Exploring wildlife habitat and more through song
When it comes to wildlife, conservation and music, Jan and George Syrigos are like excited little kids.
“Our motto has always been to ‘bring the heart of the wild to the heart of a child,’ ” says Jan. “You can’t do that if you’re not passionate about it yourself.”
The couple are both graduates of Mizzou, with George getting a degree in fisheries and wildlife and Jan in forestry. Combined, the duo has worked in conservation education for more than 20 years.
Over the years, both Jan and George worked for the Missouri Department of Conservation’s Runge Conservation Nature Center in Jefferson City. As part of the programs, Jan would make up songs to sing at the end of presentations (for any older readers, think “School House Rock”). The couple eventually went out on their own and started an outreach with their Wildheart nature camps for kids at their farm in Meta. Hundreds of kids later, the couple began looking for a new way to teach kids about conservation and nature.
While with the Missouri Department of Conservation, the department liked what they heard when Jan sang during presentations. In 1996, they offered to produce a CD titled “CritterRock,” later following up with a DVD of videos as a companion to the musical project.
A few years later, the project was submitted by the department for a regional Emmy and won for Best Children’s Programming. It also won a Parent’s Choice Award.
While Jan usually performs solo, George often helps write lyrics for tunes Jan teaches.
“We intentionally do a wide variety of musical styles to keep things interesting,” Jan says of the original songs. “Music glues ideas to our brains. Tie truth to a melody and it’s unforgettable.”
Kids of all ages end up movin’ and groovin’ by the time they hear songs like “Buzzy Wuzzy Buggy Boogie,” “Snoozin’ Cruisin’,” “Reptile Rap” and “Hairy Not Scary” (a super cool song about bats). Another song, “Circle Cycle,” talks about the natural life cycle, while “Spider Mama” talks about the misunderstood lives of the arachnids.
Jan’s programs range from 45 minutes to an hour and can include a wide variety of topics including Show Me Wild, Wild Tales and Tails and Color Me Wild. To add to the fun, the habitat teacher usually brings a few of Missouri’s smaller critters in to show students and teachers alike. She offers the programs in three settings: classroom wild (a performance just for small groups,) playground wild (a performance held outdoors on school grounds to allow for safe spacing) and virtual wild (a Zoom or pre-recorded online concert.)
“You’d be surprised how many people haven’t seen things like a salamander, frog or even a snake up close,” Jan says.
When she’s not writing songs or taking the Wildheart show on the road, Jan teaches outdoor skills classes to sixth, seventh and eighth graders at Lighthouse Preparatory Academy in Jefferson City.
“We want to encourage people of all ages to get outside and learn about the world around them,” says Jan.
“There are too many people who don’t have a connection with nature. There’s a beautiful world out there and many don’t even take time to explore it. You don’t have to be a mountain climber or river rafter to enjoy the outdoors,” says the nature lover.
Jan’s latest song has been years in the making but is being released in time for Missouri’s 200th birthday celebration.
The song “Show Me Missouri” shares many of Missouri’s state symbols such as the state game bird and tree as well as famous Missourians in a fun way.
“I love seeing the wide-eyed wonder when a child holds a tiny frog or a colorful caterpillar,” says Jan. “After that, curiosity often pushes them forward.”
While her target audience is preschool to sixth grade, the songwriter often finds the adults paying as much attention as the kids. Performances are often held in state parks, schools and libraries across Missouri.
“I want learning to be fun. There are always actions and sign language to the songs,” she says.
Jan says she feels songwriting is a great responsibility, especially when the goal is to teach a message.
“A song’s message will outlive you,” says Jan. “My hope is that everyone, kids and adults alike, will notice what the outdoors has to show them.”
To book a performance with Jan, call 573-645-7076 or email email@example.com. Check out www.wildheartmusic.com to order CDs and listen to music samples. Program prices begin at $375 and vary according to distance and length of performance.