Don’t let his gruff voice fool you. Alastair Moock is a big softy.
Sure, warm and fuzzy is probably not how most folk singers want to be known. And up until now, Moock wasn’t. In fact, he still isn’t. But to describe him as just a gravely-voiced, fingerpicking guitarist reminiscent of Woody Guthrie and Tom Waits would be to set aside how his music and audience have evolved nearly 20 years into his career as a renown folk artist in the Boston area.
Given his musical influences, it’s no surprise that Moock has been moved by music “that connects me to progressive issues and social involvement. It’s always been a big part of what I’ve wanted to do as a musician.” When his twin daughters, Elsa and Clio, were born in 2006, Moock started shifting the focus of his music from adults down to children, except instead of singing down to kids, he got down on their level and sang to them. It wasn’t until July 2012, however, that perhaps Moock realized his ability to reach out and touch kids through song could do something deeper than make them simply smile and hum.
Last summer Clio was diagnosed with Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia, which Moock’s wife, writer and former longtime Babble Voices blogger Jane Roper, has written about extensively on her blog. Like other families who’ve been rocked by cancer, Moock was changed profoundly — personally and professionally. He walked around the hospital that first week or so that Clio was there, but then he stopped pacing, picked up his guitar and started strumming.
“Singing together in the hospital was transformative,” Moock said, “not just for Clio, but for me. It reminded me how powerful music can be, and I wanted to bring that experience to other kids and families going through the same thing.”
Clio helped Alastair write songs about her journey, and “eventually, I realized I had an album’s worth of material on my hands — material that, I felt, looked cancer pretty squarely in the eye and that might be of some use to other kids and families traveling similar paths,” Moock said.
Below is a video for one of the heartwarming and funny songs on Singing Our Way Through that speaks to adults and kids who are touched by cancer — and even those who aren’t. Also below are some of the joyous photos of the Moock/Roper family taken in the past year that show through the darkest period of their life, they still found a few bright rays to light their way through it all:
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Music can't cure cancer, but this music might just make it a bit more palatable.
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Twins Clio and Elsa, Moock, and his wife Jane Roper, in June, 2012
While Clio was given the "best" kind of diagnosis — a 95 percent chance of survival — she is somewhat aware of the other 5 percent chance.
"It's really a blessing with little kids that they don't fully grasp the seriousness of a diagnosis like this," Moock told Babble. "That said, we have talked about it and Clio is aware that people can and do die from cancer, kids too. Exactly what she thinks about that is, honestly, hard to say. We don't push too hard. It's quite amazing though how adaptable kids are. There's not a lot of 'why me?' in the six-year-old psyche. When they feel rotten, they feel rotten. When they feel better, they play and get on with their lives. (I'm using the universal they in this context because we've seen this behavior in all of Clio's peers at the hospital and clinic it's not just her). My album project is largely a response to that very phenomenon. I wanted to make an album that dealt with some of these serious issues but in a mostly joyous way that reflected what I see in Clio and her patient peers."
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Elsa and Clio in the studio with Moock recording Singing Our Way Through, which, given the fact that they've performed on stage with him before, was par for the course.
"Elsa has always been incredibly outgoing and has always been a part of my shows since early on," Moock said to Babble. "In fact, the hard thing is keeping her off the stage at times. Clio was always much shier and would only occasionally feel like joining me for a song. But that's all changed lately. Every time, the girls are with me now they both come up and sing their own 'signature' song. Elsa sings the tune 'Walk On,' complete with complicated dance moves, and Clio absolutely belts out the song 'When I Get Bald.' It's been amazing to see her come out of her shell. It was a process that started before her diagnosis but I think her ownership of this material the subject matter and also the fact that she co-wrote a couple of the songs with me just put her over the top. She takes music incredibly seriously these days. Calls herself a professional musician, spends a lot of time practicing and writing songs on her own… It's such a joy to have both of them sing with me on stage."
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Moock filming the folky, funny and (warm and) fuzzy video for When I Get Bald
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"Clio always said that she wanted [cut off her hair] at some point," Roper wrote on her blog. "She's handling the whole thing beautifully. She expressed some fear that kids would laugh at her. And the first week or so, when she was in situations with friends who hadn't seen her without hair yet, she'd be a little reserved at first, and wear a hat. But usually the hat would come off within a few minutes."
Moock then shaved off his hair in solidarity with Clio.
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Moock tries his hand at facepainting.
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"Clio and I escaped to a playground [during her treatment]," said Moock. "Tiny miracles"
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The annual Jimmy Fund Fantasy Day at Fenway has raised more than $6 million in support of cancer research and patient care at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
"I won't lie to you," Roper wrote on her blog last month. "There are some pretty sweet perks that come with having a kid with cancer . . . We were on the fence about going [to Fantasy Day at Fenway Park] and even when we did sign up, we went into it thinking, yeah, sure, it will probably be fun. But it could also be a media circus — and we have such mixed feelings about Clio being a part of photo-ops for athletes, fundraising events, etc. . . Plus, it's not like either the girls or we are rabid Sox fans, so the 'fantasy' part of it wasn't exactly applicable to us. But it ended up being a truly fun and memorable afternoon. First, we got to check out the visiting team locker rooms. Comfy enough — a couple of couches, some tables and chairs, a nice TV — but I'm guessing the Sox locker room is waaaaay sweeter. . . [Later] we took to the field! And it really was pretty amazing to be on the field at Fenway. Even as a non-baseball fan (I don't dislike baseball, and enjoy going to the occasional game, but you know) it was pretty exciting."
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"Attention the wanting and getting of it has been an issue in our house almost from the day the girls were born," Moock said to Babble. "I think it's a dynamic in any house with multiple kids but maybe especially in one with twins. The issue certainly played a big role in Jane's (pre-cancer) memoir, Double Time. Add in a serious illness and you've got a huge matzo ball on your plate. It's something we've been pretty focused on all along and especially since Clio's diagnosis. But, of course, we can't always make things even-steven and there are times when we've had to give Clio an outsized portion of our attention, especially in the early days of her treatment… There's a song on the album called 'Have You Ever Been Jealous?' which deals with this issue directly. The intent is to acknowledge, without necessarily trying to solve, jealousy as a very real and ok feeling to have."
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"Both girls graduated kindergarten last month and both are now going regularly to camp," Moock tells Babble. "Clio turned a major corner a few weeks ago when she completed her first year of treatment. She'll still get chemo this whole coming year but it's significantly less intense and we've seen a huge improvement in her overall energy already!"
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For more on Alastair, Clio and Singing Our Way Through, click here.
All photos used with permission from Alastair Moock
To donate to help Alastair perform and distribute free albums to patients, hospitals and oncology programs around the country, click here.
To download Singing Our Way Through, click here.
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