“Christ is risen from the dead! Trampling down death by death! And upon those in the tombs bestowing life!”
So sings my little niece as she scampers across the backyard, her two lungs bursting at a reckless volume.
To see children singing is one of my favorite moments as an educator and entertainer. Her inspiration is an episode of The Wonderful World of Benjamin Cello, a new children’s show created by my family for Catholic families.
Benjamin Cello is like a fusion of Mary Poppins and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood, a whimsical series where a country gentleman visits The Land of the Baptized Imagination to explore truths about God and his creation.
My parents, siblings, and extended family are a cohort of artists with a long career in live performance, songwriting, and musical theater. Inspired by the vision of Robin Wolaver, our mother who first created the character and concept, we banded together a couple of years ago to self-fund a six episode season of Benjamin Cello. A year after Season 1 debuted, we have been blown away by the overwhelming response of families to the old fashioned artistry and full bodied faith of the show. Which might explain to you why my little 4 year old niece is going around singing a Byzantine Easter antiphon written a thousand years ago.
One of our guiding principles as we write Benjamin Cello is the power of singing on the development of young children. Before the age of 12, a child’s brain is moving two and a half times faster than the average adult brain. Their bodies are building trillions of synapses, the biological circuitry of the mind. When you throw a song into that teeming frenzy, the brain archives it in the deepest recesses of the memory. Even Alzheimer’s patients who can’t remember their own name can still recall songs they sang as a child.
Furthermore, studies have shown that what people believe by the age of 13 is often what they will die in old age believing. All the more reason to fill this incredibly important season with truth, beauty, and goodness!
Benjamin Cello was our response to the “throwaway culture” of children’s entertainment. All too often the media we show our children is cheap, artificial, and empty. If there is a message in the milieu, it is a humanistic individualism that pits parents against children, nature against “choice”, and promotes a “me-first” ethic.
When we first recorded a pilot of Benjamin Cello, we sent it to two major streaming platforms. The first said that they were no longer creating shows with mentor figures – children needed to discover “their truth” on their own. The second was incredibly excited about the aesthetic of the show (we have live puppets, original songs, and acoustic instruments), but didn’t want God in the picture. ‘How tied are you to that word, “God”?’ they asked.
Our response: Very.
And so our self-funded leap of faith began with the sale of homes and the purchase of a warehouse south of downtown Nashville where six months of renovation and set building produced The Wonderful World of Benjamin Cello. To change the culture of children’s entertainment took a guerrilla attitude. But our mission wasn’t divisive – instead, it was to open the floodgates of God’s love in the hearts of children.
In today’s world, families of faith can’t sit on the sidelines, watching the culture direct their children’s desires and self-image. But they also need help from the Body of Christ, and each person has a role to play in protecting and forming “the least of these”. In a world of declining birth rates, political extremism, and ever-increasing decadence, the song a little two-year old is singing is more important than ever.
Season Two is now available for purchase on DVD and to stream online at www.benjamincello.com.
This guest post was written by Benjamin Wolaver.