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Local Singer/Songwriter Patricia Shih Talks With the VT About Her Band’s Upcoming Very Cool Multi-Media Show at the Vanderbilt Planetarium

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VT: You’ve been involved in the music industry for a long time, can you give me a condensed history of your life as a singer-songwriter?

PS:I’ll try; putting over 4 decades into a few paragraphs is hard!  But here goes the digest version…

I started singing, writing songs and playing guitar at age 14 in Maryland with another girl, a neighbor named Gigi.  We listened to the music of The Beatles, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Judy Collins, The Byrds, Joan Baez and so much more.  Being young and naive, at 15 we auditioned for the head of a record company in Washington DC and surprisingly got signed to not just our first recording contract but also a managerial one.  The company groomed us to be professionals and got us tremendous gigs like playing at the Washington Monument Mall with Pete Seeger in front of 7,000 people at the very first Earth Day.

So at 15 we continued writing songs and performed professionally in clubs, restaurants and coffeehouses in the area, then on TV and radio — we were kind of like Taylor Swift but nowhere near as big!  A 45 rpm single (Unicorn Records) was released the next year.  Back then, making a record with an established label was a big deal.  People couldn’t easily make their own albums, like now.  But eventually we left that company and got a booking agent who sent us on an east coast tour, which further seasoned us.  That early validation of our music was a crucial key in setting me on this path.

When I was 20 I left the duo to move to San Francisco to attend art college (I hold a BFA in painting) and to perform solo, even busking on the streets which was great fun at that age!  6 years later I moved back east to New York and worked as a glass artist.  But I was missing the music and other musicians, so in 1984 I met a group of artists, dancers and musicians in Huntington.  In 1986 one of these friends — Janice Buckner — suggested I try performing for children and families in schools and libraries while continuing to perform for adults.  I made my first LP for grown-up listeners in 1988, “Leap of Faith” (Flying Fish/Rounder Records) and my first album for children, “Big Ideas!”(Glass Records) in 1990.  In the mid-90s I was fortunate to host a twice-daily Cablevision TV show called “Tell Me A Story” with my husband Stephen Fricker, aimed at preschool and early elementary school children.  It was a variety show sort of modeled on MTV.

Since then I have performed in all kinds of venues — from schools, libraries, parks, festivals, clubs and coffeehouses to huge places like the Washington Monument Mall again (three times) and Madison Square Garden.  The latter two were for the Girl Scouts, both amazing gigs!  I have written and produced three more CDs for children — “Making Fun!” “The Power of One” and “Your ImaginEngine!” and another one for adults, “Woman with One Closed Eye” (all Glass Records).  I am so very grateful to have had such a long, varied and fulfilling career.

VT: You’ve experienced writing and performing with adults and children. In your opinion which is more difficult and which is more fun?

PS: I wouldn’t say any of it was difficult; maybe challenging is a better term.  And both are tremendous fun!  Each kind of audience has its own set of parameters.  With adults you can really dig into very meaty subject matter because of their mature intellectual and emotional lives.  They get more of the subtle jokes, they understand lyrical and musical nuances.  They have longer attention spans!  And they are more polite if they don’t like you, which thankfully doesn’t happen often.  I’m an adult when performing and writing for adults.

But with kids, I “grow down” into a big kid!  Yet at the same time I see myself as a teacher to them as well.  I like to open up their ears, hearts and minds to the wider world around them while also having a lot of fun and making them laugh too.  I have to admit, when I first started performing for kids I was scared to death because I had no experience and they are such an honest audience.  But I learned…  OK, writing and performing for kids is more fun!

With all my audiences, no matter their age, my aim is to get them to laugh, feel, and think.  So that is what stays the same.

VT: Tell us a little about your band Cool Daddy, and how you came  about collaborating with the Vanderbilt on this show?

PS:We’ve been trying to come up with a name for the band for years now, and it’s been the biggest challenge!  I came up with Cool Daddy just last month because both the guys in the band are fabulous fathers, really very cool dads.

