Interview: Inside NYPL Sings! and "The Library Song"
To celebrate the release of NYPL Sings, NYPL’s first album of original children’s songs, written and performed by NYPL staff, let's take a deep dive into the method behind the music!
NYPL Sings is the brainchild of executive producer Emily Lazio, who originally submitted the idea for an album of original children’s music as a 2017 innovation grant. Sean Ferguson, manager of NYPL’s Chatham Square branch, is the album's recording engineer, and Emily's partner for the album's production and recording.
One of the most collaborative tracks is "The Library Song," written by Emily and Joey Picciotto. Emily and Sean perform lead vocals, and every staff member who participated in the album sings in the chorus. The result is a lively, whimsical ode to discovering the library, encouraging parents and caregivers to dive into a good book (or seven).
We spoke with Emily and Sean about their creative process for the album and "The Library Song" in particular!
Emily, what inspired you to create this album?
I am always singing. I always have a song in my head, or I am writing a nonsense song about what I'm currently doing, or writing my own personal music. "Grandpa's Farm" was the first children's song that I wrote, inspired by, well, my Grandpa's farm in South Kortright, NY. When I was younger, I would spend weeks there with my grandparents and cousins. Being a children's librarian, friends who knew I did music always encouraged me to do a children's album.
Early in my career at The New York Public Library, I was a guest on the podcast, The Librarian Is In with Gwen Glazer and Frank Collerius, and I wound up singing a little from "Grandpa's Farm" and, from that, the idea of doing a children's album as an innovation project was born.
Sean and Emily, what was the recording process like?
Emily: We were happy that we were able to use the [recording] studios at the Andrew Heiskell Library… the staff there were so accommodating. It was definitely my favorite part of the process. At that point, I was kind of in shock that this was actually happening, but the fact that we were in the studio made it so real.
Sean was so patient with everyone, especially me, and the perfect person to have there. There was so much work done prior to recording: sourcing talent, writing and editing the songs to fit with the overall concept, producing, scheduling, and so much more. Being able to actually hear these songs in real life how I had heard them in my head was a real magical moment.
Sean: It was really exciting to see it come together piece by piece. Because of the size of the booth, we could really only record one person at a time—and trying to fit an upright bass in there was almost comical! For some of the contributors, this was their first experience in a studio setting, so I felt like we all got something out of it.
Is there anything you learned about children's music that you didn't know before working on this album?
Emily: I knew that music had the power to bring people together, which was a goal with this project, but I guess I did not realize how deeply that holds true. This project could not have been possible without the help of everyone who contributed, something over 50 [people]. From writing, to singing, to performing, to recording, editing, and producing, to the design, marketing, branding, managing, scheduling—all of it. I was so impressed by how willingly and enthusiastically everyone came together, all because of some children's music.
Sean: Proof is in the proverbial pudding! While I knew I was enjoying [the songs], I had no idea if this would appeal to children's ears. We wanted to avoid cloyingly cutesy, and respect the intelligence and tastes of both the children and their parents. Really, it was not until Aaron Martinez (the man behind the mix) relayed that his kids were singing some of the songs unprompted in an airport lobby that I knew we might have accomplished something close.
The numbers in The Library Song are a nod to the Dewey Decimal System, which is a fun "Easter egg" for listeners. Emily, what inspired you to write it?
I knew that I wanted to have a song with counting for the album, something about counting books. I toyed around with referencing classic children's literature…then I thought maybe there should be references to nonfiction books as well. So I wrote a few verses for that. It certainly went through a several iterations.
One day I was working with Joey Picciotto, giving guidelines for the "Dealing with Feelings" song, and had mentioned to him I was a little stuck with with "The Library Song." He suggested making the numbers line up with the Dewey classes, and then the song wrote itself.
You can use "The Library Song" to facilitate a conversation with your child about what books they might like to read. At NYPL, we know that print motivation, or the enjoyment of reading, is an important part of early literacy. Reading aloud to your child in the language you know best is a joyful activity that helps develop the skills they need to become ready readers.
For information on early literacy, check out your local library! All three library systems in New York City—NYPL, Brooklyn Public Library, and Queens Public Library—have special programming and resources for our littlest patrons. If your child is in school, you can also talk to your school librarian.