Q&A: Laurie Berkner chats about family, motherhood, musicals, her Raleigh concert
Posted November 4, 2014
Laurie Berkner, widely considered a pioneer in the kindie music genre (that's short for independent kids music), will make her very first visit to Raleigh in February for a concert at the Duke Energy Center for Performing Arts in downtown Raleigh.
For years, Berkner has been a regular face on TV's Nick Jr. and Sprout channels and busy recording and performing across the country. Her original songs focus on the silly and the serious - from family life and emotions to chocolate in your pocket. Both parents and kids consider themselves fans.
Berkner recently released a second compilation of her most popular songs - "The Ultimate Laurie Berkner Band Collection," a fun album that my five-year-old has been listening to on repeat for the last week. It features Berkner staples from six of her CDs, including songs like "Rocketship Run," "Mouse in My Toolbox," and "Mahalo."
Tickets for Berkner's Raleigh show, which start at $35, went on sale this week. The concert is at 11 a.m., Feb. 28. I chatted with Berkner, a mom of one who calls New York home, about her new album, her work and her Raleigh concert.
Here's our chat:
Go Ask Mom: You just came out with your second compilation album? Why a second one? And how do you figure out which songs to put on it?
Laurie Berkner: Because there wasn’t enough room on the first one for all the songs I wanted to put on there. (I’m already making my set list for the third one!) I chose the songs by looking at which songs had been downloaded the most often, requested most often, anecdotally told to me they were favorites and the ones I personally liked the best.
GAM: What's your favorite song on the album and why?
LB: That is SUCH a hard question - and the answer might change tomorrow. But right now I really like "My Family." It’s so much fun to sing, and it has a lot of special meaning for me. I sang it to my father in the hospital just before he passed away -- it makes me think of all of the people I’ve loved in my life.
GAM: You'd been writing music for kids for about a decade when your daughter was born. How did her birth change the way you think about music for kids or the way you write your songs? Is she your toughest critic, biggest fan or both?
LB: At first, becoming a parent changed the way I wrote, because every song I came up with had the name Lucy in it! Then, as she grew, I started to write songs while I was with her about things that she was doing. I was working on the songs for my album Rocketship Run when she was two and three years old, and I remember holding her hand while she walked on the edges of the planters surrounding the trees up at Columbia University. One afternoon, I literally walked around and around with her - VERY slowly - for about two hours. That’s when I wrote the song “Balance Beam.” It gave me something to focus on so I wouldn’t go crazy.
As far as being my biggest fan or toughest critic. . .. I think Lucy is both. Now that she’s ten, she seems both proud of me and sometimes embarrassed by me. (Especially if I sing while we’re walking down the street.) She also loves to help me write songs and work on my various projects. That’s when she lets me know if she thinks she could write one of my songs better than I could. She’s also quite good at selling merchandise at my concerts.
GAM: Some of your songs are about emotions and feelings; others about relationships; and others are just kind of silly. What do you hope kids learn and understand from your music?
LB: I love the first sentence of this question. You clearly have really listened to a lot of my songs, thank you! I write about all the things you listed and, in addition, I try hard to incorporate movement or imagination play. I have always felt that the most important thing about writing music for kids is that they get pleasure out of it. I want kids to feel like the music belongs to them and that they can learn it and then sing or move to it easily, so there is no barrier to getting true enjoyment out of the experience. I want them to feel like music is an organic part of their being, that it’s fun and that it makes them feel good. It’s so important because music is an amazing outlet for expression and feelings. It’s a beautiful, unique way to connect with other people, to create intimacy, and to experience joy in a group or as an individual. For some kids, music is the only way they can easily memorize ideas, and it’s a way to make learning for any child (or adult!) fun. Music is also a gateway for a child to begin to feel confident using his or her body and to develop a sense of rhythm that might translate into different modes of expression like dance, sports or any other kind of active experience. To me, ALL of this starts by just making music fun.
GAM: You're currently writing lyrics and music for a children's musical to open off Broadway this month. How is that work different from your other work?
LB: It’s different in so many ways. Instead of writing songs that I will record or perform in concert, I’m writing for characters in a play, so the words I come up with have to reflect their personalities, not mine. I’m also writing songs where the script writer has told me what she’d like me to write about (instead of me just writing about whatever I feel like), and sometimes this includes helping to move the plot along in the story of the musical itself. I also need to make sure that all of the music I write for the project has a connecting thread so that the songs all make sense within the context of the show, but they still have to be different enough from each other that the music doesn’t get repetitive or boring. I am also writing songs that other people give me notes on (instead of just me deciding what I like or don’t like in each number). And I think the biggest difference in writing songs for a musical and not just for myself, is that ultimately, I’m NOT going to be the one who sings them. The great part about that is that I get to listen to other people sing my songs, and see how they interpret the lyrics and make them their own. It’s incredibly exciting!!
GAM: You'll be in Raleigh for a show in February. Is this your first time here? What can your North Carolina fans expect?
LB: I have played in North Carolina before, but this will be my first time in Raleigh! I’m so looking forward to it. I’ll be bringing the band for this concert, which is SUPER fun. (Susie Lampert on keyboard, Brady Rymer on bass and Bob Golden on drums and percussion.) This is a “Dance Party” themed show and we'll be playing lots of songs for the kids to dance and move to. It’s always a very active experience, so there is no expectation that kids will be staying in their seats for long. We’ll perform lots of our fan favorites, including songs from my recently released compilation The Ultimate Laurie Berkner Band Collection and our first greatest hits album, The Best Of The Laurie Berkner Band. I also recommend bringing an animal to wear on your head. I’ll leave it to you to tell your readers why!
Editor's Note: I'm pretty sure that means she'll be playing "Pig on Her Head!" Tickets are on sale now!