My bass/guitar/”utility” player is my husband Stephen and the drummer is Jim Mansfield.  Jim is so talented and in such demand, he plays with many, many other artists and groups on Long Island like Stealin’ Dan and Miller’s Farm.  Stephen plays mostly with me but has also performed with Toby Walker and The Northport Chorale, as well as on some solo gigs.

As for the Vanderbilt, a dear friend of mine, Marty Stone is a member of the LI Astronomy Club.  There he is friends with Dave Bush, who happens to be the program director and technical wizard of the Vanderbilt Planetarium.  I don’t exactly know how or why, but Marty recommended me to Dave, who called me up and we had a chat about a possible show I could do there.  That got me enormously excited, because I’ve never done anything like this; a show about space, planets, the sky, etc. and in a planetarium!!!  Could anything be cooler?  So I dug out any and all songs I had about the subjects and wrote a new show, “Songs in the Key of Earth.”  Together Dave and I put together recorded narration, images, video and magic on the starry dome to create a multi-media representation of the songs I chose and that we will be performing live.  We are even going to have a thunderstorm that the audience creates themselves.

VT:  Is it going to be tricky to get all of the action and music to work together just right?

PS: That is one of the biggest challenges of a show like this.  It’s part theater, part concert, part planetarium experience.  That is what is going to help create the excitement and the unique experience.  I am relying heavily on Dave to do most of it!  And the band has to be tight, well-rehearsed and right on all the marks.

VT: What age group do you think will enjoy this performance the most?

PS: I expressly wrote the show to appeal to ALL ages, from 4 year olds to senior citizens.  I have added songs normally performed only for adults, who will get the subtleties and deeper emotions; and I think the kids will really enjoy the space travel and being guest stars in part of the show.  And of course everyone will love the planetarium’s effects.  I think I am going to enjoy the show the most!  It has been the most fun to do.  I am so grateful to the Vanderbilt for giving me this opportunity.

VT:  What do you think children will find most memorable from this?

PS: The whole effect of being in a space where they are totally immersed in an experience, using all their senses, their minds, hearts and bodies.  I hope they will love being involved in the show and feel the emotions I hope to evoke — that of love for the earth and its creatures and beauty, and especially love for their families and friends.  I might have subtitled the show “The Only Planet with Love” because that is what the show is really about.

VT: What would you like for them to take away with them from the show?

PS: That the universe and our planet are awe-inspiring, wonder-filled places and that they themselves are a part of this magic.  And they also have responsibility to care for the earth and each other so it continues to be a very unique and special place forever.

VT: Is it one night only?

PS: Yes.  But if it goes as well as we all hope it will, perhaps it will be presented there again.  We are hoping for a great turn out.  Believe me, you don’t want to miss this, as I suppose it may never happen again!

VT:  Will you be able to take this show elsewhere or can it only be done at the Planetarium?

PS: That’s a good question.  I think it could be done elsewhere but the effects won’t be as spectacular.  I really wrote it to play in a space like a planetarium.  Who knows where else it may go?  That’s the fun mystery of a job like mine.

VT:  Will you be performing on Huntington’s summer stage this year?

PS: Not this year.  We played last year and we tend to do the summer festival every 2-3 years.  We did do the Tulip Festival this past spring at Heckscher Park on the Chapin stage, and that was so much fun!  We had a great crowd, there was no pressure on us as we were not the main attraction, just part of the gorgeous day and other festivities.  I tell you, I have the best job in the entire world.  And now, thanks to the Vanderbilt Planetarium, it’s out-of-this-world, too!

***Advance tickets for the July 10th show” Songs of the Earth”are $9 for Vanderbilt Museum members and $10 for non-members, or $15 at the door. Advance purchase is strongly recommended. Tickets can be purchased by calling the Vanderbilt at 631-854-5579. The Vanderbilt Museum is located at 180 Little Neck Road Centerport, New York 11721-0605

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