The service for Paul Strausman drew a standing-room only crowd. The line to get inside stretched out the door.
It was a fitting tribute for a man whose music had touched scores of Capital District residents, many of counting Strausman’s songs among their earliest memories.
A lot of people in this area grew up with his music, said fellow children’s musician Terri Roben. `He had an amazing ability to write beautiful music. Soothing is a good word for his music. He just had this incredible sweet, gentle spirit. … Nobody could believe he just died.`
Strausman died of a heart attack on Dec. 21. He was 51. He left behind his wife, Carol Coogan, a daughter, Raina, and sons Shea and Arlen.
Roben knew Strausman long before he became a household name in the Albany area. Back in the early ’70s, both were playing at political rallies and coffeehouses. They formed a friendship that continued as each married, started families and built a career around children’s music.
In the spirit of that friendship, Roben, of Ballston Lake, has organized a children’s concert to benefit Strausman’s family. She and Andy `The Music Man` Morse, a children’s musician from Delmar, will play Strausman’s songs at Caffe Lena in Saratoga Springs beginning at 3 p.m. Sunday, Aug. 23. Roben hopes other musicians and friends of Strausman’s will join them on stage, but if they don’t, she’s not worried. She and Morse each regularly perform their own children’s concerts, so filling the typical 45 minutes that such a concert lasts `won’t be a challenge for us,` she said with a laugh.
She and Morse both love the enthusiasm that comes from performing for kids. `Kids are just such a blast,` Roben said. `It’s very energizing.`
Roben first started playing for children when her daughter, now 25, was in nursery school and the teacher asked Roben to perform for the class. She called it a `natural evolution,` since she had been singing since she was only about 2. Today, she teaches Music Together classes for children and caregivers in addition to performing throughout the area.
Music has always been a part of Morse’s life, too. He was a huge fan of the Grateful Dead, so much so that he spent a year following the group around the country, selling tie-dyed T-shirts.
Back in Albany, Morse met Strausman back in the mid-1980s, when Morse was dating a woman who worked at a day care center where Strausman performed. Morse remembers being impressed that Strausman was making a living playing for kids.
`I thought, that’s really cool,` Morse said.
Strausman eventually graduated from day care and began playing and teaching at schools around the region, including the Albany Academies and St. Catherine’s Center for Children. At the time of his death, he was a music teacher at Pieter B. Coeymans Elementary School in the Ravena-Coeymans-Selkirk district.
Morse, meanwhile, followed in Strausman’s footsteps. After being hired as a teacher at Albany Medical Center’s Kidskeller Day Care Center, Morse began singing and playing for his students. Word began to spread, and Morse decided to take his show on the road — in a local sense.
`You could go from school to school and make money,` he said. `It was an avenue to do what I really love.`
Because he was working with young students, his songs weren’t just about making melodies or having fun. He was actually helping students learn, singing songs on topics like number and letter recognition.
`They were like little sponges,` Morse said, remembering the parents who told him their child rarely talked but had been going around singing Morse’s songs.
Morse is active in the Children’s Music Network, as is Roben. It’s an international organization of performers, songwriters, educators and more. The group helped Morse reconnect in recent years with Strausman, and they laughed about how Morse had picked up where Strausman left off, playing the area daycare scene.
Today, Morse plays at schools throughout the Northeast and is a fixture at teacher workshops. He also plays some music geared for older listeners, belonging to an acoustic trio and a five-piece rock ‘n’ roll band called Unknown Legends.
Late last year, Morse went down to Java Jazz in Delmar to see Strausman, who lived just a few miles away from the coffeehouse in Albany. Strausman invited Morse to sit in with him, and they performed `This Land is Your Land.`
`It was nice to finally have a chance to sing with him,` Morse said.
It was the last chance he would ever have. Strausman died about two weeks later.
`I feel really grateful for Paul,` Morse said. `He was really kind of a mentor to me.`
Roben called Strausman `just a great person.`
`He was like a big teddy bear,` she said.
She hopes the concert will expose some people to Strausman’s songs for the first time, as well as give old fans another chance to hear them performed. CDs will be for sale, and they are also available at www.gentlewind.com, the Web site for A Gentle Wind, a recording company owned by Strausman’s sister, Jill Person, of Albany.
Tickets to the concert are $10 for adults and $5 for children younger than 13. Caffe Lena is at 47 Phila St. in Saratoga Springs. “