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Eric West grew up in the foothills southwest of Denver, near Conifer, Colorado.  His early music influences were recordings of Burl Ives and the Kingston Trio, as well as classical music.  He began playing the String Bass in the fourth grade, and got a degree in Music Education form the University of Denver’s Lamont School of Music in 1980.  He still plays bass with The Jefferson Symphony and occasionally in the pit orchestra of The Evergreen Chorale.  He is a self- taught guitar and banjo player, maker and player of many unusual instruments and dancing limber jack puppets.  As a former preschool music teacher, Eric has learned how to include his entire audience in his shows.

An Interview With Eric West

Q: When did you become interested in music?
A: I grew up listening to folk music from Burl Ives to the Kingston Trio. I started playing the string bass in fourth grade and continued with that through college, where I attended the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver. While I was trained in classical music, in high school my passion was jazz and I played electric bass with the Evergreen High School Jazz Band.

Q: Are you a Colorado native?
A: Yes. I grew up near Conifer, moved away for eight years, and ended up moving basically across the street from where I grew up.

Q: What made you become a children’s performer and how long have you been doing this?
A: While I was getting my Bachelor of Music Education degree, I realized how much I enjoyed working with young children. I taught pre-school for two years where I was involved with the Colorado Association for the Education of Young Children. I had this strange notion that maybe I could write and sing songs for a living and that’s what I’ve been doing since 1982.

Q: Have you seen a lot of changes in children during that time?
A: Kids are kids. They are so open and willing to sing, dance, be silly and just play. I do think that the various electronic distractions in life has a huge impact on children. The ability to sit through any kind of live performance, focus, experience something that asks them to give something of themselves back, has become more difficult. Live performance that honors the intelligence of our children is more critical than ever.

Q: I understand you make some of your instruments?
A: Yes. I started a long time ago making bird whistles out of film canisters. I dabbled in making African drums and clay flutes for awhile. Later I realized that I could enhance the show by making limberjacks that are tied into the songs I sing. Motivated by concern about our throwaway society, I have recently started making instruments out of recycled stuff. For instance, I made a “Panjo” out of a frying pan that I now use in performances.

Q: Do you use your songs to try to raise kids’ awareness of the world around them?
A: My number one goal is to engage kids in a way that makes music meaningful to them. But sure, sometimes writing songs is a wonderful outlet. I think my job is to be a creative facilitator-to spark ideas. Songs like “Grandpa’s Homemade Chevrolet” are mostly about the “creative process.” Another example is a specialized show I created, called “Woah, New Sound.” I wanted to help kids think through what sounds are and how music was born. Before MP3 players, there were people who lived in caves, and they had music too. In doing this, though, my goal is to spark new thoughts, not to preach.

Q: What’s the best thing music can do for a child?
A: To enjoy and create music is something that is available to everyone and undeniably changes peoples lives. Kids show us that music is primal. I start singing a song and invite them to join in. What they instinctively offer is dancing and laughing and singing. It’s innate and natural. Music can empower children to create. Singing and playing together is one of the most powerful ways I know for people of any age to connect as community.