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Classical 101

No Bull(ies): Cow Brings Children Moo-zical Message of Kindness

It's not every day that a talking cow and an orchestra of talking instruments share top billing with a litany of celebrity artists on a new CD. But that's exactly what happened on Moozie's Musical Adventures!, the first musical recording of the Tennessee-based Children's Kindness Network. All this bovine business was the brainchild of Ted Dreier, a former corporate executive and professional public speaker, and now the executive director of the Children's Kindness Network. In creating Moozie the Cow, Dreier was doing what he knew best: he had grown up on a Kansas dairy farm and much later in life drew upon those experiences to fashion his own cow creation - just for fun. "I thought it would be fun to see if I could make something that looked like a Holstein cow," Dreier said in a telephone interview. A teacher at a nearby school heard about Dreier's robotic talking cow and asked him to bring it to her school to help teach her students about farming. Dreier worked up a talk on spreading the milk of human kindness and, with his wife, Karen, took the cow to school. "What was amazing to me and to the teachers was the fact that these kids sitting on a hard cafeteria floor were glued to hearing Moozie talk about kindness," Dreier said. "We went home saying, 'Wow, that cow may have some real value to helping building kindness on this planet.'" Around the time he was first setting to work creating Moozie, Dreier had seen first hand the ill effects of unkindness, especially bullying. For a year and a half, Dreier met weekly with a young man serving a life sentence in an area prison. "I thought, if he had had a Moozie in his life, would he be in jail?" Dreier said. "And so I thought, you know, there's a lot of young people out there today that might make the wrong decision at a very, very, very young age. Maybe Moozie will help them have a better life and not end up in jail."

A Curriculum of Kindness

Armed with a charismatic spokescow and with a mission to save at-risk children from going down the wrong path, in 1998 Dreier founded the Children's Kindness Network, a non-profit organization devoted to building what Dreier calls a culture of kindness by teaching children the importance of being kind. To that end, Dreier has created a kindness curriculum which teachers can use in schools to share Moozie the Cow's message of the value of kindness. This curriculum consists of lessons and activities that aim to teaching children about the importance of kindness to oneself, others, animals and the environment. Sharon Wood, a teacher at Nashville's urban Falls-Hamilton Enhanced Option School, has used Dreier's kindness curriculum in her pre-kindergarten classes, where each student receives a copy of Moozie's Kind Adventure, a children's poem by author Jane Morton, and his or her own Moozie the Cow hand puppet. Wood says Moozie has been an inspiration to her students - so much so that she has adapted Moozie's pre-kindergarten kindness curriculum for repeat use at the kindergarten level. "There are definitely some students who have really connected with Moozie and want to show Moozie that they’re kind to people," Wood said. "And especially when they’ve been in pre-k and go on to kindergarten and they see Moozie again, it resonates with them, they remember it."

Moozie's Musical Adventures

In the run-up to the tenth anniversary of the Children's Kindness Network, Dreier commissioned a musical work that could take Moozie's message of kindness into the concert hall. "I thought if there’s a great piece of music that would be played by youth symphonies across the United States over and over again, that would be fantastic," Dreier said. He asked composer Kim Scharnberg to write a piece that could convey Moozie's message and also teach children about the instruments in the orchestra. The project developed into two musical works: Moozie's Kind Adventure, a musical accompaniment to Jane Morton's poem about a cow who kindly rescues some of her fellow critters from impending disaster, and Moozie's Orchestra Adventure, which sets a story by Tom Easton in which Moozie the cow helps Tiny Tinny (TT) Triangle find his place in an orchestra full of instruments bigger and, in some cases, meaner than he is. Scharnberg describes both works as "friendly and accessible." Listen to an excerpt from Moozie's Kind Adventure: [audio src="http://wosu.org/audio/classical/2011/110323Moozie's-Kind-Adventure.mp3"] "(They) needed to have a language that wasn’t too complex for children, but it was also important for me that if they were going to be used for playing for children and in family concerts, (they) would still be interesting to the orchestra musicians and the conductors and the people who would be playing it," Scharnberg said. Scharnberg enlisted ProMusica's Timothy Russell and his orchestra at Arizona State University to record both works for Summit Records on a CD to benefit the Children's Kindness Network. That recording, Moozie's Musical Adventures!, was considered for a 2010 Grammy Award, likely as much for the orchestra's dynamic playing as for the convincing performances by the roster of celebrities who perform the roles of Moozie and the talking instruments. Legendary soprano Jessye Norman voiced the role of Moozie the Cow in both musical works. In Moozie's Orchestra Adventure, she was joined by National Public Radio foreign correspondent Anne Garrels, country star Wynonna Judd, trumpet sensation Chris Botti, Broadway star Ben Vereen, Peter Schickele(AKA P.D.Q. Bach) and Gatlin Brother Larry Gatlin, who narrates both works. Schickele says Scharnberg's "Moozie" compositions have the potential to allow children to have positive experiences with orchestral music while learning about kindness. "We live in an age in which everything is becoming so fragmented in terms of entertainment and there are so many things on the Internet that you can do. So anything that gets kids having a positive experience at a symphony orchestra concert is a plus," Schickele said. And maybe, Schickele says, those experiences will ignite a passion for music that could turn into a positive outlet for kids' creative energies later on. "My feeling is that kids, particularly starting in middle school, should be involved in the drama department and the music department in their schools, because those performing arts, you get so involved in them. It can take over your life and maybe keep you off the street and keep you out of drugs. Not because it's better, but because it's all-encompassing, it takes your time," Schickele said.

What's Next For Moozie?

Now that Moozie's Kind Adventure has been performed by a number of professional orchestras and arranged for concert band, and Moozie the Cow has made appearances in books and recordings, as well as in classrooms, what's next for the benevolent bovine? Dreier says he'd like to commission a dance work based on Moozie's message, and he dreams of developing a line of Moozie products that would help financially support the Children's Kindness Network. For now, Dreier says Moozie the Cow's first recording, Moozie's Musical Adventures!, sends the message that orchestral music and kindness go hand in hand. "The orchestra is beautiful because of its diversity," Dreier said. "I hope the kids when they leave (a musical concert) will have a new appreciation for orchestra instruments, and I hope it will generate a conversation related to kindness."

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.