It’s Always Sing Song Party Time With Derek McKinley
As a child Derek McKinley remembers Raffi, lots of Raffi. Whereas other youngsters may have been content bopping to the music, it was the lyrics that he latched onto. He still recalls the silly stories and songs that once sent his child-self spinning in circles while clutching a record sleeve in his tiny hands.
Of course, not all children parlay listening to their childhood idols into a future career. Derek McKinley, however, would go on to entertain kids himself, a path he saw himself walking down even at the age of ten when he was given the responsibility of taking care of a niece. From there he went on to teach road hockey to the kids on his street and, in his mid-20s, moved to Japan to teach ESL.
It was all leading, of course, to a…desk job working for Health Canada?
Not exactly the career McKinley had in mind but that kid who once spun right round like a record to Raffi was now an adult with bills to pay. As he sat there each day the daydreams would come to him. Something was missing. He knew there was more out there for him. He just knew it.
“Health Canada was a great job for a certain person with a certain set of skills,” McKinley says looking back. “For me, personally, it was killing me on a cellular level. There was not enough action and mobility and joy.”
While he felt he had the ability for the day-in/day-out drudgery of desk work, McKinley realized it was not truly his calling. He gave his notice, packed up his desk, walked out the door and started a business.
Singing and playing music had always been a big part of his life and who doesn’t like a good party? To him, there was no better description of his new life moving forward as a children’s entertain than Sing Song Party Time!
“I created a style where all the students were invited to join my band and learn songs involving actions and movements and even certain rhyming words, etc.,” explains McKinley on what were some of the key things he wanted to fuse into his new work. “It was a fun way to get the lessons flowing and in the right direction for enjoyment while learning a new language.”
Music, of course, was central. McKinley will tell you he enjoys pretty much all types because he has a way of obsessing over new sounds. He also had two wonderful students to test his new ideas on in the form of his young sons Oscar, 5, and Francis, 4.
“I found that I could communicate and teach them things about life through playing guitar, singing and creating silly songs that they can relate to and get a laugh about as well.”
A basic Sing Song Party Time lesson has McKinley beginning each class with some basic yoga to get the kids ready to move. Early on he’ll play some of his sillier songs to get the wee ones laughing. Tunes like “Llama Lou”, “Veggie Beard” and “Oh, What If A Bunny Could Talk?” are favorites. Still, he works in strong messages into his music that foster an appreciation for living healthy and being environmentally aware. He’ll then hand out some percussion instruments, kick off some dancing and eco-themed games and then the party really starts jumping!
“I always wanted to combine my passion for the environment and helping others with my working life and this has become a perfect fit,” says McKinley on why he continues to teach these themes in his lessons. “I am also a student of Human Rights at Carleton University so it is in line with my morals and values to care and spread a message of togetherness and unity in the world.”
2018 is shaping up to be a big year for Sing Song Party Time. McKinley has just completed recording his debut album of original children’s songs that will be released in February and he’s also working on a music video, new website and online shop.
It’s all about looking ahead, not back to his days behind the desk dreaming of dancing and singing. These days, Derek McKinley feels much more like Derek McKinley.
“I just can’t help but be myself around children, and I feel like they can see through inauthenticity thus limiting the connection with each individual child,” he says. “In all honesty, for me, I find it easier then talking to adults!”