Features


She Plays As Creator Of The Wee Sing Musical Series, Susan Hagen Nipp Always Has Children’s Interests First

SATURDAY, FEB. 28, 1998

It starts out strictly routine. Susan Hagen Nipp pulls on her sweats. Grabs a notebook (always spiral) and a cup of tea (usually Market Spice).

She turns off the TV, the stereo, the computer. Silence makes way for the music in her mind.

When the house is still, the distractions gone, the Coeur d’Alene woman abandons routine and becomes a kid.

She unplugs the telephone, knowing callers would expect an adult to answer.

“What would be exciting for that little child?” she asks herself. “What kind of world would they want to go into? What would make them think, ‘This is fun, this is magical?’ “

Scores of whimsical songs sung by kids around the world originated here, in Nipp’s 52-going-on-5-year-old mind. hugely successful company that has sold more than 30 million sing-along audiocassettes, songbooks and videos in the past 20 years.

Parents and teachers recognize the names: “Wee Sing America,” ” Wee Sing Silly Songs,” “Wee Sing Dinosaurs,” “Wee Sing Bible Songs,” Wee Sing - it seems - almost everything. Libraries stock them. Department stores carry them. Music teachers rely on them.

Nipp recently got a note from a New Hampshire woman, along with a Halloween photo of her daughters dressed up like Sillywhim and Spurtlegurgle - video characters Nipp invented. She’s still amazed to think that some mom spent hours at a sewing machine making something she imagined.

This isn’t the career Nipp envisioned when she played the flute in the Rogers High School band in north Spokane, or even later, when she studied music at Whitworth College. She loved music, had sung in the church choir in Hillyard along with her parents and two brothers.

But she saw limitations. Some people are gifted singers, but she wasn’t, she says. And some are gifted musicians. Not her.

After graduating, she went on to work as a stewardess, then an English teacher, and finally an elementary music teacher in Lake Oswego, Ore.

She had no interest in songwriting, not even when she and Pam Beall, a college friend who also lived in Lake Oswego, got together to compile a book of traditional children’s songs.

The two had recently quit their jobs as music teachers to have children, but they weren’t ready to give up their careers entirely. Their initial investment: $100 each.

When they sold 20,000 copies without a publisher, they suspected they were on to something.

As their business grew, they took turns tending it. One baby-sat while the other did bookkeeping. They packaged books for mailing during nap time. They hired a sorority sister to illustrate their music. They cheered when a Seattle company decided to carry their books.

When they began to add sing-along cassettes to their songbooks - starring children - business soared.

That’s when the women decided to do more than compile tunes such as “Mary Had A Little Lamb” and “The Ants Go Marching One by One.”

They began writing songs and teaching their kids to sing them for the tapes, which by then were selling nationwide.

“Being the type of women we are, we wanted to be totally in control with this,” says Nipp. “We thought, ‘Hey, we can do this!”’

Those were the years when Nipp began paying close attention to what made children listen, or smile, or sing along. If their children rejected a song, so did the women.

Shortly after starting Wee Sing, Nipp moved to Coeur d’Alene with her husband, Charlie, and sons Ryan and Devin, then 4 and 2. Their telephone bill skyrocketed from business calls back to her partner in Oregon, but Idaho proved fertile ground for Nipp’s songwriting.

Some artists are inspired by the sights and sounds of cities. For Nipp, it’s the hawks in the Ponderosa pine outside, the morning walks through foggy woods on her ridge high above the Spokane River.

Even Aryan leader Richard Butler inspired her.

He intended to influence teenage white supremacists at a Hayden youth rally a decade ago but his racist message so disturbed Nipp that she created an entire video musical - “Wee Sing in Sillyville” - about bickering colors that learned to get along.

It was also Nipp who dreamed up the garden orchestra featured in the video Weesingdom: the daffodil trumpet, the dandelion drum.

“I have to say,” says Beall, “a lot of the weird stuff comes from Susan.”

How does Nipp do it? Beall just laughs. “I have no idea.”

Ann Smart, who worked with Nipp on a community children’s choir, believes it’s intuition - the same sort of sixth sense she says Nipp used to get rid of a nuisance squirrel living in her garage.

She shunned traps. She simply told the squirrel, “I never want to see you again.” And she didn’t.

The rest is less mysterious, says another friend, Betty Cheeley. “She is really focused. A lot of us come and go and give things half a thought, but she’s focused.

“I should be in awe of Susan, but you forget. She’s so down to earth,” Cheeley said. “She’s going off to meet with the head of Universal Studios, and we’re having dinner together and she’s taking my recipes.”

Nipp says she often gets her best ideas while brainstorming - making lists of ideas, words, lines to songs, until something makes her say, “Ah!”

She can’t quite explain where her best turns of phrases come from. But she sees no bottom to the well.

This, she believes, is her gift.

“Nobody can save the world. No one has that massive pull. But everyone has some way they can contribute,” Nipp says. “We happened to find our way.”

, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 color photos

MEMO: These sidebars appeared with the story: SING-ALONG Susan Hagen Nipp and her partner, Pam Beall, are hosting a Wee Sing sing-along Sunday at 3 p.m. at Children’s Corner bookstore, 714 W. Main, Spokane. They’re introducing their latest book and audiocassette combination, “Wee Sing Games, Games, Games.” You can hear a song Nipp wrote by calling Cityline at (509) 458-8800 in Washington or (208) 765-8811 in Idaho on a Touch-Tone phone, then press 9870. Cityline is a free service, but normal long- distance charges do apply to calls outside Spokane or Coeur d’Alene.

WE’RE STILL LOOKING Do you know someone who should be part of our Creative ‘98 project? Someone who is passionate, inspiring and energetic? It’s easy to tell us about those people. Send us the names, how we can reach them, their ages and why you think they are creative. please include your name, too. You can write: Creative ‘98, The Spokesman-Review Newsroom, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Fax: (509) 459-5482 in Spokane; or (208) 765-7149 in Idaho. Call CityLine: (509) 458-8800 or (208) 765-8811. The category is 9882. Or you can e-mail: shellyd@spokesman.com

These sidebars appeared with the story: SING-ALONG Susan Hagen Nipp and her partner, Pam Beall, are hosting a Wee Sing sing-along Sunday at 3 p.m. at Children’s Corner bookstore, 714 W. Main, Spokane. They’re introducing their latest book and audiocassette combination, “Wee Sing Games, Games, Games.” You can hear a song Nipp wrote by calling Cityline at (509) 458-8800 in Washington or (208) 765-8811 in Idaho on a Touch-Tone phone, then press 9870. Cityline is a free service, but normal long- distance charges do apply to calls outside Spokane or Coeur d’Alene.

WE’RE STILL LOOKING Do you know someone who should be part of our Creative ‘98 project? Someone who is passionate, inspiring and energetic? It’s easy to tell us about those people. Send us the names, how we can reach them, their ages and why you think they are creative. please include your name, too. You can write: Creative ‘98, The Spokesman-Review Newsroom, P.O. Box 2160, Spokane, WA 99210. Fax: (509) 459-5482 in Spokane; or (208) 765-7149 in Idaho. Call CityLine: (509) 458-8800 or (208) 765-8811. The category is 9882. Or you can e-mail: shellyd@spokesman.com



Click here to comment on this story »






Sections


Profile

Contact the Spokesman

Main switchboard:
(509) 459-5000
Customer service:
(509) 747-4422
Newsroom:
(509) 459-5400
(800) 789-0029
Back to Spokesman Mobile