Wow! I can’t believe this year went by, just like that. I feel like it was yesterday when I was making my “resolutions” list (yeah, I still do one every year — totally aspirational and noncommittal), and now we’re on the brink of a new Presidential administration, reeling from the recent passing of Carrie Fisher, George Michael, and a host of other beloved individuals, and feeling equal parts hopeful and fearful.
Or at least I am.
I’m grateful that as I write this, I can reflect on so many wonderful milestones in my sons’ lives, and my life with my husband, friends, and family. Nathan turned 4, and Logan turned 2. The older one can now dress himself and draw pictures, and keeps asking for drum lessons. The younger one is playing soccer and swimming — and spends his spare time singing Bob Marley songs, while armed with my ukulele. Most of the time, I’m feeling an awesome balance between my personal life, and my life as a writer, musician, and teacher.
I’m not going to pretend that some of the more dismal news — like what’s happening in Aleppo/Syria, political discourse, and economic hardships — doesn’t affect my spirits. But I’m also feeling tremendously grateful. Things can always get worse, so it’s important to appreciate what we have.
Wishing you and your family a happy and healthy New Year! xoxox Marisa
There’s still time to score the perfect gift for the rockmommy (or rockmommies) in your life. We’ve picked the perfect combinations of naughty and nice for singers, guitarists, jazz pianists, drummers, bassists — or pretty much any mom who loves to rock out:
Kat Von D Studded Kiss Lipstick; $21: Our favorite tattoo artist’s line of matte and metallic lipsticks — with names like “Slayer” and “Hexagram” — will make mama feel bad to the bone (and beautiful).
Kat Von D Studded Kiss Lipstick
Blank NYC Vegan Leather Moto Skinny Jeans; $118: Nothing says rock n’ roll quite like leather pants, and this cruelty-free faux leather pair has the edgy look mama wants when she’s toting her toddlers about town.
Drummer Pillowcase; $14.99: With its gorgeous drummer painting motif, this plush throw pillow will inspire anyone to break out their sticks.
NYC Guitar School Online Courses; $50-$119: If she wants to brush up on her soloing skills or learn to riff like Slash but doesn’t have the time to trek across town to the nearest music school, gift her with a pack of online lessons taught by some of the best musicians at world-renowned New York City Guitar School.
Burt’s Bees Baby Organic Plaid Pajama Set; $39.95: Plaid is super punk rock, and can be cozy, too, when she wears these cool PJ’s on Christmas Eve. If you’re feeling festive, splurge for pairs for the whole family!
Pick Punch; $25: Crafty mamas and their guitar-strumming offspring will love this cool pic punch, which lets you make pics out of any old piece of plastic.
TASCAM DR-05 Portable Digital Recorder; $84.99: Help Mom capture every precious sonic moment of your little rocker’s first live show — or record her next gig — with this super-convenient, high-quality recording gadget.
Christina Aguilera MasterClass, $90: Is the rock mama you love an aspiring singer? If so, she’ll love having some “me” time to indulge in 23 video lessons taught by one of the greatest pop-rock singers (and mom of two) of the past two decades.
—- Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.
This holiday, surprise your budding rockstar with some cool clothes, toys, and other musically inspired pieces.
Hape Melodies Ukulele, $29: If your son likes Israel Kamakawiwo’ole’s version of “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” introduce him to a whole new world of string instruments with this gorgeous red uke, made with non-toxic materials.
2. Melissa & Doug Band in a Box; $19.99: This classic, 10-piece musical instrument set is a box of delights for the pre-K set. The kit offers plenty of stuff to shake and make noise with all in one place.
3. Yunko Guitar Cookie Cutter set, $14.52: Your kid will love making cookies with these cutters shaped like acoustic guitars, electric guitars, and music notes.
4. Gells Kids Lightening Bolt Belt, $29: Keep your little rockstar’s pants from falling down while he’s having his big stage moment — or tumbling around the gym — with this lightening-bolt belt (for kids ages 0 to 9). You’ll be doing some good too (5% of the sale of each Gells belt benefits one of the outfitter’s charity partners). Use the promo code FAIRFIELDMOM at checkout (before 12/31) and you’ll receive 20% off!
5. Laurie Berkner “Superhero” record, $9.99 to $12.99: If your 2-year-old hasn’t started jamming out to music by singer-guitarist Laurie Berkner, there’s no time like the present to introduce him to “Superhero,” the latest record — available as a digital download or CD — from the renowned children’s music artist. This CD is a surefire way to get your child engaged with everything from potty time to bedtime (my two sons, Logan and Nathan, cannot get enough of it!).
