Langely Schools Music ProjectThe backing arrangement is astounding. Coupled with the earnest if lugubrious vocal performance you have a piece of art that I couldn’t have conceived of.” – David Bowie (on the Langley students’ rendition of “Space Oddity”)

As a collector of unusual, outsider music when I first learned of The Langley Schools Music Project I drove immediately to the record store (remember record stores, sigh) and bought a copy without hearing a note. I was expecting to hear some silly but charming versions of popular hits from the 1970’s as performed by kids. Interesting but still kitsch. I had no idea that soon I would be parked in front of my house unable to leave the car because I was mesmerized by 9 year old Sheila Behman’s solo vocal performance of “Desperado.”

So what’s the story behind this record. In the mid 70’s Hans Fenger, a frustrated rocker, found himself teaching music in rural Canada and he wanted to inspire his students with something special, their very own record. Mr. Fenger knew nothing about “kid’s” music so he encouraged his students to sing songs they liked and which reflected their emotions and interests. Together they chose popular songs by artists like David Bowie, The Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac and The Beatles. After only three practice sessions and armed with a sparse collection of instruments, the choir of 60 children from three schools gathered in the gymnasium to make their record. The songs were recorded with two mics in one take, 300 vinyl copies were pressed for the kids and the story could very well have ended there. A perfect little piece of art never to be heard by anyone other than the participants.

Like finding a diamond in a mountain of sand a thrift shopper happened upon one of the vinyl copies. Luckily he realized what a treasure he had in his hands and shared it with New York radio station WFMU which is known for its support of outsider music. After broadcasting these beautifully quirky songs a flood of phone calls came in to the station wanting to know more. The DJ somehow got in touch with Hans Fenger to get more detail on this mysterious recording only to find out there was second album. From there things kind of snowballed leading to the 2001 release by Bar None Records of “The Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence and Despair.

I am going to avoid the impulse to endlessly gush and go into excruciating detail of why every song is genius and how important I think music is to a child’s development. I won’t ramble on and on about how I think a 9 year old has performed the definitive version of Desperado and has left both The Eagles and Linda Ronstadt in her dust. All true. Instead I will give you these links so you can hear for yourself how interesting and at times moving this record is.

Desperado

In My Room

Space Oddity

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