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SF Classical Voice digs into the songwriting process with Alison

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June 22, 2014 - 10:25am -- Alison

This is how it often starts. In the early morning hours kindie rock
favorite Alison Faith Levy wakes up with a tune in her head. She throws
off the covers, hubby still pulling zzzz's, runs into her San
Francisco living room, and furiously writes down some lyrics and chords.
Then the creative process grinds to a halt temporarily while she
readies her family for the day, often singing that morning's tune into
her smartphone while driving her son to school.

"A melody is so important and fleeting," said Levy in a telephone interview. "I don't want to forget it."

This Sunday morning, Mother's Day, fans of Levy can hear some of the
songs she's been busy creating when she performs at the Contemporary
Jewish Museum with her Big Time Tot Rock Band. The
program is part of the museum's second Sunday series, when the museum
opens early, 9:45 a.m., for pre-schoolers and their families.

The festivities will start with fun in the art studio, and includes Jen
Miriam Altman and her puppets performing Zaide’s Mother’s Day Surprise.
Then, from 11 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., Levy and her three-piece band will cap
the activities.

Levy, a.k.a. Sippy Alison, was a superstar for the under-five set when
she played with the kids rock music and performance group The Sippy
Cups. The group, which broke up in 2010 after six years of touring and
recording, were part of a multimillion-dollar music industry known as
kindie rock.
Like indie rock, whose luminaries include Arcade Fire and Broken Social
Scene, kindie rock is a musical genre with a discernible sound rather
than a record label status, according to its fans. Its rockstars include
Recess Monkey, Tim and the Space Cadets, and Dan Zanes and Friends.

"I want to bring families together by
making music. That's always been my goal. When I see parents and their
kids rocking out, I know I've done my job." — Alison Faith Levy

It's a culture that includes annual conferences, such as Kindiefest,
kindie music festivals, and a Kindie Music Association. Kindie rock
songs come with sophisticated harmonies and address a range of topics,
from divorce to bullies and new haircuts. Kindie rock is indie music for
children that also appeals to adults, according to Levy, who took a
short break after The Sippy Cups disbanded, before venturing out on her
own.

"It's underground music for kids," said Levy of the genre. "It's a very
vibrant world, and a super supportive community." At its commercial end,
kindie rock is also a world of lucrative licensing contracts, CD sales,
live performances, and sometimes television shows. "There's a more
commercial aspect of it which I haven't gotten involved in."

The singer and songwriter said she was first drawn to childrens music as a child watching the 1974 television movie Free to Be...You and Me and the 1975 animated television special of the musical Really Rosie
with music by singer and songwriter Carole King and book and lyrics by
the late children's book writer and illustrator Maurice Sendak. "There
weren't really kids bands you could see in those days," Levy said.
"Today kids and their parents can have the experience of live music."

While Levy may have left the persona of Sippy Alison behind, the desire
to perform for young audiences has only deepened. "I want to bring
families together by making music," she said. "That's always been my
goal. When I see parents and their kids rocking out, I know I've done my
job."

Is Levy comfortable with the appellation kindie rock star? "I love it!"
she said. "I've wanted to be a rock star my whole life. It makes me feel
validated that I'm touching people."

Journalist Molly Colin writes about the arts and cultural trends.