STEVE SCHUCH Taps into his Roots with TREES OF LIFE Roots
go down, leaves come up
A bit of care and a measure of luck
The Trees of Life will yet grow tall
The seeds inside of us all
and multi-instrumentalist STEVE SCHUCH has created an engaging album
for children and families. Trees of Life: Songs of Friendship
& The Earth not only entertains youngsters, but also
encourages them to think more deeply about nature, community and
the way our world interconnects.
"The songs were chosen to inspire
wonder and spark creativity in children," explains Schuch (pronounced
"shook"). The underlying beauty of the lyrics and melodies
is something parents appreciate too. Many of the songs are audience
favorites from Schuch's 20 years of touring and performing. "People
kept asking when I was going to record this album. Well, here it
Schuch is uniquely qualified for a project
like Trees of Life. A former Audubon naturalist and
Peace Corps volunteer, he studied both music and biology at Oberlin
College. Schuch also is the founder of the best-selling instrumental
group The Night Heron Consort. Both his music and storytelling
reflect a great love of nature. In addition to music, Schuch has
written two children's books -- The Gift of the Wee Folk
(an ancient Irish tale illustrated by Marcia Gardner) and A
Symphony of Whales(illustrated by Peter Sylvada
and published by Harcourt Brace). Based on the true musical rescue
of 3,000 whales, the story received five national book awards. Schuch's
accompanying music for violin, orchestra and whales has been performed
seven times and featured on National Public Radio's "Performance
In addition to making great family listening, the album works well
as a tool for teachers (especially grades K-5). The CD booklet contains
song explanations and helpful hints for student participation. Schuch
is often hired by schools to conduct concerts and workshops. For
four years he taught a course at Antioch New England Graduate School
on integrating music into classroom curriculum. "Music and
stories are doorways to the imagination. They are a powerful force
to develop minds that can remember and think creatively," he
says. For more on Schuch's performances,
workshops, and "Resources
for Parents & Educators," call 1-800-785-9678.
While Schuch has recorded seven previous albums, Trees
of Life is his first CD specifically for children. On the
album, he plays acoustic guitar, violin, 10-string violin, viola
and hand percussion. An all-star cast of studio musicians and children's
chorus add variety and depth to the recording. Schuch wrote 11 of
the songs, created fresh arrangements for several traditional tunes,
and does a new version of Harry Belafonte's "Turn The World
Around." The album has received a Parents' Choice Gold Award.
On the surface, Trees of Life is largely
about animals and nature. But there are other layers here too. "Ibis
the Whale," "The Little Prince," and "Giving
Tree" explore the meaning of friendship and growing older.
"Silent Huntress" evokes the mysterious beauty of nighttime
and owls. The song, "If I Had Wings," introduces the wonder
of flight. "The Animal Song" and "Garden Round"
are simply a hoot, filled with playful puns and sound-alike words.
Schuch, who speaks three languages, introduces multi-cultural themes
in lively compositions such as "Two Different Worlds"
and "Zeno-ba-ba-da." "Where Will We Go" is sung
from the perspective of songbirds migrating from South America to
North America (and back). "Sap Time" delves into nature's
seasons and taking just enough for your needs (in this case, tapping
sap for maple syrup without hurting the tree).
Schuch tapped into his own roots for Trees of
Life. Those roots reach all the way back to his childhood
when the favorite story his mother read to him was about Wawona,
a giant redwood tree with thousands of years of history. Steve grew
up on the outskirts of Cincinnati, Ohio, where he roamed through
woods and cornfields. One of his favorite teachers kept a five-foot
alligator in the classroom, along with a tarantula named "Mr.
Softy." Steve's love of nature deepened on camping trips with
his father, and summers spent with his grandparents in rural Wisconsin.
At age seven Steve began a lifetime of violin playing.
