Here I am…on the phone with Laurie Berkner (I’m not worthy!) trying to explain to her why her music is so significant to me and how it is my happiest happy place. Moms – you can relate, right? Her music carried me through some pretty rough spots as a newbie parent and helped me focus on the joy. That’s because her songs weave easily into our daily parenting routines and family life helping us connect, love a bit deeper, help our children fall asleep a bit faster and sometimes share a laugh at our own or our children’s silliness.
For more than two decades, Berkner has been successfully creating children’s music with catchy, engaging, empowering songs, a guitar and soothing vocals. Her music is playful and imaginative and summons your inner SUPERHERO. Kids love her. Parents adore her. She keeps us happy…in the car, in the supermarket and up and down the aisles at her concerts. It’s her live concerts that generate the most BUZZ BUZZ. If you are part of the under 10 set her show is a hot ticket. It’s one gigantic rootin’ tootin’ sing-a-long with a possible bonus that you can chat with her after the show. Stuffed animals are welcome here and wearing them, or occasionally hurling them, is allowed and appreciated. Saying that her performances are interactive doesn’t quite explain what happens.
Kids respond immediately to her. She sells out concert halls in towns across the country and has kids rockin’ up and out (from their heads to their toes), with singing, dancing, clapping and the volume turned up. Way up. It’s Laurie Berkner fever. Berkner says performing live is still exciting for her.
“Experiencing the vibration from the music and sharing it in one room is really special.” She loves the meet and greets after the show because she truly loves the connection and the hope of possibly inspiring a lifelong love of music in others.
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Berkner and her band have been recognized for starting the “kindie rock” movement, a folk-rock type music that is not dumbed down for kids. She maintains her relevance and noted “queen” stature with new albums and some re-mixed dance song versions, live music videos, books, writing music for several Off-Broadway musicals and pioneering a preschool music and teacher training program. She has just released her latest project “Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen,” a 10-part series for Audible that has her singing, cooking and storytelling with characters from her songs.
Growing up in Princeton, N.J., Berkner loved music. She was the little girl that put on musicals with her brother and the neighborhood kids. She played various instruments, loved to sing, act things out and dreamed of being on Broadway. Her father was an avid music lover and her great-grandmother was an opera singer. Berkner chose to major in psychology at Rutgers but enchanted by a vibrant music scene in New Brunswick she maintained her passion performing in local bands. It was never thought she would ultimately make music for kids.
She half-jokingly tells me: “I was a cheap replacement for a music teacher,” when hired at Rockefeller University’s Child and Family Center. A neighbor, who worked at this Center and whose child she was babysitting, mentioned they were looking to hire a music teacher. Berkner applied and got the job, though she admits to being initially dazed at how to manage a large group of kids.
The previous teacher advised her to just “stop talking” and “sing to them.” Her beloved song, “We Are the Dinosaurs” was born from Berkner asking the kids what they wanted to sing about. She found success in allowing her students to move and act out whatever they were singing. “These kids had been using their bodies a lot longer than they had been using words and so music with movement seemed more natural to them and this made a lot of sense to me.” Berkner enjoyed the immediate positive feedback she got from her students. She would stay up late at night searching for songs that would capture their attention but found it was quite difficult. Looking for songs to play at school while also performing in a band at night were wearing on her. She decided to just write the songs she needed.
5-4-3-2-1… blast off!
When Berkner was working steadily at various schools teaching music to youngsters, parents began to express interest in purchasing the songs to play at home. The Westside YMCA Preschool and Daycare Center, where she had been employed as a music teacher, loaned her money to make 500 cassettes (yes – cassettes). Working from her small apartment she wrote songs and labeled cassettes to sell. “I remember recording every sale on a single piece of graph paper that I carried around with me.” She had written and recorded “Whaddaya Think of That” and “Buzz Buzz” and a few others when a friend that was helping her with marketing said that she needed a business. So she founded Two Tomatoes Records, which eventually allowed her to open a real office. It is evident in speaking with Berkner that like her songs, she is witty, charming and so darn likable. She cares a lot about human nature, human kindness and human connection. What is most appealing, and helps us connect with her music, is that it all comes from a good place—heart and soul. Laurie Berkner currently resides in Manhattan with her husband, Brian Mueller and her daughter, Lucy. When not working she likes to cook, take a yoga class and maybe share some music, a game or a television show with her family.
A Q&A with Laurie Berkner
Here are some questions that berkner’s fans submitted via social media, along with her answers. Maybe they’re questions you or your child would ask too.
Q: where did you play your first concert?
A: I am pretty sure that my first concert for kids was a benefit for a preschool on the upper West side of Manhattan. a parent who had my first cassette, Whaddaya Think of That? suggested we raise money together for the school. at the time i was also performing in a couple of rock bands, and I remember doing the show solo – wishing i had a band with me!
Q: Which song became popular but surprised you that it did?
A: You might not believe this, but it’s “We are the Dinosaurs.” I think it’s because it was the first song i wrote for kids, and i just didn’t believe they would like it as much as they did. Luckily, the engineer I was working with knew right away that it would be a hit and really encouraged me to put it first on the album–which led me to name the album after a line from the song (“We are the dinosaurs, whaddaya think of that?”). He was so right!
Q: What was your favorite book when you were a little girl?
A: Pat the Bunny! I loved being able to interact with the book, and into my adulthood my whole family used to joke about “feel Daddy’s scratchy face” (one of the actions in the book).
Q: What do you do to relax?
A: I love going to yoga class, doing The New York Times Sunday crossword, hanging out with my daughter, Lucy, reading, swimming, biking, knitting, going out with my husband, Brian. Lots of different things.
Q: What song of yours is your favorite?
A: I love playing “My Family” and watching families sing it with me.
Q: What do you and your family like to do for fun when you’re at home?
A: Go to see musicals! Play music together, watch shows together, play games together.
Q: What makes you feel special?
A: I think what makes me feel special is not so different from what i try to give to kids and families after my shows. I like to feel paid attention to, acknowledged and loved.
Elena Deutsch-Glantz is a Westchester mom, former talent agent and manager and current writer and communications specialist. She is married and has three children and two dogs that help keep it real.