Sukey Molloy is the modern day Mr. Rogers for children. With a kind gentleness, Sukey’s music is peaceful and joyous for both children and their parents. Celebrity Parents spoke with Sukey about music, balancing family life and making music that comes from the child within.
What were you doing prior to starting your career in children’s music?
Before marriage and motherhood, and prior to my career in children’s music, I enjoyed a career as a professional modern dancer in New York City, dancing with the Solomon’s Company Dance. I also managed the Dan Wagoner and Dancers Company, and assisted with arts administration for the Colorado Springs Symphony Orchestra. Additionally, I sang with a Gregorian chant choir, and studied piano. Transitioning out of a career that involved full time dance training, and a focus on performing, was challenging. I returned to an interest in working with children that had been with me since high school. As a teenager, I choreographed a dance for a youth group at a YMCA in Connecticut and remembered how special it had felt. I followed that impulse, and found Garland O’Quinn Jr., Ph.D., an Olympic gymnast, who taught and promoted Developmental Movement programs at the University of Texas. He became my mentor, and thus, my invitation into movement programs for very young children. I also studied Infant Development at the School for Body Mind Centering, and Infant Massage at the IAIM. I began to create and teach movement programs at elementary schools, preschools, day care programs, and after schools. I also developed my own PlayMove&Sing Inc., “mommy and me” classes for infants, toddlers and preschoolers, as well as staff development workshops for teachers and librarians. I was busy raising a family at the same time so my career developed somewhat leisurely! Being at home with my children when they were young was my top priority.
What was the impetus to become a children’s artist?
My first album was inspired by requests from mothers and teachers who were attending my music and movement programs and workshops. They asked if I would consider recording some of the songs I was singing. That’s how it started! I had focused on dance and movement, and had always been deeply influenced by music. A dancer must have that sensitivity, and recording and performing seemed like a natural progression. When my children were little, it was fun for me to find music for them to listen to, and I wanted to contribute to that collection by offering songs and music that focused specifically on the child listener. I wanted to encourage active listening and participation through movement and song, and help to open natural feelings with joyful play.
What has the evolution been of your music from when you started until now?
My first album, Circle Songs, contains mostly traditional melodies with newly created lyrics that I recreated to accompany the movement activities I was developing. There are also original songs mixed in. I was particularly interested in melodies, rhythms and lyrics that young children could respond to and participate in at their own pace. I was, and still am, committed to music that is created specifically for the child, which may mean using slower tempos, lots of repetition, simple melodies, easy to learn lyrics, and not a lot of layering. I like to keep a rather intimate and personal touch when singing and moving with children. I find that children hear in a kind of echo chamber, and need a lot of space in their listening to process many sounds and impressions at once. My intention has been to provide children with opportunities to develop sensitive listening so they can relate to what they hear from their own initiative. My second album, I Like to Sing, ended up with fewer traditional melodies, and more of my own original songs, and my most recent album, I Am Happy, turns out to be all original songs but two! I guess my songwriting is continuing to emerge, and I keep giving myself permission to make the music that comes from the child within.
How would you describe your style?
I’m told that my voice has a rather soothing and calming effect on children, and adults, and that it creates a certain feeling of intimacy and safety, inviting listeners to relax and participate. My style certainly isn’t for everyone, and I’m definitely not Kindie, but I guess my gentler style has become my trademark. I have often been referred to as the modern day Mr. Rogers, which I must say is a very great compliment. My style seems to have evolved partly from of the fact that I am a rather limited pianist (!), although I improvise easily, and my melodies and compositions tend to be very simple. This simplicity goes hand in hand with an atmosphere that seems to feel a little more personal.
My style also evolves out of my interest in offering children lots of different movement options, providing exposure early on to a wide vocabulary of self expression. My song style frequently includes lyric directives that children can sing and move along to. And I am also inspired by a very personal feeling about childhood that draws on lots of repetition, and images from nature. I like to call the imagination of the listener toward a special place inside, and to share in that feeling place together. My music does tend to skew young, but seems to appeal to older children as well, working best for ages birth to six.
My music style is also enhanced by my band members, who are classically trained musicians, and by my co-producer, Larry Alexander, who records and mixes all of my music. Larry and I have a tremendous relationship, and his sensitive listening really brings the music alive. Larry understands the intention behind my songs, and supports my style with his vast experience. Larry is a Grammy winner, having recorded just about every well known name in music (six albums with Diana Ross and two with Bruce Springsteen), and I am extremely fortunate to have him on board.
In general, my music is created to relate directly with the young child, and it’s very important to me, as I write, to sense each song from the child’s point of view. My goal in making I Am Happy! is a simple one, to share music that makes children feel happy! In all my work, I try and invite children to participate, and on I Am Happy! I search, in a playful way, through themes such as snow, sun, rain, fire and water, and by incorporating animal sounds like fish, rhinos, penguins, and ducks. Some of the songs validate feelings like happiness, and even worry, and other songs involve counting in multiple languages and guessing games. In every song, I encourage children to try the movements and sounds along with me!
Let’s talk a bit about your family.
My husband, Tom, and I have two sons, James and Jonathan. Both boys are in college. I love them all dearly and feel very blessed.
How did you balance work and family when the kids were younger?
There was no question that raising my children was my first priority. When I transitioned from my career as a dancer, and later became married, I was happy to become a fulltime mother. Then, when my first son was about two, I met and studied Development Movement with Garland O’Quinn, and began looking into creating movement programs for young children. My 2 year old son James became my primary “movement teacher”, and it grew from there. I was still a full time mother, now with two sons, but with a part time job that I created myself. By the time my work began to be more demanding, both sons were in school and not needing me as much, although I have always been grateful for making the choice to stay close to home. It helped that my office was at home, and my teaching and performing elsewhere. It evolved in a very natural way. There were awkward moments in trying to practice piano with family around, or trying to conduct band rehearsals in the dining room, or appearing at a theater in town! But I know my family is quite proud of my accomplishments.
What are your plans for the future?
First of all, it is my wish to, one day, have a Sukey’s Circle! television show. I think there’s room for programming that includes a gentler, more soothing and intimate style, inviting what I refer to as “active viewing”. My Sukey’s Circle! DVDs have won national awards, and are a testament to the fact that we can include alternative viewing styles in today’s market. I also love to work in felt art, and am working on creating more felt animations. My animations currently appear on the Sukey’s Circle! DVDs. I also recently completed ten Sukey’s Circle! mini-shows, taken from the original longer versions, which I hope will be aired on online channels in the near future. I am busy working on a new lullaby CD, I Am Sleepy! which will include bedtime songs, stories, and poems in a double CD (!), and I am working on further developing my performing career so Sukey Molloy & Friends can appear in more places!
For more info, please go to www.sukeymolloy.com.