Children's entertainer sings songs kids would write
When Laurie Berkner writes a children's song, she likes to consult her audience first.
The results—tunes about dinosaurs, bumblebees, trucks—have created young fans so passionate that Berkner has overheard some say, “No, Mommy, I want to listen to MY music now! I want to listen to Laurie Berkner!”
“I've heard children say this to their parents because they feel like it's their own,” Berkner said in a phone interview. “That's exactly why I do this.”
Families can hear Berkner live at 4 p.m. Sunday, July 27, at George Williams College in Williams Bay. The concert is part of the college's Music by the Lake series.
Berkner was performing in the all-female rock group Lois Lane in the early 1990s when she got the chance to work as a preschool music specialist at Rockefeller University in New York City. She discovered that she was better at writing kids' music than playing in a cover band.
“I was splitting my time, and so I chose the children,” Berkner said. “I felt more fulfilled singing for them.”
Berkner felt inspired, but she soon found it hard to keep the children's attention.
“With 25 classes a week full of kids, I began to struggle,” Berkner said. “I cried every day, unsure of how to keep the kids together.
“So I observed the music specialist that had been there for 10 years before me to see what I was doing wrong. She told me, 'Stop talking. It's in the music.'”
Berkner asked the children what they wanted to sing about, and she began writing songs.
“I soon realized that children have so many feelings they aren't able to deal with,” she said. “So I created a song called 'We Are the Dinosaurs.' They were able to act out their anger without fighting each other because instead they were being active in my music as dinosaurs. They were engaged and having fun.”
After her music specialist job ended, Berkner had to find new sources for inspiration. She didn't have that direct relationship with children anymore.
“Now I have to think about what I remember as a kid at that age, and I find doing this to be very helpful,” she said. “Spending time with little kids reminds me of what my childhood was like. So I try to write from a child's point of view.”
Berkner taps into different times in her childhood to reach different age groups.
“I love seeing all age groups,” Berkner said, “but I feel inspired most and am very attracted to preschoolers. But I know that children from 6 months to 10 years old are listening to my music.”
“…The music is about their experiences, things that are relevant to them. Children feel very powerful things. They feel smaller with nothing of their own, but this is specifically made for them. It is music that represents them, and I love being able to give that to them.”
As Berkner writes new music, she sometimes looks to her family.
“Sometimes I look to my daughter, Lucy,” she said. “She isn't of the age group I try to reach, but she is always very helpful and has lots of great ideas.”
Berkner's July 27 concert will give kids a chance to both sing and dance.
“The audience should always be prepared to move their bodies and bring lots of energy,” she said. “I like to do a lot of call-and-response songs to really get the kids involved. I also like to encourage them to bring animals that make sounds so they can make animal sounds as well.”
Berkner has released nine albums, including her latest, “Laurie Berkner Lullabies.” She's also working on a few other projects.
“I am always open to new projects,” Berkner said. “My main goal is to be creative and stay connected to music. So I am open to anything that allows me to do just that.”