by Silke Hartung

Little Ripples: Pollenating The Kids’ Music Garden

by Silke Hartung

Little Ripples: Pollenating The Kids’ Music Garden

Children’s music act Little Ripples are the Benges from Whangārei Heads, namely partners Sam and Emily, plus their youngest son Arlo. In preparation for their upcoming 2022 album ‘In The Garden’, they released a string of singles towards the end of 2021, including the charming Little Bee, which they have been able to treat to a gorgeous music video, with the help of Whanganui-A-Tara production company Rdystdy. Made with the support of NZ On Air Music.

How did you come up with the Little Ripples name, and what does it mean?

Releasing music feels like casting a little pebble into a vast ocean. We like to think our songs are like pebbles, and they have the potential to make little ripples that touch the hearts of the people who listen to them.

How would you describe your particular style of children’s music?

A lovely friend summed it up quite beautifully for us: “It’s human music.” We are inspired by the music that touched us growing up. Meaningful content is really important to us and delivering that with hearty melodies and colourful instrumentation is our kaupapa.

What’s your musical background?

Sam has lived and breathed music learning classical guitar from a young age, going on to study music at university and touring solo and performing with various groups in Aotearoa and Australia. He now spends his days, teaching, facilitating, and mentoring, using music as a medium – with the belief that music is a great way to stay curious, make a living and form strong, lasting relationships with the people in his community.

I’m a teacher by trade. With no musical background prior to Little Ripples, I matched my secret passion for singing and my love and respect for children when Sam and I began exploring writing music for children in the early years of our relationship.

You used to make music for adults – what brought on the change to children’s music?

Our inspiration to dive into the realms of children’s music grew from being immersed in children’s lives through parenthood and teaching. We wanted to throw our hats in the ring and really just play! Initially we had no real aspirations, apart from writing songs for our own children, and the children we taught, that spoke to their experiences growing up in Aotearoa. We were tired of The Wiggles and Barney The Dinosaur, and we wanted to create local authentic content that wasn’t super commercial.

How different is it to be deliberately writing for children?

When I write, I write as much for children as I do for mums and dads, teachers and all the people who care for them. We are really passionate about making music that children and big people can share and enjoy together.

Are there themes you find yourselves coming back to?

From the beginning, there has been a really consistent theme of promoting the well-being of all people and our environment. More recently a theme that began to develop with our second album, ‘Rise and Fall’, and is woven throughout our upcoming album, ‘In My Garden’, is the practice of mindfulness. ‘In My Garden’ uses the metaphor of tending to the garden to talk about tending to the needs of our hearts and minds.

How does your youngest son’s taste in music currently influence the creative outcomes?

Arlo is in on the songs from their inception, he hears them develop, inspires the content and gives his feedback on whether an idea or song seems worth pursuing. 

And it’s not just Arlo! We have been writing and recording with our musical collaborator and bestie Alex Selman, and his gorgeous daughters Ione and Kaea have grown up with this music surrounding them, literally learning to walk and sing amongst a tangle of cables and tantalising buttons! Their role in the making of ‘In My Garden’ has been critical and kept us real and focused on our purpose.

Got any advice for other children’s music makers on how to approach getting media attention?

Find people who have the knowledge, listen to them, value their insight and experience. Know who you are, let that guide the content you share. Build a community of people around you who believe in what you do and want to jump on board your waka. We have been really buoyed by the support of fellow children’s music makers Claudia Robin Gunn and Lucy Hiku of Itty Bitty Beats.

Be real, be humble and be gentle with yourselves.

About Little Bee – how did you come up with the idea?

I’m often inspired to write songs in response to things that come up in my teaching and family life. The song Little Bee sprung from a great teaching moment when a solitary little bee was spotted laying tired and thirsty on a concrete path at kindergarten and a young boy moved to step on it. From here an extended learning inquiry with a group of children began… and with it a song.

The song ruminates on why bees are important. What are the different jobs that bees do? What does pollination mean? And most importantly in a world where we are seeing declining numbers of bees, how can we help them?

Making music videos for children’s music must be a joy – why did you choose the team at Rdystdy for the Little Bee video?

Such a joy! We love the work of the magic team at Rdystdy studio, particularly their inquiry series called Riddle And Squizz. When we reached out to Jacob Perkins and asked if he would be keen to make a video for Little Bee we were so humbled when he agreed, and helped us to write a successful application for funding from NZ On Air. This was a seriously big deal for us! It was so natural to offer Jacob the freedom to run with the song and come up with a vision. It felt good to give him the scope to do what he does extremely well, and we couldn’t be happier with the result!

It is beautiful! We are so grateful to NZ On Air for taking a punt on us and lending us a hand to make this beautiful video.

Apart from the core band, who else is on the recording, and who did you work with?

We made Little Bee with a special team of friends Erin Cole-Baker, Andy Hodgins and Alex Selman at Anzac Rd in Whangārei. It’s the first song we recorded off the new album back in January 2020, when our dear friend Erin was in NZ visiting. It’s kinda crazy how everything unfolded post that point! We had no idea that Covid was just round the corner.

What ties the upcoming album songs together, thematically or musically?

Ahh, making the new album has been a labour of love – literally like labour! It’s taken a seriously long time to get to the point where we are releasing this work. But we couldn’t be prouder. It was magic to make and it’s pretty lovely to listen to! We have had such an awesome team of friends rally to make this what it is and we’ll treasure that always.

‘In My Garden’ is a musical story, with each chapter coloured with metaphors and creatures from the garden. The garden is our mind, the garden is the album, the garden is life. A rich array of instruments and lush harmony-laden vocals make this a real treat to listen to, reminiscent of the ’70s folk we were raised on.