7. TOMS Gold Metallic Mary Janes, $39: Let her sparkle onstage in these cute little kickers. Shoes feature a gold foil upper, rubber outsole (for a no-slip grip), and a sock liner that fights bacteria.
8. Kidz Gear Bluetooth Stereo Headphones, $16.99: When Josephine is ready to rock out to Katy Perry (or the Chipmunks), give her these cool (but child-tailored) headphones, which will help to protect her hearing when she listens to tunes on your iPad, iPhone, or other music player. Available in blue and pink, the headphones also include a patented removable omnidirectional Boom Microphone, ideal for children’sforeign language studies, audio/verbal test-taking at school and more.
—- Marisa Torrieri Bloom is a writer, guitar teacher, mom, and the founder of Rockmommy.
There are so many great children’s records out today that it’s hard to cut through the noise, even for an established songstress.
Priscilla Ahn, whose latest album ‘La La La’ has little listeners in mind
True to her signature style, pop-rock singer-guitarist Priscilla Ahn, an artist known for her low-key melodies, opted for the quieter route. Her first children’s record ‘La La La’ is a refreshing and pretty 12-song collection, curated to the ears of her youngest music fans — a group that now includes her 1-year-old son!
Listening to Priscilla — whether her latest record or other songs — evokes so many emotions. Her lovely, etherial, and powerfully subtle vocals take me back to my childhood days of running through fields of flowers, while simultaneously conjuring memories of so many old favorites of the 1990s Lilith Fair era.
We recently connected with Priscilla, whose record dropped on October 28, to learn more about the creative process and inspirations that fueled her writing — and how she channeled her own childhood experiences into her latest release.
Rockmommy: Have you always wanted to make a children’s album? Had you connected to past children’s albums, or is there a particular children’s album that inspired you?
Priscilla Ahn: When I made my first EP, with my song “Dream” on it, a lot of my friends who had kids told me that their children loved listening to it, and to that song in particular. It surprised me, because the song is a little sad, and definitely wasn’t intended for kids. And it made me think that maybe one day I could write songs for kids that had some more complex emotions in them. I love Harry Nilsson’s “The Point” album! It’s another album that’s kind of intended for kids, I think? But the songs are sonically mature so adults love it too.
Rockmommy: Lyrics for some of your ‘adult’ songs are sometimes complex, sophisticated and unexpected. Did you find you has to work to “pare it down” — or simplify your message — for a younger audience?
Priscilla Ahn: No, not really! I realized that kids can connect to so many more deeper emotions than just “happy” and “sad.” And a lot of my songs that I’ve written come from a vulnerable, at times “child like” part of myself. So in a way, this children’s album isn’t too far off from any of my “normal” albums.
Rockmommy: Are there any tracks that are inspired by specific experiences?
Priscilla Ahn: Well, all of these songs were written before my son was born. “Forever & Forever” is one I wrote when I was 4 months pregnant. I was thinking of him and of all the fun things we would do together, and then looking further into the future of when I would have to one day let him go and grow up in ways without me. “Dust Bunny” is a song for kids who might be afraid there’s a monster under their bed, or in their closet. When I was little I was always afraid of something under my bed! This song is basically reassuring the listener that there are no monsters under there, just dust bunnies who want to play.
Rockmommy: Some moms who play music like you look for ways to share that with their little ones. Do you play a lot of music for your son, sing to him, or try to get him involved with music in any way?
Priscilla Ahn: I’m really going to try my best to not pressure him into anything. But I did buy him a bunch of cute shakers and bells that he picks up whenever a song comes on the speakers that he likes. And he has a ukelele with his name on it, ready and waiting. I sing to him constantly, and sometimes we sit at the piano together. I kind of try to see what music gets him going. It’s really interesting to see which specific songs he loves. His whole face will light up when they come on. Right now “Baa Baa Black Sheep” by Caspar Babypants, and “If You Wanna Sing Out, Sing Out” by Cat Stevens are his favorites!
Rockmommy: How has parenting affected your craft? Is the music you make different, or have you had to alter your creative process in any way?
Priscilla Ahn: I have yet to really get back into songwriting yet. But I’m curious to see what I’ll create next, and what experiences I’ll pull from when I write.
Rockmommy: Do you have plans to tour in support of this album?
Priscilla Ahn: I’ve performed in Tokyo, Osaka, San Francisco, and Los Angeles this year to promote this album. It requires so much more energy and focus now to prepare for a show because I have to take into consideration traveling with a baby, and people to help me look after him while I’m working. Traveling with a baby is challenging, but manageable. But throwing work into the mix just makes it exhausting! And I don’t think I could bear being away from him to tour. So I think I’ll stay local now for a little while.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.
