Sukey Molloy

Sukey Molloy’s life has been focused as a performer and artist. Her efforts led her to study piano and dance at the Hartford Conservatory of Music. In due time, Molloy headed to New York City to train and perform as a modern dancer. She was accepted as a member of the Solomon’s Dance Company and toured and danced with the company, according to her Website. Unfortunately, a dance injury prevented Molloy from continuing on so with determination she focused her attention on movement and music, not for adults, but for children.

Molloy has since taught music and movement programs in nursery schools to elementary schools. And according to her website, Molloy began working in 1985 with children as a performer and then nine years later started to record children’s music.

She has been called a “modern day Mr. Rogers for children,” by Celebrity Parents Magazine. With a kind gentleness, Sukey’s music is peaceful and joyous for both children and their parents. Celebrity Parents spoke with Sukey about music, balancing family life and making music that comes from the child within.

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Jupiter Index: You have a background in dance, plainchant, and music. Talk about how you came to write children’s music with unique storytelling?
Sukey Molloy: It all happened in a very unforeseen way. When my dance career ended due to an injury, I found myself with the question of what to do. I had always been interested in working with young children and saw this as an opportunity. At the Lincoln Center Performing Arts Library I discovered a book by Dr. Garland O’Quinn titled Teaching Developmental Gymnastics: Skills to Take Through Life, and I ended up becoming his student of Developmental Playskills for several years. I was riveted by the question of how children best develop movement skills from birth to age 5 and soon created my own company, PlayMove&Sing Inc. I went on to study Infant Development and Infant Massage and completed my degree in Performing Arts and Education at SUNY Empire.

One day, while teaching a “mommy and me” music and movement/play class, a parent asked me to record the songs I was singing so she could play them at home for her children. And that was it! I found myself writing my own music, as well as rearranging traditional tunes, and five award-winning albums later, I began to explore the world of stories. It started with creating The Story of Little Lamb and then The Story of Twinkle Little Star and my interest has grown into releasing my first “all storytelling” album, The Adventures of Little Stubby. Who knew?

The impulse for all my music, stories, books, and animations comes directly from the privilege I have had of observing and interacting with hundreds of babies, young children, and their families. By offering developmentally appropriate, skill-based music and movement/play activities, I have discovered how to create an atmosphere of joyful learning where the focus is on the child, and the motivation comes from within.

JI: The new record The Adventures of Little Stubby has many heartfelt stories. How did Little Stubby come about? And can you say where the ideas came from, and what makes them special to you?

SM: I happened to read an adult book about a mini donkey who had been rescued by the author. The book is Running with Sherman by Chris MacDougal. I was not only touched by his story but found many similarities between the donkey’s nature and that of very young children. Donkeys have an undeserved reputation for being stubborn and have been historically mistreated over centuries as beasts of burden. However, I learned that a donkey isn’t stubborn, it just has a mind of its own, and for good reason. Once you’ve earned a donkey’s trust, it will happily join in with you upon being asked, particularly when you are able to help the donkey feel that what you are asking is its own idea.

Donkeys have a good reason for hesitating before engaging. They are desert animals who have extremely keen perceptions through hearing, vision, and scent and are naturally attuned to be on the lookout for danger, refusing to move until they’re certain the coast is clear. I recognized a similarity in the nature between very young children and donkeys when they are made to do things that they are not ready to do. When the motivation does not come from within, everything becomes a battle, thus the label “stubborn.”

My mentor, Dr. O’Quinn, had a saying for parents and teachers. It’s called “The Three T’s. Things…Take…Time.” With our children, and with our four-legged friends, we are invited to find fun, encouraging and thoughtful ways to respect their need to find the “motivation from within” when asked to do something that isn’t their own idea. Since very young children respond to stories about animals, I wanted to write a story about a mini donkey named Stubby. Little did I know what I was getting into! I came to the idea that Stubby, a young donkey with a mind of his own, could stop and count to three (in hee haws!) to help him feel more relaxed when he was overwhelmed or afraid. Each of the six stories is derived directly from events that happened to me in my early childhood. I wanted Stubby to bring the most essential needs and fears that little children struggle with every day, and it is my wish that this little mini donkey can inspire early listeners to feel more confident and relaxed while developing their inner worlds.

