He’s been writing his own adult folk and jazz-inspired songs for years, but Anthony Viscounte has always had an affinity for children’s music.
The Warminster resident was obsessed with kids music superstar Raffi as a tot and still remembers the song he wrote encouraging kids to eat their vegetables while majoring in songwriting at Berklee College of Music. That tune was one of several inspired by a cousin who’d just had a baby.
“That got me thinking about music to inspire the next generation,” he says. “It was really fun to write those songs.”
It’s not surprising then that Anthony, who teaches music and songwriting at his studio, the Viscounte Academy of Music in Hatboro, Pa., is gearing up to launch a new project of original songs for children. As this summer’s recipient of the Scatter Joy Art Ambassador Grant, offered by the Scatter Joy Center for the Arts to individuals and organizations using the arts to make a positive difference, he will write and produce 12 songs, accompanied by illustrations, to share lessons about life, love, giving and friendship with a young audience.
“I thought it would be a fun way to make kids happy and channel the creative energy that they love,” says Anthony.
The whimsical acoustic songs will feature Wagman & Barkley, two folk-singing pups inspired by his own dogs, Pongo and Leo — a Yorkie Bichon mix and Yorkipoo, respectively — and a sound that draws heavily on one of his biggest influences, Simon & Garfunkel.
“I was trying to think of lovable characters that kids would relate to, and loving my dogs as I do and loving music, I decided to put them together,” says Anthony.
He also decided to partner with artist and former educational leader William Lessa — the duo also run Sunrise Music House producing custom songs for schools, businesses and individuals —to illustrate the songs. Each tune, set to be released via Instagram and YouTube, will play like an illustrated musical story with panels depicting the canine duo’s adventures and lyrics that families can follow along to.
“The number one priority is to have it be catchy enough that after listening to it for the first or second time, they’re going to have it in their heads,” says Anthony, about the framework for each song, which at a minute or less will be just short and sweet enough for little ones’ attention spans. “Having a universal message that’s inspiring to kids, that promotes good morals and values is important, too.”
A winsome tune about a blueberry pie being swarmed by ants while Wagman & Barkley picnic in the south of France, for instance, is a lesson in sharing. Another number about a potentially pesky bumble bee landing on one of the dog’s shoulders carries a message of tolerance and a reminder to embrace each other’s differences.
“I’ve been so blessed to have my academy and see how happy music makes kids,” says Anthony. “I just want to bring joy to parents and kids and be a positive influence in their lives.”
Wagman & Barkley will begin sharing their musical lessons in January, with a new video released on YouTube every Friday with an accompanying audio file on Spotify.