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The Langley Schools Music Project - Innocence & Despair

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Audio CD, October 23, 2001
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Editorial Reviews

Product Description

Ever since NPR aired an excerpt of this 1976-77 school project, it's been selling like, well, cookies at a bake sale! Imagine a gym in western Ontario full of 60 children aged 9-12, singing the pop hits of the day and discovering inside themselves for the first time a love of pop music the joy and wonder of these kids is palpable! Then add in some Carl Orff-like percussion, and rudimentary bass and guitar, and the whole thing even takes on some avant-garde dimensions. Trust us, you've never heard God Only Knows; Space Oddity; Rhiannon; Wildfire or The Long and Winding Road sound like this!

In the mid-1970s, Hans Fenger taught music in the Langley, British Columbia, school district, using an experimental method inspired equally by Brian Wilson and Carl Orff. Occasionally he would record his students in the school gymnasium--elaborate affairs involving more than 60 kids per session. The result is this compelling collection of semi-accidental genius. Picture the Shaggs and Danielson presiding over an elementary school assembly for shy kids, and you begin to understand how sweet, sincere, and slightly unsettling these recordings are. The Langley students perform their favorite 1960s and 1970s hits as if they never heard the originals; they turn "Mandy" into the kind of lo-fi pop song that Neutral Milk Hotel would perfect 20 years later, and sing "Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft" like a delegation of extraterrestrial children on a friendship mission to Earth. Fenger's arrangements are spacious but elaborate, with prominent Orff percussion instruments that coat everything with a glimmering otherworldliness. The Langley students must've been proud just to hear themselves on tape, but for those of us encountering these artifacts for the first time, it's impossible to come away unmoved. (The photographs are precious, too.) --Mike Appelstein

1. Venus and Mars/Rock Show (Paul McCartney & Wings)
2. Good Vibrations (The Beach Boys)
3. God Only Knows (The Beach Boys)
4. Space Oddity (David Bowie)
5. The Long and Winding Road (The Beatles)
6. Band On The Run (Paul McCartney & Wings)
7. In My Room (The Beach Boys)
8. I'm Into Something Good (Earl-Jean/Herman's Hermits)
9. Saturday Night (Bay City Rollers)
10. I Get Around (The Beach Boys)
11. Mandy (Barry Manilow)
12. Help Me, Rhonda (The Beach Boys)
13. Desperado (The Eagles)
14. You're So Good To Me (The Beach Boys)
15. Sweet Caroline (Neil Diamond)
16. To Know Him Is To Love Him (Teddy Bears)
17. Rhiannon (Fleetwood Mac)
18. Wildfire (Michael Martin Murphy)
19. Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft (The Recognized Anthem of World Contact Day) (Klaatu/The Carpenters)

Product Details

  • Audio CD (October 23, 2001)
  • Number of Discs: 1
  • Label: Bar/None Records
  • ASIN: B00005Q6NP
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (100 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #103,455 in Music (See Top 100 in Music)

