Pioneer of 'kindie rock' remains creative
Just another day for Laurie Berkner: play music, learn how to make spreadsheets, try on dresses ...
Multitasking -- even if some of the tasks aren't exactly what she might have anticipated -- is the way of things for the queen of "kindie rock," the movement that features real, modern pop music for kids, of which Berkner herself was a pioneer.
The many tasks, Berkner said, are evidence of the many opportunities her music has afforded her, as she became a multiplatform children's music star -- from playing music for preschool students to playing those same songs for larger audiences to taking them to television on the Nick Jr. shows Move to the Music and Jack's Big Music Show.
"All I really want to do is keep being creative in ways that I enjoy," Berkner told The Beat.
Yet, making music for kids was more an evolution than a plan for Berkner, who said she had musical dreams of a different kind back in high school.
"The fantasy back then was to be on Broadway. I didn't even start playing guitar until I was 17 or so, and not seriously until a college boyfriend said 'I wish you could play guitar,' " she recalled.
"Playing in bands didn't really come until I was later in my 20s, after a few years of playing coffeehouses and such."
Berkner was working odd jobs to pay the bills when the mother of a child for whom she was baby-sitting told her about a job at a local preschool as a music specialist. Berkner applied and got the job.
"To me it seemed like a dream job, combining music and kids. But I had no idea what I was doing," Berkner laughed.
With lots of assistance and advice, plus plenty of trial and error, Berkner began to find certain things that worked for her young charges.
"They do not want to sit still," she said, "so it makes sense to allow them to move, but in a way that provides structure and to support each other in the class.
"So I would tell them what to do in the songs, both with words and with music, but you need to make it special. There's only so many times you can do 'Clap your hands and stomp your feet.' "
She pointed to her song Shake Your Body Down, which, she said, works "because it's playing a game at the same time."
She also learned that writing songs for children doesn't have to be that different from writing for adults. Words and subject matter count, but there are certain commonalities, Berkner said, whether you're "writing about going through a painful divorce or how good it is to eat a bowl of cereal.
"It's about finding universality. For kids, you have to be more direct, more clear and obvious, but at the same time there are things that underlie both" writing for children and for adults.
Indeed, Berkner hopes that parents don't mind listening along with their kids.
"Sure, I hope adults get something out of (the songs). That's when you know you've done something right."
But she acknowledged there are limits.
"Maybe after the 100th listen, it's not OK for adults any more. But maybe the first 50 don't bug you too much."
As to Berkner's goal of continuing to be creative, she recently launched a new animated show on Sprout called Sing It, Laurie!, and has penned songs for a new off-Broadway show for children called Wanda's Monster The Musical. Yet she continues to return to the stage.
"That immediate sense of someone enjoying your song, you get something from that you don't get anywhere else. It feels nice."