The Langley Schools Music Project
The Langley Schools Music Project is a collection of recordings of children's choruses singing pop hits by the likes of The Beach Boys, Paul McCartney, and David Bowie. Originally recorded in 1976–77, they were rereleased in 2001 and became a cult hit and a successful example of outsider music.
The project was undertaken in 1976–77 by Canadian music teacher Hans Fenger with students from four different elementary schools of the Langley School District in British Columbia. Recordings were made in a school gym in Langley, in Metro Vancouver. Two LPs were released, 1976's Lochiel, Glenwood, and South Carvolth Schools and 1977's Hans Fenger/Wix-Brown Elementary School.
Fenger later said:
- I knew virtually nothing about conventional music education, and didn't know how to teach singing. Above all, I knew nothing of what children's music was supposed to be. But the kids had a grasp of what they liked: emotion, drama, and making music as a group. Whether the results were good, bad, in tune or out was no big deal -- they had élan. This was not the way music was traditionally taught. But then I never liked conventional 'children's music,' which is condescending and ignores the reality of children's lives, which can be dark and scary. These children hated 'cute.' They cherished songs that evoked loneliness and sadness
The recordings were little known until Brian Linds, a Victoria record collector, found the first record in a thrift store in 2000. He sent it to Irwin Chusid, a proponent of outsider music. After ten labels had rejected them, Bar/None Records released Innocence & Despair, a single-CD compilation of the two LPs.
Innocence & Despair quickly created an international buzz, making many end-of-the-year best album lists in 2001.
Fred Schneider called the project "a haunting, evocative wall-of-sound experience that is affecting in an incredibly visceral way". Neil Gaiman commented, "I wish every school taught music like this. I wish every piece of music recorded in a school gymnasium were this haunting... and then I suspect that, if I listened to them right, maybe they would be."
Richard Carpenter described the vocals on "Calling Occupants" as "charming". David Bowie said the version of "Space Oddity" was "a piece of art that I couldn't have conceived of", describing the vocals as "earnest if lugubrious" and the backing arrangement as "astounding".
Salon music critic Steven Hyden wrote: "[T]he gloomy title [Innocence and Despair] is no lie: The echoing, yelping renditions of this feel-good music gives off a powerfully aching melancholy. It’s the sound of youth, frozen on tape, as it fades inexorably away."
VH-1 coordinated a reunion of Fenger and dozens of his former students in 2002, and produced a documentary about the project. Screenwriter Mike White's concept for the 2003 hit film School of Rock was inspired by the Langley CD. When Spike Jonze approached Karen O to write the soundtrack to Where The Wild Things Are, he gave Innocence and Despair as an example of the desired "simple melodies that were emotionally complex—something that both kids and adults would appreciate".
Recorded and released 1976
Recorded and released 1977
Compilation of the two previous albums, released 2001 in North America by Bar/None Records and in Europe by Basta Records.
- Liner notes, Innocence and Despair
- Hyden, Steven, "Stop Mocking Children's Choirs," Salon.com, August 1, 2012
- High Fidelity: Jack Black stays true to his 'School,' Jim DeRogatis, 28 September 2003
- An Interview With Karen O of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs, Charles McNair, 15 September 2009, Paste
- [ The Langley Schools Music Project] Bar-None Records
- [ The Langley Schools Music Project: Innocence and Despair] at Songs in the Key of Z (outsider music site)