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Jeff Moehlis: Laurie Berkner’s Songs for the Young and Young at Heart

The children's music artist will play at Campbell Hall on Sunday afternoon

Children’s music artist Laurie Berkner will be performing at Campbell Hall at UC Santa Barbara on Sunday afternoon. Bring your kids and their stuffed animals for a fun time!
Children’s music artist Laurie Berkner will be performing at Campbell Hall at UC Santa Barbara on Sunday afternoon. Bring your kids and their stuffed animals for a fun time! (Steve Vaccariello photo)

If you're a parent, you know that a lot of children's music gets old much more quickly than your kids do. But thankfully there are some children's music artists who keep the kids happy while keeping the parents sane.

One such artist is Laurie Berkner, who will be performing at Campbell Hall on Sunday, April 19 as part of the UCSB Arts & Lectures series. Tickets are available by clicking here.

Berkner has been singing about dinosaurs, doodlebugs, chickens, bumblebees, songs in tummies and the like since the 1990s, with songs full of clever lyrics and catchy melodies. She has also branched out into videos, books and musicals, and also makes many TV appearances.

Berkner took time out of her busy schedule to talk to Noozhawk about the upcoming concert. Click here for the full interview.

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Jeff Moehlis: What can we look forward to at the upcoming concert?

Laurie Berkner: It will be very active. I really try to put as many songs of mine that encourage the kids to get up and move and dance and use their bodies or interact with their families, and just make it something other than a sitting-in-the-audience-staring-at-me kind of experience [laughs]. So it'll be a lot of music and movement.

I also always love to encourage people to bring animals for their heads for when I sing "Pig on Her Head." I usually look out in the audience and get a chance to actually see what people have brought, and sing about them so that it can be a little bit more fun and spontaneous.

JM: I know that the parents will enjoy your concert, but what, to you, is the right age range for kids for your concerts?

LB: It's a real mix. I know a lot of people bring very young children, and also older kids, especially ones who have been listening to my music for a long time come. And when I say young and older, I think of the sweet spot as being sort of 2 or 3 to 7, but infants come and parents swear to me that their kids are loving it. And I definitely get 9-, 10-, 11-year-olds.

The last show I did in New Jersey, I had a college student. She was home on break from Arizona, where she goes to school. Her mother brought her and her high school aged daughter, both, to the show. Because they had grown up on the music, you know, listened to it when they were much younger, and they just wanted to meet me [laughs]. It definitely spans, but I'd say the sweet spot is like 3 to 7.

JM: Normally when I do an interview I don't ask this question, but since you're doing a show for kids I'm going to ask. What were you like as a kid?

LB: [laughs] Well, I spent a lot of time putting on shows in my backyard and my friends' backyards. I don't know — it's a broad question. Anything more specific than that?

JM: Well, I know it sounds a bit psychoanalytical. "Tell me about your childhood." So, did you take any music lessons? Did you play instruments?

LB: Yeah. When I was about 7, I started piano, and then clarinet and violin. I didn't take voice lessons until I was an adult, actually not that long ago, maybe in my 30s. But before that I sang in choirs and in bands. I did musicals in high school. I had the lead in the musicals in my junior and senior years. Just singing all the time was something I loved to do. In the afternoons I would spend my time listening to albums and making up dance moves. Those were the shows I put on. And I charged people, by the way [both laugh]. It was like, you know, I'm not just doing this for fun. Like, this is a business job [both laugh].

JM: Well, I think that tells a little bit about what you were like as a kid [both laugh]. How did you get into writing and performing children's music?

LB: Mostly, it was because about a year out of college I got a job as a music specialist. That was at Rockefeller University's Child and Family Center. I had been babysitting for my neighbor's kid, and she was a movement teacher at Rockefeller, and she got me an interview there when they let go their very expensive salaried music teacher and they hired me really cheaply [laughs] and really young. So I just kind of by the seat of my pants started trying to figure out what to do with these kids. I just had no idea, I have to say. It took a couple of years to figure it out, and also some help from the previous music teacher.

But once I realized what I needed to do, which was basically to put everything into the music rather than trying to tell them what to do, then I thought, well, if I just write the songs rather than trying to find people who had written songs that worked in the classroom for me — well, it wasn't even a classroom, it was sort of a gym or aerobic area — but anyway, songs that would work in the school setting, the class setting, I could just make them up and it would be so much better. Because then I could just ask the kids what they wanted to sing about and I could just sing what I want them to do [laughs] and it will all work out. And it kind of did. And that's where a lot of the original songs came from.

— Jeff Moehlis is a Noozhawk contributing writer and a professor of mechanical engineering at UC Santa Barbara. Upcoming show recommendations, advice from musicians, interviews and more are available on his web site, music-illuminati.com. The opinions expressed are his own.

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