Rockin’ at the preschool: Award-winning musician brings his tunes into the classroom



Last modified: Thursday, January 29, 2015

Back in 2000, musician Nick Deysher was on his way to an interview for a job as a preschool teacher when he decided to grab his guitar and take it along. Good decision.

Deysher, now of Leeds, got the job, and since then, the award-winning musician has blended his love of music with his passion for teaching young children. Since 2013, he’s been doing just that as a music supervising teacher at Smith College’s Fort Hill Center for Early Childhood Education in Northampton.

Deysher also performs professionally with his wife, Tracey Freitag, under the name In the Nick of Time. The two released their first album, “Coconut Groove,” in 2007. Their next two albums, “People, Places, and Things” (2009) and “Making Silly Faces” (2011), both won Parent’s Choice awards. The couple’s latest album, “Fun O’Clock,” was released in October.

Before devoting himself full-time to teaching, Deysher had taken the usual musician’s route, playing gigs whenever and wherever the opportunity arose: From 2001 to 2005, he was in what he calls “a sort of funk band” called Johnny Most, which played covers of music by such artists as Stevie Wonder and The Beatles, as well as original compositions. That was fine, he says, but he discovered he really liked the way kids responded to his music.

“I was playing with a group of guys out in the bars. ... People are talking loud and smoking cigarettes and not paying attention to what you’re doing,” he said. “Then I would walk into school the next day and just strum a chord on the guitar and the kids would light up and get so excited.”

Deysher graduated from Bates College in Maine in 2000 with a major in music composition, but he had decided to minor in education; he says he’d always enjoyed working with children and decided he needed a fall-back position in case the professional music thing didn’t work out.

In Lexington, just out of college, he secured a job teaching preschool-age children at the LEAP School — the job he had applied for with his guitar in tow. He was an instant hit with the kids, he says, and they with him.

“It sort of unlocked a lot of music possibilities that I had never really explored before,” Deysher said.

But, after years of playing in bars, for adults, he says, he pretty quickly exhausted his children’s music repertoire. So he began to write his own brand of kids’ music. It was another serendipitous decision that ultimately led to those award-winning albums.

Freitag says her husband’s students really keep him on his toes.

“They’re so brutally honest,” she said. “If they don’t like it they’ll put their hands on their ears and stomp around. They don’t have any filter; they just jump up and down. It’s like a little kid mosh pit and they sing along and have so much fun.”

Deysher taught at the LEAP school until 2005, when he moved with Freitag to Miami to study media writing and production at the University of Miami, Frost School of Music. While there, he won the Fred Rogers Memorial Scholarship from the Television Academy of Arts and Sciences. Using his award money, he built a home-studio and began producing his own music, including his first three albums.

Eight years later, the couple moved back in Lexington, where Deysher taught again at the LEAP school, until 2013, when a friend sent him a job posting for the Fort Hill job. He applied, got the job and joined the staff in August 2013.

Mixing it up

All the while, the couple had continued to produce children’s music together. Their latest album, “Fun O’Clock,” incorporates a mixture of musical genres.

“One of my main goals in education and music is trying to expose children to a big variety of what’s out there. So that kind of broadens their musical genres and their kind of tastes,” Deysher said. “We drew on influences ranging from old-school hip-hop to Renaissance choral music, but still stayed true to our rocking roots. ... I like to say that this album is a celebration of 100 years of popular music and a musical trip around the globe.”

Deysher says it’s important that his music is accessible and enjoyable for both parents and kids.

“If we can create with our music an experience where the whole family is finding enjoyment together, that’s great,” Deysher said. “There’s no better way to experience music than with people you care about.”

Since moving back the area, Deysher and Freitag have played at local venues and festivals including the Smith College art museum, the “Meltdown: Family Music and Book Fest” hosted by 93.9 The River, and the Eric Carle Museum, where they will perform again in January. Deysher says the Pioneer Valley is supportive of music and the arts, and they plan stay in the area.

“I think for us to really put down some solid roots here and to play out more and to get a really strong base out of this area would be great,” he said. “That would be kind of the first step to solidifying where we’re at.”

Though there are no immediate plans for another album — Deysher’s full-time job at Fort Hill and Freitag’s full-time telecommuting position with the sales department for Marriott Hotels keep them busy — Freitag says they think about dedicating themselves full-time to creating and performing children’s music.

“I think that’s the dream,” she said.



In the Nick of Time will perform Jan. 10, 2015, at 11 a.m. at the Eric Carle Museum of Picture Book Art, 125 West Bay Road, Amherst. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at www.carlemuseum.org.


 


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