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Kristen Bell, mom to daughters Lincoln (age 8) and Delta (age 6), knows a little something about the healing powers of music education. She and Dax Shepard run a Daniel Tiger household, and Bell recounts to me how daughter Lincoln has taken the life lessons — set to music — of the show to heart. “My daughter would remember a Daniel Tiger song and sing, ‘stop, stop, stop. It’s OK to feel angry, but it’s not not not OK to hurt someone,'” Bell shares. “And she would literally do that when she was thinking of punching her sister. So I was like, yeah, music is kind of paramount in a kid’s life.” Enter: Glow star and longtime friend Jackie Tohn, who just so happened to be whipping up a kids show that’s part music-education, part life-skills, and part plain old entertainment called Do, Re & Mi with co-creator Michael Scharf. Once Bell (and her kids) heard some of Tohn’s songs for the show, they were hooked: and so the kids show, out on Amazon today, was born.
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For Tohn, the inspiration was personal, too: “I found out from my niece and nephews that music and arts programs and education in schools were disappearing at the first sign of a budget cut, and arts and music education were the first things to go,” she says. “And this affected me in a big way because I wouldn’t be the freak I am today were it not for music.”
Bell had seen the arts funding issue pop up at her kids’ schools too, and she saw an opportunity to do what Tohn calls “sneak teach[ing]” by creating Do, Re & Mi, having seen first-hand how effective these educational shows were for her kids.
“Every episode we formulated [is] an emotional lesson and music theory lesson and a musical genre lesson,” Bell explains. “Jackie wrote 52 songs for the show and represents all these different genres that kids need to learn about, like yacht rock and reggae and jazz and blues. And Olivia Newton-John from the ’80s. Don’t bypass it. It’s important.”
Read on for more of what your kids can learn from Do, Re & Mi — and more on what Bell’s kids have already learned from the shows they watch at home.
SheKnows: How did the idea for Do, Re & Mi come about?
Jackie Tohn: Well, Do, Re & Mi came about because I am a very, very passionate music lover. I always have been, I’ve been a songwriter pretty much my whole life. My dad’s a songwriter and I found out from my niece and nephews that music and arts programs and education in schools were disappearing at the first sign of a budget cut, and arts and music education were the first things to go. And this affected me in a big way because I wouldn’t be the freak I am today were it not for music. And so [co-creator Michael Scharf] and I started coming up with this show that we were hoping would be able to bring the music education that kids weren’t getting in schools into their homes, into their tablets. And we sort of were just talking about it together. And I happen to have a pretty cool best friend who has — at the time, had one daughter. And so I brought it over and I was showing it to Kristen’s daughter and she sort of came in and was like, ‘Oh, what do you got?’ And she was like, ‘This is great. What are you guys doing with it?’ Mike and I were like, oh, I don’t know. And she was like, ‘OK, you two creative weirdos, let me take the business side of this.’ And basically took the reins, got us meetings, got us productions, got us in development, and Do, Re & Mi was born.
SK: Kristen, what were your first thoughts when she brought you Do, Re & Mi and said we don’t know what we’re doing?
Kristen Bell: Well, I mean, Jackie has ideas around every corner, but this one, in particular, I was like, wait a minute, no, you’re right. My kids go to public school. I know about the budget slashes. But I also know that there’s a reason that arts was recently added to STEM. Now it’s STEAM: science, technology, engineering, arts, and mathematics, because it’s really important. There’s so much data that I’ve read in parenting books about music — or even just like psychology books — about music for your own brain regulation, what it can do to your neuroplasticity. There was an amazing documentary called Alive Inside, where they put on earphones of like Frank Sinatra to these older Alzheimer’s patients and they’d take them off: They were online for five minutes. They could look at their daughter and say, ‘Oh, my gosh, Louisa, I see you, hi!’ Music can do crazy things to your brain. And that’s scientifically proven, especially with kids. It’s the reason we use Baby Mozart. It grows their brain. They can be better at mathematics. If they have music exposure, they can be better socially. And I was like, this is a passion project. In order to have a successful show or IP at all, you really have to root it in entertainment. So we were like, great, we’ll do what Jackie likes to call Sneak Teach, which is like, it’s going to be an entertaining show, it’s about three little songbirds, super cute, Do, Re, and Mi. Well, already they’re learning the first three notes of a musical scale, Do, Re, and Mi. And every episode we formulated would be an emotional lesson and music theory lesson and a musical genre lesson. Jackie wrote 52 songs for the show and represents all these different genres that kids I think need to learn about, like yacht rock and reggae and jazz and blues. And Olivia Newton-John from the ’80s. Don’t bypass it. It’s important.
To give an example, Jackie’s character, Re, wants to join a dance troupe with these big flamingos and she’s working too hard and she’s getting fatigued and she needs to rest, but she won’t do it. Well, in music theory, there’s a rest. It’s where you take your hands off the keys, where you stop singing. So they wrote a song called “Listen to Your Body When It’s Trying to Talk to You.” And there are rests in the music where her character sits down and takes a deep breath. But the kid is also learning in music theory, that’s what a rest means, like when you’re reading and writing music. Partnering with Amazon was so major because we didn’t want this to just be a show that died. We want this to be a music education curriculum for kids that can infuse them and teach them. So there will be apps that parents can use that can go along with the show because they’re seeing characters they love, but they’re also making music, practicing music, and their brains are just growing. And you can feel good about that necessary evil of screen time being a little less evil.
SK: What are some of your kid’s favorite TV shows over the years? How did this fit into that?
KB: Well, we were big fans of Daniel Tiger. I mean, my favorites and their favorites — very different. There were a lot of shows I love — I love Let’s Go Luna, which teaches about a whole bunch of world geography. I loved Daniel Tiger, which has all the — similar to this, it has the little licks that kids will be able to sing to help them in a certain situation. My daughter would remember a Daniel Tiger song and sing, “stop, stop, stop. It’s OK to feel angry, but it’s not not not OK to hurt someone.” And she would literally do that when she was thinking of punching her sister. So I was like, yeah, music is kind of paramount in a kid’s life. It really just breaks through all the noise — you have a one-year-old who can’t even speak and will bop to a beat. Their translation of music happens before any verbiage or any articulation or words being formed.
My kids are very musical and they watch a ton of educational shows. They also watch a ton of trash. You know, they watch shows that are absolutely not educational at all. They’re just entertainment-based. They love sitcoms, kids sitcoms. Oh, my God. We try to talk to them about the education of comedy and like what Seinfeld was and why people did things in certain ways. But no matter what, they’re both entering the room like Kramer because they go big on the comedy. So we’re working to scale that back and teach some subtlety.
JT: Maybe can bring them into more of like a single-cam vibe?
KB: Yeah, a little bit more of a single-cam life in their joke-telling. They love all the [shows] that every kid loves. They love every Nickelodeon show. They love Bunk’d, they love Camp Kikiwaka, they love Sister, Sister. And then what’s the new one? Fuller House. They love Fuller House. But [Do, Re & Mi] is one that I think they’re going to love and then also be getting an education while they’re watching it.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity and length.
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