erasing clouds

The Langley Schools Music Project, Innocence & Despair (Bar/None)

reviewed by Erin Hucke

Once upon a time in the late 1970s, there was a young elementary school music teacher in rural Canada named Hans Fenger. Fenger, who was somewhat inexperienced as a teacher and who previously had been a struggling rock musician, taught his students the joys of music through material the children loved to sing, the pop songs of their day. The kids sang songs from The Beach Boys and Wings. They sang songs from Fleetwood Mac and the Bay City Rollers. Fenger and nearly 150 fourth through seventh graders from the four schools where he taught eventually recorded the songs in a gymnasium with poor acoustics on a two-track recorder using only two microphones. The music was released on two separate vinyl LPs in 1976 and 1977 for the students, parents and faculty of the schools.

Then more than 20 years later, Irwin Chusid, an author of a book about outsider music, learned of the recordings and took steps to remaster and release the original recordings from the Langley district schools to a wider audience than anyone could have imagined.


In the 19 tracks of The Langley Schools Music Project, a variety of 60s and 70s rock and pop songs are represented, from the Beach Boys' "Good Vibrations" to Neil Diamond's "Sweet Caroline." But the standout tracks are a spooky version of David Bowie's "Space Odyssey," which sounds much like the children's chorus from Pink Floyd's "The Wall," and "Desparado," the Eagles classic sung by a 9-year-old soloist with a voice and emotive style far older than she was at the time.

The instrumentation is sparse and unsophisticated; mostly acoustic guitar, drums struck off beat and clear hits of a xylophone. The children's voices veer off-key and back on again, and go from very quiet to very loud very quickly. But it's the flaws that give the music character and make it real.

The Langley Schools Music Project is a unique artifact of a time past. The songs, divided into two categories, innocence and despair, evoke both a childlike energy and haunting spirit from a time and place long gone from the world of today.

Issue 9, April 2002 | next article

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