The Langley Schools Music Project
updated: 01/03



I stumbled on an interview on National Public Radio's Todd Mundt Show, and first learned of the Langley Schools Music Project. As I sat there in my truck eating lunch, I listened to clips of the children singing. I was horrified at my emotional reaction to what I was hearing.

As an adult still making sense of a somewhat abusive childhood, I am discovering how much of my innocence was given over to despair and the desperate attempts I made to cope with my pain. I listened to the children singing adult songs, many of which were quite popular during the height of some of my personal trauma. Suddenly ghosts emerged from my heart, my mind, the bowels of my soul. I sang those songs as a child. I sang Simon and Garfunkel, Karen Carpenter, and the inebriated ballads of Charlie Rich. I was six, seven, eight, even nine years old then.

I do not know what it is I am trying to say in all this, except to say that these recording, which I will soon own, have opened a chasm within me that makes Pandora's box seem like little more than a child's toy chest. Today my world has changed, perhaps forever. I am a grown man, 33 years of age, who has thought himself strong, and resolved to the issues of yesterday. Now I do not know if I should ask God to curse you for resurrecting this project, or thank you from that bottom of my heart for helping unearth a woundedness long since hidden, and now aching to heal. For now I will say Thank you.

--Tim Wade

A few days ago I picked up Innocence and Despair, which I'd ordered at a local music store. I was looking forward to listening to all the selections, having only heard samples on the web site and a couple of complete selections on CBC Radio. I skipped directly to "Desperado," sung so beautifully by Sheila Behman and, just as when I'd first heard this on the radio, I found tears quickly filling my eyes. I went through a few tissues while appreciating this album. Many of the selections evoke the same feelings so aptly described in the title of the CD. Songs like "God Only Knows," "In My Room," and "Wildfire" stand out in this regard, but my favorite is "Desperado." "Help Me Rhonda," "Rhiannon," and "Good Vibrations" are memorable in the way they bring out the rampant enthusiasm still lurking within us adults and oh-so-ready to bubble to the surface in children.

I remember first hearing "Desperado" on CBC Radio. I'd been working on the computer, but as the song was introduced and then began, I had to stand, turn up the volume and get close to the radio to hear it better. I felt right away that this was something very very special. I'm 49, a guy, and yet there I was, just about weeping as the song played. I can't explain why it moves me so much. I've heard of similar reactions in other people and read many of the erudite reviews of this song and the CD. Whatever magic was present that day when Hans and Sheila let the universe unfold as it should has carried forward through time, and still has the power to touch us all in a very profound and moving way.

Thank you Hans. Thank you Sheila. Love to you both.

--Laszlo Gabor

Dear Hans,

I bought the Langley cd off the internet. I'd heard the British writer, Hanif Kureshi, who is a big fish in the arts world and a proselytizer, say on BBC Radio 3 that it was one of his favorites. I have to agree. I was quite unprepared for it. Something was profoundly moving and I cried throughout the whole thing. I work as a playwright (for the National Theatre here) and screenwriter (most recently of the film Billy Elliot), and know how difficult it is to create something that has complexity and directness at the same time, but I think you managed it.

I have also worked with kids a lot, mostly doing drama, and I know how difficult it is to create something that overcomes their technical limitations and to free their innate creativity. When this happens it's sublime because there's an honesty which is very unusual. Anyway, with the best intentions it happens very rarely, but your cd just overflows with it. I felt humbled but completely uplifted.

Believe me, I am the last person to write such gushing emails, but feel as if I had to tell you how moving and inspiring I found the recordings. I'm so glad you're still working with kids. You have an indisputable gift, but on purely musical terms I thought the arrangements superb and harnessed your resources with immense grace and taste. I imagine it must be quite strange to get all this applause for something you did so long ago, but you should know it's some of the finest music I've heard, without qualification.

My respect and best wishes,

--Lee Hall

I was recently introduced to this CD by my son, an aspiring teacher. I first listened to it with him in my truck with only some verbal background from him. We laughed at some of the parts, especially the music and picturing the students.

I then read the book and listened to the CD at home, and gained a profound appreciation for your efforts. Your students were truly blessed to have you as a teacher. Having the recording for the world to appreciate is a bonus. I have never heard anything as sweet, and not one single sour note was heard. They may have been there, but if you listen with the knowledge of what this was about, you cannot hear them.

I am your age and lived in a small town in Northern California. I remember my grammar school choir singing Christmas Carols on TV (local station) and ringing sleigh bells (my Mom had a set of genuine camel bells that passed). Later I participated in a city pageant with costumes and props. I continued singing in school Glee Clubs through Junior High, until I finally realized I couldn't sing. I was never discouraged by my teachers. I made the decision.

The CD brought back fond memories of a time when teachers did more than teach. They allowed students to explore and learn. I hope my son develops the same attitude towards teaching. You certainly have opened his eyes to the possibilities of impacting his students.

As a side note, I believe the movie "Mr. Holland's Opus" could have been about you. Teachers like you who inspire your students to try will surely lead them to succeed.

