Mama Lisa’s World – An Interview

This is a crosspost from CMN’s biannual publication, PIO! Editor Alina Celeste writes the column on technology,Let’s Talk Tech, and interviewed Lisa Yannucci from Mama Lisa’s World.  Below is an excerpt from that interview.

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Mama Lisa, photo by Jason Pomerantz

If you teach music to children and have access to the Internet, you have probably come across Mama Lisa’s World. Overseen by the eponymous founder, Lisa Yannucci, with the help of her husband, Jason Pomerantz, and her friend and fellow folk song lover, Monique Palomares, the site receives contributions from teachers, librarians, grandparents, parents, and folk song enthusiasts from all over the world, and is home to over 4,000 traditional children’s rhymes and songs in over 220 languages. It has become an invaluable and ever-growing resource for traditional and folk music. Lisa and I had a lovely chat one sunny afternoon about her love of music, the importance of sharing musical traditions, and the willingness of people all over the world to help preserve those traditions.

Alina: So how and when did you start Mama Lisa’s World?

Lisa: Well, actually I started it for my son. I’m pretty sure it was in 1997. When he turned three years old, I took photos of the family, and when they came over for his birthday party, I had them all record a message to him. He always loved working with computers, even when he was three. On the computer, I connected each recording to the photo so he could click on the picture and hear their message to him. A couple of people did nursery rhymes. So I thought, “I could make a site of this with nursery rhymes.” So I just started with the most popular nursery rhymes. And that was really the start of it. Then, within six months to a year, I thought, “I studied overseas for a semester in France and I’ve always been interested in international cultures. So why don’t I make it international?” and I started writing to consulates and embassies asking for songs.

Really? Did they write back?

They did! A lot of them did.

Wow!

Yeah, I know. So I started getting some songs that way. Of course I knew some, like “Frère Jacques” and songs like that. And then slowly, over time, it grew. Also I always had a note on the website asking for people to share their songs and rhymes, because not everybody here has the same version. To me that’s important. I want the version you grew up with also. It’s a living culture; it’s not something that’s just in a book.

Yes, it’s part of the folk tradition.

Right. So you know, over time, I started getting more and more rhymes and countries. And eventually Monique, who I work with now, contacted me. She translated a couple of songs into French and Spanish. She speaks French, Spanish, Italian, and Occitan.

Isn’t that like ancient French?

It’s a Romance language, the language of the Troubadours. It’s still spoken in Spain, little bit of Spain, little bit of Italy. I think mostly southern France. So she started sending me Occitan rhymes and songs, and eventually she just kept sending me so much. So I asked her if she would like to start a French version of the site. And she was enthusiastic, so I work with her now too! A few years after we created the French version of the site, I asked if she would like to create a Spanish version, and she said yes!

So the two of you work remotely?

Yes. She also comes here [New York City] about every year or every other year and we work together and go touring around New York.

You allow advertising on the site. There has been a debate now for a few years about whether to monetize the CMN website. A lot of people are against it, because that’s not what we’re about and it’s about sharing and folk music. But some others feel that ads are everywhere, so it wouldn’t make a big difference and could help us.

Right. I fought it for a long time, but there are expenses in just running a site. We have a lot of traffic so we have to pay a lot more money. Originally we’d have to pay twenty-five dollars a month, but as we get more traffic, it goes up and up.

Of course. So speaking of your site, every couple of years you seem to go through a visual overhaul.

Yes! Well, I’m lucky my husband can do some programming. Basically I started it just doing some HTML coding. But you know, now we have over 220 languages, and a lot of languages have different characters. It’s really complicated! Over four thousand songs. Jason constantly works on it in his spare time. It’s such a big thing to do, and he works full time elsewhere, so it can take a while for changes.

Did you notice we just changed? We upgraded the look.

Yes! I had noticed. I think it looks great, by the way. When I first started teaching music I did not have a degree in education, so I was really sort of at a loss for songs. I’ve used your site for years, and I’ve seen the change and the growth. Every change you make is an improvement.

Thank you. Our biggest improvement lately is that you can use it on mobile, where it will fit the screen size. That was a big change. We are also adding a feature this week, which is song type. I’m still working on it.

Yes, I’ve noticed. I’m actually on your site right now and I just thought, “Wow. Songs for washing up!”

Yes. We’ll be adding more, but we notice that a lot of people, for some reason, are interested in songs for hand washing and keeping clean and neat.

Well, classroom rituals are a big deal.

We have goodbye songs and then we have farewell songs. Farewell songs are more from other cultures where it’s actually singing a song of farewell.

So you’re really beginning to parse this down. You get really specific.

You know, we always had song types in, but we never had a way to sort it. That’s a difference. Now you can actually access it.

Read the rest of this interview here: PIO!