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Guitar hero, too

Park Slope troubadour (and preschool teacher) Randy Kaplan wows little listeners and moms and dads alike.

Photograph by Stephen Schuster

Photograph by Stephen Schuster

Nearly three years ago, when Randy Kaplan's ex-girlfriend had committed to hosting her son's class playdate, she looked to her then live-in beau to provide an alternative to a humdrum storytime. At the time, Kaplan, a struggling Brooklyn-based musician, had recorded four CDs but had no experience creating music specifically for kids.

Photograph by Stephen Schuster

Nearly three years ago, when Randy Kaplan's ex-girlfriend had committed to hosting her son's class playdate, she looked to her then live-in beau to provide an alternative to a humdrum storytime. At the time, Kaplan, a struggling Brooklyn-based musician, had recorded four CDs but had no experience creating music specifically for kids.

Hurriedly, he fused together a medley of sing-along classics like "Old MacDonald" with rock and blues adaptations, including an interactive take on Mississippi John Hurt's "Shake That Thing." Kaplan's clever, casual rapport with the dozen-plus kids in attendance impressed the Beansprouts Nursery School teacher, who knew that the Park Slope preschool was losing its music instructor. Kaplan was invited to fill the position, but the idea of limiting his classes to cloying made-for-kids tunes left him less than thrilled. "Right away, I adapted songs from my traditional repertoire. All I had to do in some cases was change a lyric or two, and I could play the songs I love," Kaplan says. "When I do play standard children's-music fare, I try to do them differently from what they're used to hearing."

Kaplan began penning his own tunes to keep his playlists fresh, and his students weren't the only ones to notice. "He doesn't dumb it down for the kids," says four-year-old Seamus Rohrer's dad, Matt. "He just expects them to come along for the ride. And they do." Using wacky voices, skull-shaped shakers and monkey puppets, Kaplan gets even the crankiest kids to join their classmates in their weekly song-and-dance lessons. His students happily shout out help when he "forgets" the words to "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star," and some even pitch in with a little air guitar.

Hoping to capitalize on his kid appeal, Kaplan recently released his first children's CD. Five Cent Piece combines twangy pop covers and Kaplan's own endearing tunes in a 17-track set both four-year-olds and their parents can relate to. In Kaplan's hands, the Rolling Stones' "You Can't Always Get What You Want" becomes a lesson in kiddie compromise, and the popular ditty "Roaches" slips in references to Kafka's Metamorphosis.

When he isn't leading his Sprouts in creative music lessons three times a week, Kaplan performs regularly for grown-ups at the neighborhood's Perch Caf. And even if he hasn't found a new girlfriend, he's got more than one grade-school groupie. Mom Alison Bowers says that her daughter Lulu "believes Randy belongs to her and her alone."

Log on to randykaplan.com for information about upcoming shows and to hear tracks from Five Cent Piece.

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