--John Drew

"The Langley Schools Music Project is the celebration of passion over skill. They have done the impossible. They have made Paul McCartney's music interesting and put it on equal footing with Brian Wilson's music. They understand these songs better than the people that wrote them. This is real folk music."
--Penn Jillette (Penn and Teller)

Am currently listening to Langley School CD. On "Calling Occupants," I can't help notice the similarity of the backing gamelan/percussion to Glaswegian post rock noiseniks MOGWAI. Check out Mogwai Fear Satan for comparison. My 11-year-old daughter reckons the Langley Schools CD is crap, just like her school choir.
--Jamie Mack - On the Outsde, Looking Out....

I was getting e-mails about the "Langley Schools Project." At first I didn't pay much attention, but I started finding reviews in high-profile publications. My interest was piqued, partly because I am a huge fan of children's recordings, and have collected more than a hundred -- I started way back in 1970 with a tune called "Mill Valley." I still had no intention of purchasing "Langley". Then I went to the Langley website and read the reviews. I started thinking, "There must be something to this -- maybe I will buy it and see what the fuss is about." So I went to Tower and bought "Langley." I put it in my player and thought, "I just coughed up 16 bucks for this, please let it be good!"

I put it on track 13, "Desperado," because the reviews singled this track out for special praise.

It's hard to put into words how I felt on listening. It struck me that I was listening to something sublime. This recording has the most otherworldly sense of melancholy and an almost unbearable feeling of innocence. I played it again and am not ashamed to say tears were rolling down my cheeks.

I've listened to this track five times this morning, and I'm gonna listen to it again. I consider this the best song I've found in the last year, and one of the best I've heard in my LIFE. Yes it was WORTH the money! I haven't even listened to the other tracks yet but this one makes it all worthwhile. Thanks very much for putting it out.
--Art Longmire

"I'd like to thank you for seeing that the 'Langley School's Music Project' was made available to the public. I thoroughly enjoyed the segment on NPR's Weekend Edition. I have never been a fan of the Eagles, but hearing Sheila Behman's rendition of 'Desperado' brought tears to my eyes, it was so precious. Every song I heard was so dark and touching. Many, many thank you's!"
--Rebecca McBride

"This morning I received a letter by Rob Chrispijn that he had to pull over his car at highway exit Almere Noord, because of too much tears during 'Desperado' sung by the Langley girl [which was aired on Radio 2]. Think we received a lot of responses at the office too."
--Jacques (DJ, Radio 2 - second largest station in Netherlands)

"I taught music in public schools for 31 years. This is the A+ in childrens' interests, plus the parents' interests. We need to realize folk music is good, and some of the pop 'folk' music is even better! Keep hangin' in there, Mr. Fenger. I LOVE IT!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! "
--Kathleen Wood (Texas)

"You've done a great service by making this happen. I find the music to be eerie, inspiring, disturbing, beautiful, morose, and otherworldly, sometimes all at the same time."
--David Licata

"The Langley Schools Music Project is unlistenable by me because I have a lifelong phobia of children, particularly children's voices. This saved me from all of the usual childhood diseases. For me the great thing about this record is the room tone of what is evidently a gym. Since I have never been in a gym, I don't have any associations, good or bad, so I can just appreciate the boom... until someone starts singing."
--Stephin Merritt (The Magnetic Fields)

"Congratulations on the Langley Schools Music Project. Wonderful. I'll give it plenty of exposure."
--Dr. Demento

"What a find this music is -- it transcends all categorization."
--Don Brockway

"The Langley CD is blowing my band away! They beg to hear it when they come over!"
--Rebecca Moore (Knitting Factory recording artist)

Those of us who are not gifted musicians with a big record contract can understand the Langley Schools Music Project on its most basic level. There is a desire in many of us to express ourselves musically. For me, it is down in the basement with a beat-up Hondo electric guitar (with four strings) and an old DuKane school PA amplifier. The results, while certainly not up to any professional level, certainly make me feel good.

In that context, Sheila Behman's rendition of "Desperado" is one of the most sublime recordings ever made. It approaches and perhaps equals the beauty of such lofty efforts as Mozart's Requiem and Barber's Adagio, both of which never fail to bring tears to my eyes. I'm not ashamed to tell you that Sheila's tender reading of "Desperado" and the haunting piano arrangement will stay with me my whole life. Remarkably, a nine-year-old girl completely topped the originators of the song, delivering a level of sincerity unknown in a Hollywood recording studio. I never liked the Eagles or Linda Ronstadt. I had to live through that whole time period subjected to the execrable "Hotel California" and Ronstadt's wretched cover tunes. Little Sheila Behman and Hans Fenger have brought an esthetic poetic justice to that time in my life. Thank you for bringing it to me.

--Neil Hever Program Director
WDIY FM, Allentown, PA

My stereo is set to start up every morning at 6 a.m. with whatever CD happens to be in it at the time. Depending on if I think of it before I go to bed, I set the volume to be a relaxing wakeup call, but usually I put it so low that I can barely hear it when I awake.

This morning around 6 o'clock, I began to have a dream that I was back at Blessed Sacrament Catholic grade school. I'm not sure how or why, but I began to sob heavily out of fear, remorse, and nostalgia. I woke still shaking and realized that the Langley School Music Project was playing softly in my room.