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

118 of 126 people found the following review helpful By E. K. RIGHTER on October 24, 2001
Format: Audio CD
This is an astounding CD. The story that I read in the Vancouver Sun was that a hippie elementary school music teacher in 1976 recorded a choir of students from several schools singing classic rock/baby boomer music. The resulting album was pressed and copies were given to the students in the choir. Recently someone found the album on vinyl in a thrift store and fell in love with it. The recording was passed to radio stations and it was picked up by a record label.
While on vacation I heard the CD in a small coffee shop in downtown Vancouver, British Columbia and was immediately amazed. Covers of Wings, Beach Boys, David Bowie, Fleetwood Mac, etc. are transformed from standard FM radio fare into something more meaningful and strange as sung by children. The lyrics of Wings' "Band on the Run" come through as rather sad and downbeat yet very touching. The most arresting moment on the CD has to be a little girl singing The Eagles' "Desperado". The strangest moment is when the kids take on David Bowie's "Space Oddity". The background arragements are wonderful.
Want something unusual in your music collection? This is it!
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70 of 74 people found the following review helpful By Jeff Hodges on January 15, 2002
Format: Audio CD
As a ex-rock musician who has found his career in music education, it would be an understatement to say that I can relate to this disc. When walking into a performance with students, a good music teacher hopes for perfection but expects disaster. Somewhere in between these two extremes there lies what we call in the trade a "musical experience". All music teachers have a story about their musical experiences, the times when we felt something that we've have never felt before, nor since, and that cannot exist without music as a part of our lives. This feeling drives us, and help us to keep music alive in young minds. We hope to impart one or two musical experiences in the average student's career, and these keep us going in a when our job is stressful or even sometimes thankless.
Hans Ferger was not only gave his students the opportunity to have as least (count 'em) nineteen musical experiences, he was smart enough to capture them on two-track.
The story of Hans Ferger, the music director of the Langley Schools, reads like the familiar story of a real-life Mr. Holland. Playing gigs by night and teaching guitar by day can pay the bills if you're thrifty, but when a child comes the story changes. When presented with this situation, Ferger got teaching certification and began teaching elementary music. However, it was in the format of the classroom that he finally found his "band". Instead of a bass player, or a drummer, his format consisted of sixty-plus kids, various drums, cymbals, Orff instruments, and "modern" electric instruments. He played guitar and piano. The result of this collaboration yielded some of the most energetic, honest, and musical performances that I can think of.
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on January 3, 2002
Format: Audio CD
I first became aware of the LS Project when my brother's friend let me listen to their version of Rhiannon on his portable CD player. Although intrigued, I didn't even know who they were and didn't think much about them again until I saw the CD in a record store and made a spur of the moment purchase. WOW!!! I am so happy that I did. The singing and simple but dramatic instrumentation makes my scalp tingle and brings tears to my eyes. Perhaps I am more affected than some others because I was the same age as the children when they made these recordings and have special memories revolving around many of the songs they sing. But I would recommend this to anyone for its beauty and purity. Their version of David Bowie's Space Oddity is positively eerie and really captures the solemnity of someone lost in space. It's pretty weird but incredibly moving to hear a bunch of 10 year olds singing, "Tell my wife I love her very much..." Band on the Run brims with exuberance and Desperado - a song by the Eagles that I never cared for- takes on a whole different meaning when sung by then 9 year old Shela Behman. I have not gotten tired of it yet. I could go on and on as there is something special about each song. The one caveat is that because of the way it was recorded, the volume sometimes changes and it is difficult to pick up some of the subtleties that make this album so wonderful. It seems best suited to earphones where it suddenly is easy to hear everything.
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17 of 18 people found the following review helpful By sask on January 13, 2002
Format: Audio CD
Right now, every person who owns a copy of Innocence & Despair had to be originally drawn by sheer curiosity. After all, we haven't seen anything this weird come our way since perhaps as long ago as when The Shaggs beamed in from whatever planet they came from: here's a cd of nineteen sixties & seventies pop songs sung by suburban Vancouver elementary students twenty-five years ago, unearthed by a man who bought the original LP for a quarter and showed it to a New Jersey dj, who then championed it to the point where it received a wide release. This is the stuff of legend.
It is indeed the weirdness of it all that draws you in. Sixty kids singing in a gymnasium, with minimalist musical accompaniment consisting of their music teacher on guitar and piano and students themselves playing one-string bass, a drum kit, a big bass drum, cymbals, steel guitar, and xylophones. Some of the arangements are hysterical, with overeager drummers going too fast and almost confusing the singing kids, or cymbal crashes that come in half a beat too late. But it also has its weird, surreal moments, like the arrangement of David Bowie's 'Space Oddity', which is so creepy, so otherworldly, that it comes off as a masterstroke of demented genius.
Weird & funny, it sure is, but once you keep listening, Innocence & Despair gradually becomes oddly moving, thanks to the pure, naive earnestness of the children's singing. Their renditions of songs like 'God Only Knows' and 'In My Room' achieve such a sublime beauty that Brian Wilson himself couldn't have dreamed of. 'Saturday Night' and 'Band On The Run', on the other hand, explode with youthful energy. And of course, there's the incomparable 'Space Oddity' and a truly freaky cover of 'Calling Occupants Of Interplanetary Craft'.
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The Langley Schools Music Project - Innocence & Despair
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