By Cameron Bell
For a musician with professional vocal training and a history of playing bar shows with a soul band, specializing in children’s music might seem like a strange choice.
But for Melia Olson, recording albums designed to get kids engaged in music from a young age was a natural way to combine her musical skills and interest in teaching. Back in 2015, she asked her former bandmate James Powell if he could help record the first album; he agreed, and even volunteered to play guitar, banjo, and other instruments for the new project.
Four years later, the pair have released five albums, including a Christmas album they’ll be featuring later this month in a live performance.
Wearing a full-size mouse costume to add to the experience for young audiences, James performs under the moniker “Big Tiny” to complete the duo of “Melia and Big Tiny.”
With over 40 years of experience playing original songs with many different bands, James jokes that he’s “still waiting to be a rockstar,” but genuinely enjoys collaborating with local artists and putting on performances for children.
Prior to playing with James in the legendary local 10-piece band The Soul Professors, Melia had studied psychology and vocal music on Vancouver Island before returning home to Terrace.
Unlike the laid-back and inclusive atmosphere in the Northwest’s music scene, Melia found Victoria to be somewhat snobby, explaining that “everybody wanted to be ‘the band,’ and there were fewer jam sessions to join and house concerts to see.
Between the first few albums released by the Tiny Tones Band, more than a dozen different local artists contributed vocal and instrumental tracks for the regionally-focused recordings.
In addition to familiar traditional songs, the albums include original tunes with lyrics that speak to the geography of our region in a simple format.
With the albums available online through CDBaby, Bandcamp, and iTunes, these local compositions are spreading to other parts of Canada and even being downloaded internationally.
For those that prefer a hard-copy, Misty River Books and Sight & Sound carry the Tiny Tones CDs, and songbooks for singing and playing along will also be available.
The albums also provide the foundation for Melia’s children’s music programs, which will maintain the name Tiny Tones as the band transitions to Melia and Big Tiny.
With four semesters per year, these classes provide weekly opportunities for parents, children, and occasionally even grandparents to play music together.
It’s all about “making music at their level” says Melia, who has a personal mission to “have as many people who want to be making music, making music.” She even has plans to offer adult ukulele classes called Strum Along in the new year, including afternoon sessions and potentially some evening sessions at a licensed venue where adults can enjoy making music in a laid-back atmosphere.
The short-term focus, however, is their Christmas concert on Sunday, Dec. 15 at 3 p.m. at the Tillicum Twin Theatres. For the first time in 40 years, the theatre will be hosting live music, and will have the concession open for families to get some snacks and enjoy an interactive show.
Tickets are available at Misty River Books for $10, and babies on laps are free.
Music Matters is one of four columns by local writers that explore Northwest food, music, art and mental wellness.