The word “practice” is like the word “homework” in terms of how kids will sometimes bristle when a teacher says it, no matter how the teacher says it. But while every guitar student I’ve ever taught wants to sound amazing and impress their family and friends, very few — save for a few teenage prodigies who are now better players than me! — naturally want to put in the amount of work that’s required to make meaningful improvements.
If I had a dollar for every kid who promised to practice an hour a day, and then couldn’t even get motivated to break out their guitar for five minutes between weekly lessons, I’d be able to put a down payment on a new home.
So if you’re a parent, is there anything you can do to get them to pick up their instrument when a teacher isn’t around? Do you need to go the Tiger Mom route and not let your tiny musician in training use the potty until she hits all her notes perfectly?
(We’re kidding about that last suggestion.)
Like any extracurricular activity, playing music is supposed to be an enjoyable endeavor.
With that in mind, here are a few ideas that I know have worked, which will help motivate your young ones to strum when their teacher isn’t around:
Keep things consistent: As you probably know, structure is good for kids, whether they’re 3 and need a consistent bedtime every night in order to wake up well-rested, or they’re 12 and need to get their homework done before 8 p.m., because they’re less productive at night. “It’s easier for kids to settle into a routine when they have a consistent, daily time to practice,” says Michelangelo Quirinale, a guitar instructor at Brooklyn Guitar School, and father of one. “I often recommend practicing right before or after dinner since most kids’ have a lot of homework and after-school activities.”
Have your teacher make a video: It’s easy to forget what you learned after your teacher leaves, whether you’re 6 or 60. I’ve found that one of the best ways to engage kids is to make a short, two-minute video that recaps what I taught during a lesson. I’ll have my students film these videos with my phone, and then send them to their parents. This keeps the lesson fresh in kids’ minds and ensures they’re practicing the right techniques.
Set clear, attainable goals for practice: Sometimes parents expect their children to master an entire Beatles song after just two lessons, while other parents don’t know what to expect. Teachers have a better idea of what’s possible and can work with you to help kids set the right goals. “I usually give most kids three or for key areas to work on that usually include a warmup, a review song, and couple of new songs or techniques,” says Quirinale. “This allows them to cover all the key concepts whether they have five or 45 minutes.”
Have your teacher give them choices: If students are forced to strum the chords to a song they don’t like, they will start to think of playing their instrument as a chore — not a fun activity. To make sure your kid doesn’t get burned out, check to make sure his or her teacher is assigning them stuff they’ll enjoy doing. Of course, a little nudging might be necessary (they’re kids, after all), but practice should be somewhat fun — not just hard work. “I find that my students that practice the most take an active role with me in planning the practice routine,” says Quirinale.
Try not to apply too much pressure: Maybe your little one is destined to be the next Jimi Hendrix. Or, perhaps he’ll get bored of playing guitar in a year or two. Pushing your child too hard to practice might make him resentful. So if all of these other techniques aren’t working, it may be time to revisit whether guitar is the right choice for an extracurricular activity — or if your kid needs a break for a while!
Buy a guitar stand: If an instrument is stuffed away in a case, it might not occur to a child to pick it up and strum. Buying a guitar stand at a local music shop (or on Amazon Prime, etc.) will give your child a place to put their instrument when they’re done with practice — and reach for it when the mood strikes.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the founder and editor of Rockmommy.
OK, OK, I realize I’m not the editor of Atlantic or TIME. And that my endorsement of either presidential candidate isn’t going to nudge anyone to change their mind.
With that, I cannot stress enough the importance of going to the polls — even if you’re not voting for the candidate whom I believe is the obvious best pick: Hillary Clinton.
I could use this time to cite the zillions of reasons why I am voting for Hillary over businessman Donald Trump, but so many other journalists and bloggers have already done this. So I’ll sum it up like this: If you’re a parent, rockmommy or otherwise, you undoubtedly care deeply about issues like education, school safety, gun control, national security and the economy. And while you might still be reeling from the primary elections/feeling the Bern, it’s important not to lose sight of the big-picture stuff in the Eleventh Hour.
Hillary Rodham Clinton is an undisputed champion of women’s rights and human rights. She believes that Black Lives Matter. She doesn’t think climate change is some sugar-puff theory. And she has experience in the national security arena too (as she’s noted, she was in the situation room with President Obama when a decision had to be made about Osama bin Laden. Donald Trump, meanwhile, was filming The Apprentice).