During high school, he played in the Cincinnati Youth Symphony and
was concert master of the Interlochen Summer Youth Orchestra. At
the same time Schuch began performing professionally with various
chamber orchestras and also started composing music.
musical turning point came during Steve's studies at Oberlin College
where he first met legendary folk-artist Pete Seeger. "Watching
Pete get a crowd singing was a real revelation," remembers
Schuch. Hearing Seeger's live renditions of "Abiyoyo"
and "The Garden Song" inspired Schuch to begin playing
acoustic guitar. At the same time, he started branching out from
baroque violin into jazz, Celtic and bluegrass fiddle music. In
later years, he would have a chance to perform with Pete Seeger
on the sloop "Clearwater," sailing up and down the Hudson
River from Albany to New York City. Schuch spent a season on the
ship's crew giving concerts and teaching about the ecology of the
river. "We'd perform for inner city kids, suburban kids, parents,
dockworkers, everyone who was there."
After college, Schuch joined the Peace Corps and went
to the Dominican Republic. For two-and-a-half-years he planted trees,
worked on soil conservation projects, and taught English in a remote
mountain village. Many evenings a guitar would be passed around.
By lantern light, we shared music and stories over cups of ginger-root
tea and home-grown coffee. I learned a lot of different melodies
and rhythms there, and began writing more of my own music.
Back home Steve pursued both classical and folk music.
He also worked as a naturalist for the Audubon Society at a nature
center in New Hampshire. It was during this time that he began writing
some of the songs on Trees of Life. He released his
first three albums -- Circle of Days, Fields
of Summer and Wellspring: Live at the Folkway
(the latter with renowned storyteller Odds Bodkin and containing
Schuch's popular "Whale Trilogy").
went on to form The Night Heron Consort. Their critically-acclaimed
recordings -- Crossing The Waters, A Celtic Celebration Volumes
1 & 2 and The Shores of Lillisand -- are
national bestsellers on the North Star label. Schuch composed and
performed the soundtracks for several PBS television documentaries
including "Birds Without Borders" (on neotropical migratory
birds) and "Liveable Landscapes" (concerned with land
development issues). Additional credits include composer awards,
artist fellowships, five national book awards for A Symphony
of Whales, and five fiddling championships.
A versatile performing artist, Schuch divides his
time equally between working with children and adult audiences.
He tours throughout the U.S. and Europe, performing everywhere from
schools and townhalls to classical series, folk festivals and The
Schuch is no stranger to unusual venues. "The
one winter up in Alaska, I played in several villages above the
Arctic Circle. We'd land on these frozen rivers at 50 degrees below
zero, with the violin and guitar packed inside mummy sleeping bags
to keep them from cracking," he recalls. Other memorable performances
include playing on the wind swept summit of Mount Monadnock, inside
a tidal sea cave, and serenading a cow
as part of an "onomatopoeic" recording of "The
Twelve Days of Christmas." *
When not on the road, Steve lives with his wife and
various creatures on a farm in New Hampshire. They include two snakes,
a freckled cat, and a mess of fantastic pigs.
"Children's minds are so open and receptive,
it's a great responsibility what you put in them," says Schuch.
"In making Trees of Life, I asked myself what
songs would be meaningful on more than one level. Something that
speaks across the generations. The answer for me was songs about
friendship, the wonder of living things, and how everything on this
planet is related."
* For a video of Steve with
Kerry Cow and "The Twelve Days of Christmas," click
'Trees of Life' Review
"Folk singer/songwriter Steve Schuch goes for the heart, painting
vivid musical pictures of the world as both home and source of wonder,
far removed from the artificiality of pop culture. "Ibis the
Whale" is based on a real whale rescue; "Giving Tree"
is based on Shel Silverstein's soulful book; "The Little Prince"
comes from Antoine de Saint Exupery's poignant fable; and Schuch's
dream-like "Where Will We Go" follows the imperiled migration
In a more playful mode, Schuch invites wordplay participation in
"The Animal Song" and "The Garden Round," a
spoken round of tongue-twisting repetition. The varied instrumentals
match the album's lyric beauty. The CD liner notes shouldn't be
overlooked; they're filled with suggestions for learning, play and