JI: You’ve worked with producer Larry Alexander (Diana Ross, Rolling Stones, David Bowie) on this record and your albums. How did you come to meet him and what was the recording process like for your recent record?
SM: Without Larry, there would have been no recorded music. I was introduced to Larry, (who lives just one town away) by a fellow musician who also played and arranged on my first album. Everything flowed from there. Larry is one of the most gifted people I know, a legend in audio engineering, and a deep, quiet listener. He’s also a tremendous amount of fun. Larry somehow saw the little child waiting inside me to come out and sing to all the children of the world. And that’s what we did! We’ve produced five albums together and this sixth album, The Adventures of Little Stubby, is our first “all storytelling” album. I went to Larry with the stories, having spent a year working on them, and during the process of composing the background music and beginning to record, he kept insisting that I rewrite and rewrite and rewrite(!) until Stubby clearly had a voice of his own. Larry wouldn’t let me off the hook, and I am forever grateful for his keen sense of authenticity and hard work to get everything right. Stubby and I owe him a lot! And Larry and I learned a great deal from Stubby who made us humble.

JI: How does nature play a part in your music and what other children’s music are you listening to now?
SM: Just as I have devoted my attention and learning to work with very young children and their families, I also have a deep love for all wildlife. As far back as I can remember, I have had a special feeling and concern for animals and the natural world. Each of my albums offers lots of images and sounds from nature, which is important to me. As a child, I spent a great deal of time on my own outdoors watching the birds in the trees, pollywogs in the stream, clouds floating in the sky, stars coming out at night, and I still spend time hiking and camping and visiting donkey rescue farms as a volunteer. Great nature is our great teacher, and as stewards of the animal kingdom and the whole of the earth we need to do all we can to help restore its grandeur. That is the message I tried subtly to convey at the end of Stubby’s last story on the album.

Regarding children’s music, I have always been a fan of Raffi’s music and love to return to his songs to bring a smile to my face, like Bananaphone! I often go back and listen to Peter and the Wolf by Sergei Prokofiev, which is a remarkable learning experience for young listeners about orchestral instruments and animal characters. And I love to listen to Pete Seeger, particularly his songs for children. Such a simple sound and approach; he gave a great deal to music and brought a sense of joy and peace everywhere he went. And of course, Sharon, Lois and Bram and Skinnamarink! One of my favorite groups for children’s music.

JI: Would you like to add anything else to what you have said about your music for children?
SM: The focus of my work has always been to bring a quality of acceptance, interaction, and play-based learning and listening to children ages [from] birth to 5. I am never satisfied until every child (and adult) in the room is fully engaged in the activity that we’re involved in together. And I feel strongly that whatever activity is offered, each child is given time and space to enter that activity at his/her/their own pace. Children are often made to try an activity before they’ve had a chance to find their own natural, genuine interest. I often model an activity before offering it and allow the children to try in their own way before suggesting new ways that they might like to learn, even if I’m on stage in front of a large audience. As the “presenter,” I need to become an honest magnet for their attention. I have found this approach a surprising success, including with children who have learning challenges and wish to be part of a larger experience. By bringing my teaching and performing to day care centers, nursery schools and public schools, libraries, theaters, and workshops, I have had the enormous privilege of interacting with children and families of all colors and backgrounds and seeing the joy and learning that movement/play, song, and storytelling can bring to all who participate. I truly hope that my new album, The Adventures of Little Stubby, will bring joy, tenderness, and love to all who listen.

by G.M. Burns
photos by Diana Van Campen