Judy & David: Articles and Reviews
JUMPING UP & DOWN BY ERIN SILVER
I t’s a hot, sweaty day in July but the kids don’t care. Slathered in sunscreen and sporting sun hats and sunglasses, hundreds of youngsters and their parents are gathered on the grass in front of the main stage. Pudgy hands clap to the music. Tiny voices sing along to the well-loved songs and shriek with laughter at the antics acted out before them. Dimpled knees bend back and forth. Even the parents with tots perched on their shoulders bob to the beat.
“As soon as I mentioned the concert my kids wanted to come,” says one parent, enjoying the music in the shade as her two children, aged 6 and 10, dance near the stage. “Judy & David sing good kids songs,” she continues. “They’re very upbeat and interactive.”
Other parents echo the praise.
Meanwhile, there’s one preschooler in the crowd who barely moves.
“My son is in awe,” says the mother of the 4-year-old who scored a front row seat at the concert. “Usually he loves dancing to the music. He jumps up and down. Today he’s too mesmerized.”
This is a typical Judy & David concert, where true to the duo’s credo, music is not a spectator sport.
“That’s our philosophy in a nutshell,” says David, 38, sitting at the kitchen table beside his co-worker/wife Judy in their brightly-painted Thornhill, Ont. home a few days after the concert.
“Kids can go anywhere and have music played at them,” explains David. “Letting kids be a part of the music and getting them involved in it so that they’re the stars, is what’s important to us.”
“We try not to be too preachy with our lyrics,” expands Judy, 36. “Teaching life lessons is just a small part of music.”
“Music is a goal in itself,” David interjects. The pair often finishes each other’s sentences and expands on one another’s ideas.
“Music is the message,” says Judy.
Mixing rap tunes with pop and dance, the highly original singers/songwriters and performers have found their way into the hearts of young children. Through their music style, their chemistry with each other and their rapport with audiences they’ve pieced together the puzzle of success.
Since Judy & David were created nine years ago, the tag team has made 12 records, including one which won a Juno award in 1998 for Best Children’s Recording. Two were nominated for Best Children’s Album in 2002 and another was nominated in 2003. Judy & David recently came out with their first collection of Jewish songs, titled “Rock ‘N Roll Matzah Ball.” Over five million of their recordings have been translated into different languages and sold in over a dozen countries. Some of their CDs double as CD ROMs, with videos, lyrics and activities for kids to use.
Their three-year-old sing-along show on Treehouse TV called Judy & David’s Boom Box attracts a growing following while their innovative and interactive Web site (www.judyanddavid.com), which features song lyrics, activities, pictures, sound clips, and concert and ordering information, garners thousands of visitors a week. Their summer concert schedule is filled with cross-Canada appearances.
As if their life isn’t forging ahead fast enough, they recently moved with their two children—Jared, 6 and Abigail, 4 — from a small Richmond Hill house into an 8-bedroom, 7-bathroom home, complete with a drum room for Jared, two playrooms, a recording studio and offices, where the help of two part-time employees is needed to keep on top of the increasing load.
But success in showbiz was never a sure thing. It’s an era where sexy acts like Britney Spears are appealing to primary-age audiences and engaging, quality kids’ groups are so rare that many executives don’t believe live entertainers can captivate kids as well as cartoons. In short, it’s not what economists would call a bull market.
“It was a scary thing to jump into the music business,” admits David Gershon, who formerly worked as an executive in the entertainment industry and is known exclusively to fans by his first name. Judy Adelman Gershon, known simply as Judy, is a music teacher and associate of the Royal Conservatory of Music. She nods her head in agreement with David.
“I promised that if they ever moved onto the streets I’d always feed them,” says Judy’s oldest sister Robin Leszner, who is overjoyed that her family and Judy’s now live on the same street. Middle sister Risa Hoffman lives just five minutes away.
But for rich or poor, Judy and David, who married in 1991, had to chase their dreams. That meant making music, something neither had ever lived without.
