Saturday, February 13, 2016

Saturday Special - An Interview with Laurie Berkner


Laurie Berkner (LB) is unequivocally one of the most beloved children's entertainers of all time. She and her band have been entertaining children through CD's and concerts since 1997.

How did you get into doing children's music?


LB: I began as a pre-school music specialist about a year out of college.  After I while I realized that the kids I was teaching liked the songs I made up better than the songs I was finding at the library.  So I made a recording of their favorites.  It's kind of a long story, but eventually I started performing instead of working in a classroom, and it became my career.

Who are your biggest musical inspirations? Both in general and also other people who specialize in children's music like you do.


LB: In general I really love Paul Simon for his lyrical and melodic artistry.  In children’s music I’m most inspired by Brady Rymer.  Even though he plays bass with me, he writes his own wonderful kids’ music and has his own band.  He’s a great musician, has been nominated for two Grammies and has one of the biggest hearts I know.

Did you have kind of special training or did you get any kind of schooling to do what you do?

LB: My training was all “on the job,” except for one class I took. It was in a kind of musical pedagogy called “Dalcroze Eurythmics,” which connects teaching music with movement. That approach really spoke to me, and I’ve written many of my songs thinking about how to incorporate movement.
Would you ever want to sing any other kind of music besides children's music?

LB: Sure.  I love writing, recording and performing for kids - but I also love lots of other kinds of music.

Is it easy for you to come up with songs? 

LB: Often it feels very natural to me to write a song, but I can spend a lot of time agonizing over a particular idea.  Every song seems to come out of me differently.

Where do you get inspiration for your songs?  

LB: I listen.  I listen to kids talking to each other, to themselves and to their grown-ups.  I think about things that I loved when I was a kid.

How old were you when you first start singing?  

LB: My first memory of singing was when I was about 2 or 3 years old.  I was supposed to stay in my room while my parents slept in one Saturday morning,  but I was allowed to get out of bed.  I had my own Fisher-Price record player and I owned a copy of “Do Re Mi” from The Sound of Music.  I put that song on and marched around on my bed singing at the top of my lungs!  After that, I don’t ever remember NOT singing.

How old were you when you first started writing songs?  

LB: I think the first “official” song I wrote was when I was 19.  I was taking a year off from college and living in West Africa. I started to explore songwriting while I was there.

Did you ever write any songs that weren't for little kids? If not, would you want to?  

LB: Yes, I’ve written many.  Before I started writing songs for kids I had my own original rock band called “Red Onion,” and I wrote all the songs that we played.  Before that I used to perform my own songs as a solo singer/songwriter in cafes in New York City. I don’t really sing those songs anymore because they were from a very different time in my life, but i still feel inspired now and then to write songs that might be better for older audiences.

Who were you favorite singers as a kid?


LB: As a young child I loved Julie Andrews (The Sound of Music!  Mary Poppins! My Fair Lady!) John Denver and Peter, Paul and Mary. I also loved a children’s musician named Hap Palmer.  He wrote a song called “Sammy” that was my favorite.

What's the best thing about performing for kids?

LB:  Watching them have fun while we’re making music together!!

What was it like when you performed your first concert?

LB:  The first time I performed for kids and parents in a concert setting I was pretty nervous. I had performed many times before that, but playing for kids was different.  If they didn’t like what I was doing, they just got up and walked away.  I also remember thinking that it was hard to do the whole show by myself - and that the next time I would call Susie Lampert and ask her to play with me!

If you could be successful at anything you wanted would you still want to be a singer/songwriter/performer and would you still want to sing, write songs and perform for children?  

LB: Oh wow, That’s a great question.  Yes, this is still what I would want to do.  OR...be an organic farmer who makes and sells delicious foods.

What advice would you give to someone who wants to do what you do?  

LB: Pay attention to what you love and do well - and follow it.  That’s what will attract people to what you’re doing.

We thank Laurie for taking the time to answer our questions.For more about upcoming Laurie Berkner concerts and CD releases, see our weekly Sunday Scoop posts. To enter to win a copy of Laurie's latest CD go to Tips for Tuesday- Misc.: Laurie Berkner's Favorite Classic Kids Songs
Tune in tomorrow for this week's Sunday Scoop.

photo credit: Jayme Thornton

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