August 8, 2008

Toe-Tapping Good Time Children Hop, Bounce at Pomona Library Summertime Function

By Imani Tate

Staff Writer

"He does the kind of songs that's got us back here dancing and making fools of ourselves," Pomona Public Library specialist Sue Kronenfeld laughingly admitted.

Kronenfeld's humorous assessment of adults and children's responses to multiple instrumentalist/singer Craig Newton's performances was accurate, again.

There was a lotta toe-tapping, head-bobbing and seat-dancing going on for most of Newton's recent appearance at the library's summer reading program.

By the time he got to The Beatles' version of the classic Isley Brothers' hit "Twist and Shout," Kronenfeld, library specialist Lois Robbins, children's librarian Nissa Perez-Montoya, children and parents were out of their chairs and off the floor, arms waving and hips frantically twisting.

Newton's musical skills on more than 20 instruments, vocal exuberance on musically diverse songs and ability to compose entertaining, nonsensical original lyrics make him one of the most popular performers for children's shows at libraries, schools and community parties, Perez-Montoya said.

The packed house in the Laura Ingalls Wilder Children's Room verified Perez-Montoya's point.

"The twist is an easy dance because you don't have to move your feet," Newton declared. However, when he inserted a line about twisting down to the ground, Robbins and Kronenfeld groaned and simultaneously said, "I don't think so."

Even 5-month-old Marissa Diaz of Pomona, nestled in the maternal arms of Arcelia Diaz, rhythmically bounced to Newton's funny song featuring The Buzz Squad - kazoo players Lay Hak, 8, Maria Dominguez, 11, and 7-year-olds Cristan Jimenez and Jacquelyn Acosta. Marissa's tiny fingers clung to the hands of sisters Victoria, 5, and Samantha, 6, as she bounced and laughed.

Newton is equally adept at playing soprano, alto and tenor saxophones, electric, bass and acoustic guitars, violin, mandolin, banjo, trombone, traditional drums, congas, the African djembe drum, all percussions, piano and all flutes.

Village Academy High School sophomore Eloise Arrington, 15, didn't expect to be entertained so thoroughly when she decided to volunteer as a library summer reading mentor. The daughter of Denise and Rossi Arrington already balances a full schedule working on Associated Student Body projects to enhance school spirit and help people in need, maintaining a 4.0 grade-point average and babysitting her brother, Kyle, 9.

"I decided to volunteer at the library because I wanted to donate to community service, get experience coming to work every day and work with younger kids," said the future pathologist and medical researcher. "I didn't know I'd be having as much fun as the little kids."

Newton said the fun factor is thoroughly mixed into his shows, but he also has an ulterior motive. He cloaks education in entertaining antics and musically hammers home the value of reading.

Newton explored different cultures, rhythm patterns, musical styles, the national origins of different instruments and artists of note.

While waiting for the show to begin, Isaac No, 7, picked out the book "Trucks" by Patricia Hubbell for later reading and Catherine and Justo Pedilla of Pomona helped nieces Rosa and Daisy Pedillo peruse the Dr. Seuss series.

As soon as Newton strummed the first chord on an acoustic guitar, however, their attention instantly shifted to the out-of-the-book entertainer.

"Music will help you do better in school, do better in math and science and give you less chance of getting Alzheimer's," Newton began.

He vocally demonstrated the higher A and lower E notes, then had every child echo him. Repetitive "legs, legs, clap," coupled with leg slaps and hand claps, rhythmically engaged youngsters as accompanying "instrumentalists" for Newton's silly song about cravings for cake (one clap), pizza (two claps) and pepperoni (four claps).

Playing the six-string acoustic guitar, Newton noted "this instrument started out in Spain about the time this guy named Christopher Columbus started out for the New World." His fingers then sped across the strings, mesmerizing everyone with a flurry of sizzling Spanish flamenco notes.

Adult heads shook from side to side when he played both a harmonica (originally from Germany) and the acoustic guitar for a bluesy version of Elvis Presley's "All Shook Up." Jose Arechar, 2, and sister Ruby Arechar, 4, found Newton's bee song a good reason to dance and their mother, Arceli Oregon of Pomona, to laugh.

Parents smiled when he talked about French and German recorders and the Italian mandolin, then groaned when he advised little ones to "put them in your pockets and take them home" as the lead-in to "La Cucaracha" (The Cockroach).

Alexia and Antonio Santa Cruz, 9 and 6, didn't know the lyrics, but their Beatles' fan mom, Angie, definitely did. She sang along with Newton on "Yellow Submarine."

Sophia Pham, 6, of Pomona tapped the tambourine, accompanying violinist Newton on a bug hoedown song. The energetic tune prompted 15-month-old Lucas Gorter of Pomona to keep raising his arms.

"He thinks he's at church and keeps putting his arms up to praise Jesus," said Lucas' laughing mother, Dana.

Dancing, clapping, laughing and singing were all allowed as Newton played the African banjo, Hawaiian ukulele, a jazz bebop version of "Itsy Bitsy Spider" on alto sax and a roaring electric guitar "Bug Boogie" combining rock 'n' roll, boogie woogie and blues chords.

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