HOW I ( BILLY B ) GOT STARTED AND WHY I DO WHAT I DO
My inspiration to become the “Natural Science Song and Dance Man” came from a class I had called “Dance in Childhood Education” taught by Professor Mary Hibbard at the University of Wisconsin / Milwaukee. Education was my major and Dance was my minor. I was doing my “Practicum” at the time in a first grade class in Milwaukee. The primary semester assignment in Ms. Hibbard’s class was to develop a dance program that could be used in the classroom. The first grade teacher I was working with was, at that time, teaching her kids about trees. I thought why not teach the kids about trees through the dance program I was assigned to create. Thus, “The Singing Tree” was developed in 1975.
I had just returned from a year in Europe, where I had been a street performer. That was where I learned how to perform. I had been writing songs since I first picked up a guitar at the age of 16. The Singing Tree dance program contained rhyming chants to accompany the dances . One of those little poems came to music as my first children’s song “Yippee Hooray, I am a Sprout”. I recorded “Billy B Sings About Trees” in 1978, launching my career as “The Natural Science Song and Dance Man”. Coincidentally, I have just re-released that recording, with three new songs, three re-recorded songs, plant related songs from other recordings, and eight of the originals for a total of 19 songs relating to trees. This project was commissioned (as was “Energy and Me”, award winning release….wait, can you hear someone blowing their own horn ?….in 2001 ) by Project Learning Tree .
Past Production Flyer Gallery
No, I do not have a science or science ed degree. I never taught science in a class. I do it now in about three to four hundred shows a year.
When I first started writing the chants for “The Singing Tree”, trying to simplify a trees physiology, I quickly realized my assumptions of how things worked were just that, assumptions. So I sought out biologists and botanists to “vet” my lyrics and my dance representations. I also started what has become a life long study of the natural world and it’s processes. Each one of my subsequent recordings ( 9 ) and live shows ( 12 ) have been reviewed by people trained in the related sciences and has involved a number of related organizations and individuals. Some examples are, The Cleveland Museum of Natural History commissioned and vetted two shows, “The Rainforest Chorus ” and “Geology Rocks”, The World Wildlife Fund commissioned and vetted “Bio, Bio, Biodiversity” both a recording and a live show. There is a story behind each project .
My music helps children learn science because it works with their natural behaviors. If they hear a melody they like (do you remember doing this as a kid?) they will listen to it over and over again. If that song contains important vocabulary they will become comfortable hearing and pronouncing those words (photosynthesis comes to mind as many kids pronounce it as photo sym fa sis). I think everyone has experienced knowing a song for years before the meaning of the lyrics suddenly becomes clear in a personal moment of understanding. If that moment of understanding involves a basic concept of how life on this planet works, say transpiration or pollination, then my song has done it’s job.
From the beginning of my career I have told people that the kids have taught me that kids want to do two things, move and make noise. So if I am talking or singing about roots absorbing water and minerals then I have the kids make a loud slurping sound (gross sound effects are always a crowd pleaser). The kids and I do “The Root Dance”. The wiggling fingers on their legs representing the absorbing root hairs. I have been doing this for 33 years and the kids still teach me what is effective and what is not.
Three or four times a year I get emails that mean a lot to me. They are from parents or young adults (the last one was from a mom of a MIT biology student) saying what a good influence my music was and how they feel it helped bring them to their present path. I get hilarious fan mail from students “I looked over at all the teachers and they were clapping, and chuckling and having a good time (which is, believe me , hard to come by)” and this same 5th grader goes on to say “I learned a lot today… I always wondered about fructose and all those other ingredients with a “cose” on the end in my cereal ingredients”. This was in response to my photosynthesis/glucose routine which is presented basically as stand-up comedy. He/She signed the letter, “your smart friend, Anushak”.
My goal is to try and help the students, and the teachers and who ever hears my songs or sees my performances, realize we are directly involved in all the natural cycles around us. Understanding those cycles, even in the most basic but accurate ways, will help us reach sustainable behaviors . Using song and dance is using a language kids use every day. Watch two ten years olds share a story and it’s always accompanied by sound effects and exaggerated motions. I want their attention to communicate my message and I am willing to use their style to get it. And I love the fact that it keeps me healthy, physically and emotionally.