While she made some definite blunders (hello private-mail server!) and wasn’t an overwhelmingly outstanding Secretary of State by most accounts, her motives are good and her experience has shown she is willing to learn from her mistakes.
I’m not going to go into all the negatives about Donald Trump because so many journalists and bloggers have already done this. I don’t think he’s the scum of the Earth, but I do believe there are two things that make him particularly unfit for the Commander in Chief post: 1.) his lack of any kind of political experience; and 2.) his volatile temperament.
With that in mind, I’m with Her all the way!
If you’re still unsettled about casting your vote for HRC, I would suggest starting with the other local and state races.
Yesterday Cristin McCarthy Vahey became the first politician in my approximately 20 years of voting eligibility to knock on my front door. It was like being visited by a rockstar! She and I chatted in the chilly weather about everything from where she bought her jacket (she likes the ethics of the company that makes them), to education and the healthcare crisis, to her concern for the social and economic wellbeing of our shared community. Cristin is a mom of 3 and social worker who supports Democratic principles, and she’s also someone who cares about my day-to-day life (she really empathized when I told her about the challenges about being a freelance-writer mom with two young children).
Were I not paying attention to local politics, I’d know very little about Cristin McCarthy Vahey.
Lest you believe that I’m only supporting Democrats, let it be known that I absolutely give my support to good Republicans. One of these is State Senator Tony Hwang. Although I’m considering his opponent Phil Dwyer, I’m still leaning Hwang. I really really want to vote 100% Democrat — and I still might do this — but from what I can tell, Hwang is a solid and friendly GOP-er who cares about the issues all parents care about (like school safety and the environment). One day, I ran into him at my local Starbucks, and asked him about what he actually did over the last four years, and he explained ever so patiently how he introduced new legislation to increase the penalties for when a bomb threat involves a preschool, K-12 school, or an institution of higher education. The new law makes threats felonies that would result in a prison sentence.
Whoever you vote for, vote. You can’t complain about who wins if you don’t show up to voice your opinion!
Like many musicians, singer-guitarist Laurie Berkner began her rock-and-roll career by throwing herself into the the NYC music scene, playing late-night gigs wherever she could get them. That was back in the mid-1990s, when the Internet was in its infancy, tethered to wirelines and dial-up networks, and the idea of “kids music” was synonymous with Barney & Friends.
Laurie Berkner (photo credit: Jayme Thornton)
Laurie stumbled into her career as a children’s music artist almost by accident, through her part-time job as a preschool teacher. Long story short, she fell in love with playing to younger audiences, and was soon gigging regularly for the under-5 set.
Fast forward to 2016, and Laurie, who is now a mother to 12-year-old daughter Lucy, is still making cool songs my 4-year-old and 2-year-old sons identify with and enjoy.
Actually, that’s an understatement.
My kids, who never listen to so-called “kids” music, are insanely obsessed with Laurie’s songs — especially those melodies that revolve around bedtime activities, like “Bubbles.” Just this morning, right after I streamed the video for “Monster Boogie”, my 2-year-old asked me, “can we watch Laurie Berkner ‘toothbrush’ song, mommy?”
Needless to say, Ms. B. knows how to make a big impression on little people (and if you’ve got little ones, she’s playing a handful of shows in the NYC area this December).
Recently we sat down with Laurie Berkner to talk about her latest musical endeavors, including her new originals album Superhero, and how she carves out time for the sweeter things in life — like, literally, making truffles with her daughter while I interviewed her for this piece:
Rockmommy: How did you get started in kids’ music? Was there an “aha” moment?
Laurie Berkner: I had my own rock band [in the 1990s] and then joined an all-female cover band. That’s how I learned to play lead guitar and carry my amp up three flights of steps at four in the morning, after playing to a bunch of drunk people all night. At the time, I had also taken a day job as a pre-school music specialist, and I found myself being asked to do birthday parties of the kids I was teaching — so I would often be up until 6 a.m., playing an adult show, and then get up a couple of hours later to do a birthday party!
At the kids’ parties, people actually wanted to hear songs I had written for their children, and at the adult shows, they would yell “Play Freebird!” The kids were so responsive, and had such contagious energy, whereas the grown-ups I played for at night only relaxed after I had already been performing for a couple of hours. I soon found that I really loved and preferred the kids’ energy and being appreciated for music I had created myself. I also seemed to be bringing a lot of joy to kids and their parents, so eventually I quit the band, and started recording and doing more kids’ music.
