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Take Five With Laurie Berkner

As seen in Guitar Girl Magazine Issue 14 – New York-inspired (Dec. 2020)

Laurie Berkner found success as a children’s entertainer when her love of entertaining meshed with her teaching music in pre-school. Berkner has received critical acclaim from numerous media outlets throughout the US, performed at many prestigious venues (Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, White House, to name a few), written music and lyrics for Off-Broadway children’s musicals, and released thirteen best-selling, award-winning albums.

The Laurie Berkner band is Susie Lampert (keyboard), Brady Rymer (bass), and Bobby Golden (drums and percussion).

Having been referred to as “the undisputed queen of kindie rock” and “the Adele for the pre-school crowd,” how did you become a children’s entertainer?
I started out by playing in rock bands at night and teaching preschool music by day. I had my own original band called Red Onion, and then I joined an all-female cover band called Lois Lane (because she don’t need no Superman!). Over time, I found that the songs I was writing for the kids I worked with were really fun to sing and perform and that both parents and kids were enjoying them. I went from playing those songs in schools, daycares, and at birthday parties to recording them and performing at festivals and in theaters. Along the way, I did a few celebrity parties (Madonna’s daughter, Sting’s son), which led to a couple of performances in Rockefeller Plaza on the Today Show, a book deal, and finally some videos for Nick Jr. (originally called Noggin) as part of a new series called Jack’s Big Music Show. That really cemented my career switch from preschool teacher to children’s entertainer and allowed me to write music, record, and perform for kids and families full-time.

Tell us about your bandmates.
Right now, the Laurie Berkner Band is made up of Susie Lampert on keyboard, Brady Rymer on bass, and Bobby Golden on drums and percussion. Susie was the keyboardist in Lois Lane and was the first musician to join me in playing music for kids. She is an incredibly intuitive player who has a long musical history dating back to when she was a teen, including playing with Ruby and the Rednecks (who opened up for Iggy Pop) and in the Playhouse of the Ridiculous off-Broadway. She is also brilliant at decoupage, speaks Portuguese fluently, and is one of my closest friends. Bobby Golden is not only a talented and creative drummer and percussionist, he is also an incredibly accomplished songwriter, recording engineer, music producer, and potter! He has written music for countless shows, including John Oliver’s Last Week Tonight, and was the house drummer on NBC’s 30 Rock. We met when he was producing and recording the music for Jack’s Big Music Show and have been playing and laughing together ever since (I think he was a comedian in another life). Brady Rymer is the most recent addition to the LBB, replacing Adam Bernstein in 2011 (who replaced my husband, Brian Mueller, in 2005). Brady is a very accomplished kids’ musician in his own right, with three GRAMMY nominations for his family music. Before moving into this genre, Brady was the bass player for the RCA Records band From Good Homes, who recorded and toured with acts like Dave Matthews and Bob Dylan. He is also a talented visual artist and just a wonderful human being. I love all three of them so much, and I feel so lucky to get to play with them—or I WILL when we finally can do that in person again!

What brand of guitars do you play and why?
I play Taylor guitars. I have tried a lot of other brands, and there are many great guitars out there, but I have always loved the sound and feel of a Taylor. I love the slim neck for my smaller hands, the different—but always pleasing—tones of the various models, and the beauty of the instruments themselves. I also am treated really well by the Taylor family and can always count on their help if I have any trouble with any of my guitars. I currently have seven different Taylor guitars.

What would be the one piece of advice you would offer parents and teachers to instill the love of music in their children?
Share music with them in any way that feels authentic to you. If you are a musician, share your love of your instrument or the music you make. If you aren’t a musician, find a way that you connect to music, and do it with your kids. Do you like to dance? Do you have music that you like to listen to? Share those things. Then notice what your kids respond to and join in with them. Are they dancing? Dance with them! Are they banging on a drum? Do it too! Encourage whatever they are drawn to. Show them you love them when they are engaged with music by being with them while it happens. If you can help them to connect music with love from you, your kids will always feel it, regardless of whether or not they become musicians. Music will always hold a special place in their hearts and remind them that they are loved.

With the shutdown of live performances during the pandemic, what have you been doing to stay in touch with fans and keep your music alive, and what’s been one of the most memorable moments?
Once I realized live performances were being canceled and there was no foreseeable date for them to resume, I started doing live performances on Facebook every weekday. Parents and kids badly needed something they could count on every day, and I was glad to be able to personally and musically give that to so many of them. I continued with these daily concerts and did almost fifty shows that way before scaling back when schools let out in June. (That was also when I started getting more sleep!) Since then, I have started putting on ticketed full-length, themed, live-streamed family concerts about once every six weeks, which have also, happily, been really successful. It’s hard to describe just how special these shows are. They take weeks to prepare for and plan. My team creates an hour-long pre-show with games and develops live, interactive graphics to use during the concert. There is a lot of audience participation—including a craft project for each theme—a full set, stage lighting, and special guests. The most memorable moments for me come from doing the virtual meet and greets after these shows. Getting to actually see the faces of some of the kids who were watching, and see the art they made, or the costumes they chose, or the decorations their families put up to prepare for the concert, and hear them tell me about their favorite song or what the music has meant to them, always feels like such a gift and reminds me of how lucky I am to be able to do what I do.

Photos by Jayme Thornton

 

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