Born in Chicago, Ill., David played drums and guitar and always loved leading camp songs. After moving to Toronto with his parents and two older brothers 24 years ago, he became involved in the music program at Holy Blossom temple, where he’s been leading religious services for children as the lay cantor or lay rabbi since high school.
He continued to lead services there throughout his years as “a suit,” working at TVOntario on the business side, putting together funding for the station’s programming and doing some corporate underwriting. (Even today, when not on tour, David leads various services at Holy BlossomTemple and Temple Emanu-El.)
Raised in North York, Ont., Judy and her two older sisters Robin, now 42, and Risa, 39, discovered music at a young age.
“It’s just been our life,” says Robin earnestly.
She sits comfortably with Judy and David in the couple’s lime green kitchen, dipping hand-picked strawberries into sugar and eating them while chocolate chip cookies bake in the oven.
Laughter and conversation flow naturally and easily, filling the large room every moment they’re together.
“We were always involved in our temple choir,” Robin continues. “Then I started playing piano at age 9. Judy really wanted to do it too – she wanted to do everything I did,” Robin laughs. “She ended up being better at it than me.”
The sisters giggle as they help each other tell the “Adelman Triangle” story.
“We started a band when I was 12, Risa was 9 and Judy was 6, called the Adelman Triangle. I played guitar, Risa played piano and Judy played the margarine container,” Robin chuckles.
Since then, Judy has learned to play more than just plastic containers. She pursued music at the University of Toronto and can play guitar, piano, flute and cello. A brilliant concert pianist, Judy also earned a teaching degree.
It was in 1989, at a critical junction in both their lives, when Judy and David met.
“I didn’t know exactly what I wanted to do,” David says, “but I was thinking about launching a career as a children’s entertainer.”
There was one major problem for David, who pursued a “real job” only because he thought it was what a good Jewish boy was supposed to do.
“I wanted to be an entertainer, but I also wanted to make a living. Most entertainers I knew at the time were starving.”
“When I met David I had just finished my degree in music and didn’t know what I wanted to do musically,” says Judy.
Inspired by popular children’s entertainers Sharon, Lois and Bram—who elevated the status of children’s music by presenting it in new and creative ways—Judy was considering a similar career shift, albeit away from teaching music full-time. (She still teaches piano to a select group of students in her basement studio.)
It wasn’t until they met and fell in love that they knew what they wanted to do.
“When I saw David doing music at Sunday school, the first thing I thought was, ‘Oh! He’s cute!’ My second thought was, ‘I loved his style.’ He had so much energy and he was so funny and I was really impressed with his guitar playing. I could just see his style fitting well with my style in relating to kids. I thought the two of us could be good partners doing that.”
The two didn’t discuss the possibility of forming a children’s act until several months later when Judy’s demo tape was played at a party.
“That was it,” remembers David.
“He was smitten,” says Judy.
“We got together to have a business meeting,” David begins.
“But it was really just an excuse to be able to call each other the next day,” continues Judy. “So we got together on the premise of discussing music and our careers but we didn’t talk about it much.” They smile lovingly at each other.
They’ve been inseparable ever since.
But the duo quickly discovered that being a couple romantically was one thing, working together as Judy & David was quite another.Their first hurdle came early on in their career together.
“A few months after we started dating, David had a concert coming up at a temple and we thought we should do it together,” says Judy. “That was when the honeymoon ended.”
“There was a bit of jockeying for position,” admits David. “We didn’t trust each other musically. The worst was when we tried to write music together. We sat down at the piano bench and tried to write a song. We almost killed each other.”
Over time they developed a better way to write music – separately.
“Now I go off and write 70% of the lyrics and 30% of the melody and I hand it off to Judy,” says David. “She polishes the lyrics and writes the rest of the tune. We discovered we have good complementary strengths and this method works really, really well, but we had to discover how to do this.”
Their first real concert together in 1993 is another story of trial and error.
“It was rough-edged,” admits David.
Over time, their banter on stage evolved and they have so much chemistry, both on and off stage, that critics have likened them to Sonny and Cher.
Then came the kids, who are Judy and David’s number one priority.
