicians including Heaton are offering cabin-feverish kids some age-appropriate entertainment — and maybe giving parents a little respite in the process. Heaton, who plays a mix of original songs and covers, has been learning piles of new songs to keep up with his young listeners’ requests, which stream in through Facebook Live’s chat feature.
“Every now and then a kid will want to hear ‘Africa’ by Toto, or a song that’s not necessarily what you’d expect,” he said over the phone after Tuesday’s show. “I’ve been trying to learn as many as I can.” He recently added Bob Marley’s upbeat “Three Little Birds” (“Don’t worry/About a thing…”) and it has become a favorite with all ages.
But his most frequently played song, by far, is “Happy Birthday to You,” which he sometimes sings several times per show — once for each kid whose birthday will pass without a party or a special dinner out.
As a full-time musician (he also plays Irish music), Heaton has seen much of his income evaporate because of the pandemic. Still, he elected not to sell virtual tickets to “Mornings with Matt,” instead putting out a link to a virtual “tip jar” with hopes of attracting a larger audience. People have been generous, Heaton said. On average, he makes roughly what he’d make at a library gig.
Across the Charles River in Jamaica Plain, violinist Miki-Sophia Cloud has been introducing kids to string instruments with the weekly “Little Criers” concert series (www.facebook.com/afarcrymusic). The name isn’t a reference to the teary eyes of socially isolated children; the musicians of democratically run string orchestra A Far Cry, of which Cloud is a founding member, call themselves Criers.
“When A Far Cry made the decision to close up shop due to COVID-19, we made a decision as a group that we really wanted to be there for our community,” Cloud said over the phone. “I’m a new-ish mom myself, and quite a few of the Criers have kids under the age of 6. So I thought, What if we put together these mini-concerts for kids? And we started from there.”
Cloud handled the first two concerts, which focused on the violin and viola. She’s also been tapping colleagues to introduce their own instruments — she connected with Rafael Popper-Keizer on video chat for a cello episode — and is considering tackling musical concepts like melody and rhythm in the future.
She plans to keep the show going as long as we’re all at home. “As artists, we’re sometimes a little bit protective of what we put out there — ‘I don’t want to put it out till it’s perfect’ or whatnot,” said Cloud, a self-described “incredibly private” person who reactivated her Facebook profile to stay connected during the pandemic. “It’s been a wonderful exercise to say we’re going to put stuff out there, and just figure it out as we go. ... The most important thing we can do as artists right now is to give of ourselves, and to give generously. I feel very strongly that if there is a positive to take from this whole situation, it is that.”
And for the youngest sports fans: Fenway Park may be dark, but the seventh-inning stretch continues in the form of a daily Facebook livestream from the Cambridge living room of longtime Red Sox organist Josh Kantor, usually at the family-friendly hour of 3 p.m. (www.facebook.com/7thinningstretch2020)
Like at the stadium, you’ll definitely hear “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” Kantor calls on his online audience to stand up, stretch, and sing along just as they would in the grandstand — with one alteration. It’s no longer “I don’t care if I ever get back,” but “I do care.”
“Because we all want to go back to Fenway,” said Kantor, who wants the show to be a midday respite for all. Each day, he makes time to plug something positive he’s found on the Internet, and encourages donations to local food banks.
Also like at Fenway, fans of all ages can request favorite songs from the organist. Kantor fielded almost 900 different song requests last season (everything from Hoagy Carmichael and Frank Sinatra to Silver Jews, BTS, and yes, the “Frozen” anthem “Let It Go”) and said he’ll try to “cook up a rendition” of anything he’s at least passingly familiar with. The show, which is produced by Kantor’s wife, the Reverend Mary Eaton, isn’t specifically for families with young children. But viewers have told him that they’re tuning in with their families, and he always welcomes requests from kids.
“I’m much more willing to make exceptions to my snobby rules about what I will and won’t play if it comes from a child,” he said good-naturedly. “I can’t 100 percent promise that I won’t — once in a rare while — utter a contextually appropriate profanity, but no one has complained about it yet except me, to myself.”
Zoë Madonna can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten. Madonna’s work is supported by the Rubin Institute for Music Criticism, San Francisco Conservatory of Music, and Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.
A.Z. Madonna can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @knitandlisten.