37 years they’ve entertained children
When they came rushing out on stage at Valley Baptist Church in Bakersfield on March 22, Greg and Steve got the kind of reception normally reserved for rock superstars. Hundreds of children were screaming, applauding, jumping up and down and shouting out their names. Truth be known, these writers and singers of children’s songs started in a rock and roll band in 1975. Somehow, they wound up as teaching assistants and were it not for that career detour, Greg Sclesa and Steve Millang might never have achieved the fame and popularity they have owned for the last 37 years.
“We’d take our guitars into the classroom and do music with the kids,” Millang said.
“Predominately in special education classes,” Sclesa added. “So, the music was really a handy tool because it helped get the children’s attention in a stronger way than just talking. There were a lot of listening and learning skills they got from the songs the teachers asked us to do.”
“But we also had to clean the erasers and do all the stuff, too,” Millang laughed.
It is not a laughing matter now. Their recorded songs have sold in the millions and been translated in seven languages around the world. A chance to see Greg and Steve in concert for special education, preschool, kindergarten and early elementary age students is like reaching the top of the mountain. They know the songs because they are played in classrooms around the world everyday.
Non-profit Community Connection for Child Care (CCCC) Foundation has brought Greg and Steve to Bakersfield the past 20 years. It is a very successful fund-raiser for the foundation, which allows it to provide quality training for child care providers.
“Their motto is ‘educate, motivate and entertain,’” said CCCC Program Manager Lisa Duncan-Purcell. “Their music really teaches the basic concepts, and they perform really high quality music. They don’t play down to the kids. So, not only does it work well on the stage but in the classroom, too. Why are they so great? Because their concert is so interactive.”
Indeed, during different stages of their concert, Greg and Steve will bring children up on stage to join them in the performance of “The Magic Chicken Dance.” It will challenge children to follow the duo’s lead, which takes them through all kinds of twisting, turning and shaking of hands, arms, legs, feet and sometimes the whole body. Later on, more children will arrive on stage to perform more exaggerated movements, which Greg and Steve will bring to abrupt halts every time they say, “Freeze,” in their appropriately named, hit song, “The Freeze.”
“With really young ones, doing any kind of activity really helps to socialize the group,” Sclesa said. “I mean, they’re interacting together, clapping hands together, but they are also developing gross motor skills. It’s a time when they can mix it up and have a fun time together, that they can sit down later and talk about.
“When kids act out lyrics of a song, they’re also internalizing what those words mean, as much as cognitively learning what they mean.” Millang said. “It’s a tremendous way to teach language skills.”
Certainly, there is plenty of that in every Greg and Steve concert. But, the songs also carry messages about life, respect and social skills. An example is “Snowflake” that teaches children there is nothing wrong with being an individual, just as every snowflake is different and unique.
When it comes time to close the concert, the duo always ends it with their most popular song, “The World is a Rainbow.”
“Steve and I grew up in Los Angeles, and in the schools there, sometimes 45 languages were spoken,” Sclesa said. “We want to emphasize that the world is a rainbow. There are many kinds of people, and we all need each other.”