They sit parallel to one another, each in chairs of unique design, against a shared backdrop of a window-lit office. David Kisor wears his Chuck Taylors with pride; a T-shirt and jeans complete the ensemble. On the other side of the room sits Tom Lottman, in a suit and leather sandals. A composer and researcher, respectively, they work in harmony perpetually crafting a chorus of “strength-based” education for Growing Sound, a division of Children, Inc. — a nonprofit focused on providing quality education and support to schools and childcare centers across Kentucky — that produces children’s songs and music videos to encourage pro-social learning in the early years of childhood.
Though their uniforms may be mismatched, their inner visions remain singular, definitive and unyielding.
Growing Sound started in 2007, when a freshly hired Kisor was making his first-week rounds at the offices of Children, Inc. as the new music director and he was introduced to the organization’s Deputy Executive Director, Lottman.
Lottman explained his various jobs to Kisor, mentioning how he was also training people about pro-social behavior. It was then that the first chord was struck.
“I said, ‘Hey, I think I may have some songs about that,’” Kisor recollects.
Kisor, who has composed for organizations as versatile as Ensemble Theatre Cincinnati and written children’s songs on commission around town, initially presented Lottman with a catalog of about 27 tracks. “Some of the songs fit,” Kisor says. “The rest, Tom and I started working on together.”
Their shared visions rests on a belief in “pro-social” skills in children — the ability to teach them the skills necessary to prevent a situation rather than just dealing with its aftermath.
They work to craft songs accordingly, with Lottman doing research and Kisor helming the musical compositions.
“He digests the research, and he gets it to a point where even I can understand it,” Kisor says, laughing. “The song becomes the bridge between the research and the practice in the classroom and the home. I get to be the bridge builder.”
And build he did — six years and more than 16 albums worth of bridges. Citing influences far and wide, including Django Reinhardt and Billy Joel, Kisor composes a rare and brilliant collection of songs with each album he creates, filling them with equal parts melody and researched teachings.
“I think in David I found immediately a kindred spirit,” Lottman says. “Normally, when you start talking to someone about social emotional behavior in kids, they immediately talk about behavior issues, deficits, problems.”
But that’s not their approach. To Kisor and Lottman, it’s about encouraging a child’s early abilities, rather than “fixing” their shortcomings.
With that, the Growing Sound vision continues to find its own maturation. With October being National Bullying Awareness month, they’ve released a DVD collection titled Before the Bullying, featuring songs from previous award-winning albums, put to six music videos that look at the problem from a pro-social standpoint.
“We’re not looking at the problem and trying to solve it. We’re taking a step — a few steps back — and saying ‘What can we do to prevent the problem from emerging in the first place?’” Kisor says.
In the first video, “Everyone is Someone,” you can hear driving guitar and catchy choruses paired up with a refrain that reinforces confidence in individual identity.
“Every song that we write, you can’t put the whole scope of the world in it. So we pinpoint, we laser beam,” Kisor explains. “For the most part: Let’s take care of each other, let’s take care of ourselves in the first place, let’s take care of the world we live in. And that’s the idea we try to nurture in those little brains along the way.”
Growing Sound will be releasing one video a week through October online and plan to have the DVD, as well as an even more comprehensive Before the Bullying multimedia package, available later this year for purchase.
Looking toward the future, Lottman and Kisor seem hopeful about their contributions to progress.
“We want to be a strong, positive voice to say that there’s good in the world,” Kisor says. “And as long as we reinforce what’s already there and [what’s] strong and beautiful and good, we’re going to be okay. It starts with these young children and branches out from there.”
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