I am a 21-year-old, urban college student. My emotional index has dwindled intensely since my grade school years. I don't remember the last time I wept -- not just cried but wept. And this CD, unconciously playing in the background, brought it straight out of me.

I'm not exactly sure who to thank, but I am so glad to have this CD as a reminder of my age of innocence and despair.

Thank you,
--Joseph Coughlin

I work at Arons Records in Los Angeles, an indie vinyl/obscure type of shop. The other day we got in the Langley CD. Upon hearing it, I fell in love with it. It was at once haunting, eerie and beautiful. Then I started to read the booklet that came with the disc, and became completely immersed in this story. It was everything that a good story means to me and everything that music means to me and should mean to all. I remember buying records and diving into them all day and living in and around them for weeks. That is what kids feel about music and especially songs that speak to them. For me it was The Smiths' "The Queen Is Dead" or David Bowie records.
--Mark Phinney

[Found on Songbirds, a listserv "devoted to discussions of the legendary female vocalists of classic pop and jazz," in which subscribers submitted 'Bests of 2001' and recent discoveries]

Best Canadian Songbird has to be nine-year old (in '76) Sheila Behman whose "Desperado" (on The Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence and Despair) is the most moving of performances I heard this year. The versions by the Eagles and Linda Ronstadt might have convinced you it's an insipid song, but when Sheila sings "oh freedom," ... Other songs on The Langley Schools Project CD, a reissue of 1976-77 recordings made in a western Canada school gym, have given me smiles and laughs galore over the past weeks. The enthusiasm of the 60-voice chorus and the avant-garde percussion on "Help Me, Rhonda" make it a marketable cure for depression. The production "values" on "Space Oddity" owe something to the inspiration of Phil Spector and Sun Ra and the amazing acoustics of that rural Canadian gym. Music teacher Hans Fenger ties Tedd Firth for best accompanist.

--Bill Blackwell
Fairfax Station, VA

I purchased the Langley Schools record today after having first read about it in Rolling Stone and then being reminded of it by a discussion on a Beach Boy's SMiLE Web board. It is amazing. I too agree that the kid's versions of "Desperado," "Band on the Run," and "The Long and Winding Road" are actually BETTER than the originals, and that's saying something. Thank you for making it available.

I played it for a whole group of my friends the other night, and everyone was spellbound. The last note of "The Long and Winding Road" got everyone. Smiles all around! I am now off to band practice where I will preach its greatness to those fellows as well.

Rock Over London, Rock On Langley!

--Doug Flood
Omaha, NE

A music journalist friend here in Hollywood called and told me about this wacky record he'd just bought of a Jr. High chorus singing songs by some of my favorite artists, and proceeded to play it for me over the phone. It was the "Langley" record. I ran right out and bought it.

I just wanted to tell you that this is the best record I've bought in quite a while. Hans Fenger's choice of material for a Jr. High chorus is just SO amazing. Rock Show, Space Oddity, and my favorite song ever, God Only Knows -- and to hear 60 kids sing these in unison just gives you the most insane warm, fuzzy feeling. I'm the same age as most of these kids are now. There was no better period for pop music than the 60's and 70's, and this just proves the point further.

I'm a musician and this is the coolest thing I've ever heard. I have already turned people on to this record. Me and a few friends sat and listened to it and "Desperado" nearly brought one of them to tears. She made me play it again a few more times. Thanx for having the guts and good sense to put this out, and I hope it sells tons so the kids at Langley can get more money for their music program

Rock n Roll...

--Jim Bacchi - guitarist/songwriter

I am a teacher from British Columbia, Canada and have read with great interest about the amazing Langley Schools Project recording. Thanks for bringing such widespread attention to the project. Not only does it reinforce the value of music education for all students (talented or not) but gives us an important example of an innovative teacher who has influenced his students with his teaching abilities and honest interest for their personal connections to music.

--Corrie Cheshire

Thanks for a great Christmas. My wife and I are old folkies. You and the kids brought back a lot of goood memories this blessed afternoon. My daughter gave us the CD. I had heard the interview with Irwin on the CBC a few weeks ago. We have listened to the album a lot and it just gets better.

Hans, what struck me was your leadership.skills and being able of enthuse and provoke such a wonderful response from the kids. They were so turned on that the songs jump off the CD. You are nothing short of a genius to have motivated the kids and then shaped them into an enthusiastic musical group, while not sweating the small stuff.

I know that it is a one off and that fact makes it all the more special. God bless and thanks to you both.

--Ian Hamilton
Hamilton House

One of our favorite customer reviews:

October 16, 2002
Reviewer: A music fan from California
"The Brady Kids in Disguise"

Absolutely, positively, HORRIBLE! Just listen to the sound samples and hear for yourself. I had heard good things about this album. Someone obviously has a screw loose to think this was good enough for release. Bru-ther.

Dear Irwin,

I'm happy for the success of this record etc. etc. but I really can't stand listening to it.

But I love you anyway.
--Sally Eckhoff

>> Read reaction from David Graupner, President/CEO of TM Century, Inc., here ...



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