Rockmommy: Is there a similarity between your earlier original ‘adult’ music and your kids music?
Laurie Berkner: Those early songs were much more introspective and long winded than my kids’ music is, and they were also filled with the anxiety I felt in my life at that time. Once I started writing songs for kids, I noticed I had to get to the point a lot faster! I think a similarity was that I am always trying to evoke feelings from my audience, but I started to do that much better once I started writing kids’ songs. I have a lot of respect for the craft of songwriting, and I think writing music for kids taught me more about it than I ever would have learned if I had continued only writing ‘adult music.’
Rockmommy: Do most people make kids’ records because they have kids?
Laurie Berkner: For a long time I had a lot of pride in the fact that I created kids’ music and I didn’t actually have a child of my own. At this point in my career I’ve been making music for kids for 20 years — but I have a 12-year-old daughter — which means I’ve now been doing it even longer as a parent than as a non-parent! There do seem to be quite a lot of people who start writing music for kids once they have their own, but certainly not everyone. Justin Roberts comes to mind as an example of someone who is not a parent and writes wonderful songs for kids. It’s funny, when I first started out as a musician, I really wanted to be taken seriously. Doing kids’ music — well that wasn’t a genre many people took very seriously. But now it’s different because so many good musicians have decided to write music for kids, often because they have their own and were inspired to make good music for them. But when I started, it was like, “Are you a clown? Are you Barney?” I think that kind of reaction may have actually kept a lot of musicians from deciding to write kids’ music.
Rockmommy: Since you wrote children’s music before you became a mother, has your songwriting process changed at all, now that you have a ”mother” perspective?
Laurie Berkner: Yes, somewhat. It’s harder to always be as free and silly as I used to be in my writing, because I think I feel a responsibility now — and more of a connection — to the parents as well as the kids. Before becoming a mom I pretty much only identified with the kids. But the kids are still always the most important listeners to me, and I make a really concerted effort to maintain a “kid” perspective instead of a “mother” perspective when I write my songs. I know how important it is for kids to feel ownership over the music I create for them (though I admit, I did indulge my parental-self on a few songs I recorded for my lullaby album). It was actually the thing that worried me the most about becoming a mom and having this career. I was terrified I would lose that kid perspective. So far I hope I’ve done OK, though it was the hardest when Lucy was first born. For the first year I only seemed to be able to write songs with her name in them, and I definitely could have made “The Lucy Album.” Now I try to use the perspective and experiences I have as a parent to make my songs better, without losing what I had before Lucy came along. I guess I’ll have to ask some kids how I’m doing with that!
Rockmommy: Does it ever feel competitive?
Laurie Berkner: Sure. There are so many people doing kids’ music now — which is definitely different from many years ago when I started out. Part of what’s changed is the access to the music. When I made my first couple of albums, Amazon was new. The Internet itself was new! That’s how much has changed in the last 20 years. At the time I started [in the late 1990s], those of us making music for kids really depended on local independent children’s stores to carry our recordings. It was a whole other way of getting things out there. Now anyone can sell music online, and anyone who wants to hear it can listen. That has meant that there are many more people who have entered the marketplace, and the number of acts and albums that are available has grown exponentially.
Rockmommy: Did you tour when pregnant?
Laurie Berkner: Yes, up until my eighth month! I actually remember throwing up before and after shows in my first trimester. I also filmed all of my first videos that were aired on Noggin when I was pregnant. I was only in my second month so I wasn’t showing yet, but I had to lie down right in the middle of the set between takes. And I remember eating an enormous amount of popcorn to keep from feeling nauseated.
Rockmommy: So this is your eleventh studio album, Superhero, your first in eight years composed of entirely all-new, original songs. How did you find inspiration for this particular record?
Laurie Berkner: There were a lot of different things that inspired me. Some of it was just how I was feeling at the time that I was writing. Also over the years, I was writing down stuff and I would think, “what were some images that inspired me, especially when I was a kid?” One image I had written down long ago was ‘umbrellas,’ and when I found that one, I was reminded that when Lucy was younger we had all different kinds of umbrellas, and that I also loved them as a kid. That was one of the images that became a song on the album.
Rockmommy: How can rocker parents pass on music to their kids?
Laurie Berkner: Beyond just sharing your own love of music with your kids by making and listening to music together, I think it’s also really good to be aware of letting the kids be the ones taking the lead. It can be a little intimidating — especially for kids who are a little older — to try something they know their parents are already good at. Make sure to leave plenty of space for your child to be the one who is improvising, or choosing the song, or coming up with the ideas, when you play together. And have fun!!
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.