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The Langley Schools Music Project

Innocence and Despair (Bar None)

As is the case with most "outsider art," the tale of the Langley Schools Music Project is full of serendipity. It begins in the mid-1970s, when a longhaired, underemployed hippie named Hans Fenger takes a job teaching music at three elementary schools in the rural Langley District of western Canada. Bored by conventional kids' songs he believes are "condescending," Fenger chooses instead to instruct his students on the finer points of the Beach Boys, Fleetwood Mac and David Bowie. He also exposes them to all sorts of instruments, including Orff xylophones and metallophones (because they have removable keys, Fenger can adjust the instruments so no "wrong" notes are played).

Eventually, Fenger gathers the kids in the school gymnasium and captures their covers of such songs as "Help Me, Rhonda" and "Band on the Run" on a two-track tape deck. Later, he presses 300 LPs for the kids and their families. And that's that -- until, more than 20 years later, a Canadian man discovers one of the original records in a thrift store and turns it over to New York radio DJ/outsider music connoisseur Irwin Chusid to play on his Incorrect Music Hour. Chusid, taken by the strange collection, tracks down Fenger (still teaching in Vancouver), discovers he has a second LP from another recording session, and soon the complete collection is being released by Bar None Records for the whole planet to enjoy.

And enjoy it we should. These children are not professionals or prodigies, but that's what makes this odd assemblage so endearing. The naïveté of their performances carries the music above the kitsch level to a place that is magical and good. Wavering from tinny to boisterous, Fenger's students belt out the tunes with no worries about how they'll sound. They fling themselves with reckless abandon into their playing (check out the overstimulated drummer in "Space Oddity"). And the wistful catch in nine-year-old Sheila Behman's voice as she sings "Desperado" will make any feeling person choke up. The longing and exuberance in these creations will stay with you, reminding you of that brief but wonderful time in life when you were never afraid to sing out loud.

 
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