“They’re wonderful parents,” gushes Robin, who, along with Risa and their extended families provide a superb support system when things get hectic for Judy & David.
“We never take our kids for granted,” says Judy, who is also a full-time mother. “We don’t want to miss a second. It’s very important for kids to be with their parents, and David and I are pathetic without them.”
That’s also why David manages the business side of their act from his home office and why the doting parents run down to their recording studio only after Abigail and Jared are in bed. The children, who love packing up and going on tour, come along to every concert. With a sitter on the sidelines, Judy and David leave their kids at the very last second to take the stage.
“We were playing a huge symphony concert in Vancouver and Judy kept the whole audience waiting because Abigail needed to nurse a bit longer,” says David.
On other occasions, Judy has left stage to tend to her kids, while David keeps the show running smoothly.
A s well as balancing their career and family, the pair has also faced another issue every entertainer must face – making a name for themselves.
“When we started out, we knew that we wanted to launch an act in a successful way,” says David. “We didn’t want to work our way up slowly. We tried to put together an act worthy of big theaters.”
They started calling themselves Canada’s hottest new children’s entertainers and soon enough it caught on, but not without a lot of hard work. The team recorded their first demo tape in just one weekend and handed it out at a conference attended by music big-wigs. Before they knew it, Judy & David were getting concert bookings. That demo tape also led to their first CD, Jumpin’ Up and Down, released in February 1993. By the summer of the same year, Little Yellow Bus was released. The four cassettes, which comprised the “Little Yellow Bus,” were packaged in a wooden toy school bus and distributed across the globe. The collection of best-loved children’s songs “helped us get to the next level,” says David.
That next level was a prestigious Juno award.
“The Juno was great because fans loved us, but until then colleagues were still asking who we were,” says David. “And it was so important to us that Livin’ In a Shoe won because it was all original music. That confirmed for us that we were on the right track. It was such an incredible feeling of validation.”
“We felt like we had arrived at a certain place,” says Judy. “It was like someone other than us said we were major children’s entertainers.”
Perhaps the biggest impact on their career has been their television show, a series they developed themselves. Their idea was to tape 30 four-minute episodes featuring “opening shtick, a song and closing” that could air on television everyday. YTV took them on. Judy & David’s Boom Box is proving to be a big success. After three years on YTV it is now one of the most popular shows on YTV’s sister station, Treehouse. It’s what the couple feels has catapulted them into a widely popular concert series that had them playing a concert a day across Canada for the months of July and August, 2002. One of the concert specials they’re really excited about is their Symphonic Orchestra tour, which has been performed to sold-out audiences in Vancouver, Calgary, Edmonton and Ottawa.
“It’s such a fun show,” beams David. “We get these serious, tuxedoed musicians jumping up and down and touching their noses for the children.”
Their Chanukah Concert, performed in Toronto in December 2001, was also a tremendous success and marked the debut of Rock and Roll Matzah Ball. The show was repeated in 2002 and has now become a staple of the Toronto holiday scene. Chanukah 2003 will see the show tour the US east coast.
They’re currently developing concepts for new television shows, which they hope to make available to children across the United States, though the U.S. is proving to be a tough market to crack. They’re also working to promote a collection of four CDs, called Once Upon a Tune, a series of fairy tales adapted to music, featuring character voices, special effects and special guest star Canadian recording artist Jann Arden.
In celebration of their 10th anniversary as children's musical entertainers, Judy & David are very excited to be launcing three new DVDs. Titled Treasure Park, Cars, Planes & Choo Choo Trains and Playground Jam, each is filled with over an hour of sing-along, dance-along fun. Charitable by nature, they’re enabling charity organizations to buy their CDs at wholesale prices to raise money for the groups’ respective causes.
In addition to expanding their Web site, David says they’ve got secret plans in the works.
“Something very big is coming, so stay tuned,” he promises with a wide grin.
No matter what the tag team has up their sleeves, it’s sure to get kids dancing and parents bouncing up and down too.
Visit judyanddavid.com for more information or to order from the Judy & David music collection.
courtesy of Lifestyles Magazine
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