If you’re like most urban or suburban parents in America right now, you’ve recently entered into the world of “distance learning” — aka “homeschooling” — for the first time. But whether if you’re already a stay-at-home parent of wee ones or a boss mama who’s trying to manage the insane balance of working from home with keeping kids educated, you could probably use a little more music and joy.
You’re not alone. One of our favorite children’s musicians Laurie Berkner is also stuck at home. Fortunately for us, the artist — known for her awesome, catchy kindie-rock tunes like “We Are The Dinosaurs” and engaging live shows — has sprung into action with a free, new virtual series that can help families find a routine, get up and move, and learn and play together.
Every day for the immediate future, Laurie will be streaming LIVE “Berkner Break” concerts, most weekday mornings at 10 p.m. EDT on her Facebook page.
Additionally, each weekday on Laurie’s social media, she’s posting a video of one of her songs for a morning “Berkner Breakfast” (7 a.m. EDT), an afternoon “Berkner Break” show (3 p.m. EDT), and an evening “Berkner Bedtime” show (7 p.m. EDT).
Here, Laurie tells us more about the importance of enjoying music right now, and how her shows can enhance distance learning for kids and more.
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Rockmommy: I was so excited to see you are doing a virtual morning show. Why did you decide to do this?
Laurie Berkner: It’s a terrible feeling as an artist to have to cancel concerts and disappoint fans, especially when those fans are kids! I was looking for a way to reconnect with people who listen to my music and hopefully soften the blow of the cancellations. I also realized how many people are looking for fun, active, positive things to do with their children right now, and I hoped I could offer that to them. It seemed clear that this would be a good way to do it, because so many people were asking me to. It has been an incredible feeling to know that while things are so difficult, I can still do something that brings joy.
Rockmommy: Why is enjoying music so important right now?
Laurie Berkner: Music gives people a way to connect with each other, to temporarily let go of the things that are hard, and to just be in the moment. It can be a way of expressing feelings, moving our bodies, feeling pleasure, and sharing an experience. I also think it helps to lessen some of the anxiety that is everywhere. Kids who may not fully understand what’s going on will at least be feeling that from some of the grownups around them, and music can help to diffuse that as well.
Rockmommy: What do you think of all of the online shows and gatherings? I happen to playing my first Facebook Live concert next Wednesday — it is helping me deal with the temporary loss of my band.
Laurie Berkner: I think it’s great! It’s such a testament to human creativity, the desire to make lemonade out of lemons, and the need to keep connecting — even when it seems impossible to do so.
Rockmommy: What can kids expect from your live broadcast?
Laurie Berkner: I’ll be singing songs, reading books, encouraging lots of participation and movement, and maybe doing crafts or other things yet to be decided. It will all depend on how long this lasts — the longer I do the live concerts, the more creative I will have to get with the content! Each live concert is about 25 minutes long.
My son Logan, 6, taking a break to listen to Laurie Berkner during a recent 10 a.m. Facebook Livestream.
Rockmommy: Will you be playing classics like “We are Dinosaurs?”
Laurie Berkner: Yes! I already played that on Day 2. I am going to be sprinkling in the hits every day.
Rockmommy: How is music and performing online helping you get through tough times?
Laurie Berkner: It’s great to have something to plan for and look forward to each day. It also feels so fantastic to see kids singing along with me in videos that parents post, and read about kids’ positive reactions. Seeing the kids respond with so much joy to my music is one of the things I love most about doing live concerts, so I’m grateful to get a little glimpse of that, even though I can’t perform in person right now. I also feel like I need this connection to people, so I feel very lucky to be able to have it. And finally, still getting to play music with kids and families reminds me that what I do, actually matters.
Marisa Torrieri Bloom is the editor and founder of Rockmommy.
From monster boogies to mommy love songs and loud concerts galore, 2018 brought us lots of great rockin’ fun. And plenty of wisdom.
Here, we share the best advice from rockmommies and rockdaddies featured over the last 12 months on this blog.
“Don’t lose yourself in being a parent. If you want to be in a band, go for it. Because you need to have some sort of outlet for yourself. If you can have time for yourself, that makes you a better parent.”
The Ramoms — Cori Ramom, Jodi Ramom, Sharon Ramom & Ginger Ramom — are playing several shows in Philly, Brooklyn & Staten Island this Fall.
“I know that sometimes as mothers, we feel guilty and selfish when we take time out for ourselves. Making my music and self-care are musts for me. I have to do both in order to come back and parent more fully, more present, and fulfilled.”
“I think the best way to write a song for kids is to listen to what they are saying, watch what they’re doing, and think about what they enjoy. Then use those things as inspiration to develop songs that are relevant and interesting to them. And try singing the songs with them while you’re writing them! You’ll see right away what works and what doesn’t.”
“How do I get through this all? I am into Buddhist meditation … I got the advice from a Buddhist perspective to bring as much humanity as I can into everything I do. People ask how do I do it all, the answer is by chanting and Buddhist meditation. You also need to take the time to refresh, take an occasional nap, get enough sleep, eat properly.”
“For a while I would try to squeeze [practice] in, but really nothing was happening. So I really had to say, ‘OK I’m going to get a sitter for a couple of hours a week. This is a real thing and important to me and I’m going to do it.’”
band Milf and Dilf, musicians, Morbid Anatomy museum. Gowanus Brooklyn NY
“Every other year, starting in 2013, I write a song a week (so 2013, 2015, 2017 and next year 2019). This has really helped me to break out of the “only writing when I felt inspired” habit. It’s forced me to sit down and focus on being creative, which was alien to me. Now, regardless of how I am feeling, I can sit down and start the writing process and get myself into that creative space without having to wait for it to appear magically. It’s like a muscle that needs to be exercised. That has really helped with my musical and creative discipline.”
“Obviously as a mom you want to spend as much time with your kids as you can. But motherhood is also about being someone your kid to look up to. It’s not just about the quantity of time, but about you giving an example of being a more authentic version of yourself.”
Our annual Rockmommy gift guide is full of instruments, toys, and other cool stuff. Enjoy!
Ukulele DIY Kit (Photo Credit: Uncommon Goods)
Ukulele DIY Kit, $79: Create your own piece of musical paradise with this kit from Uncommon Goods, which includes all the necessary parts. The fretboard and neck are already glued and attached, so you don’t have to worry about misaligning the neck or gluing mishaps. That’ll leave time for decorating with your own paints, markers, or stickers.
Lola Rockstar Gotz Doll, $103: This doll takes center stage with her guitar and her electrifying passion for performing music. She perfects her talent by learning new chords and writing new music. It’s always been her dream to play her music on a big stage.
Lola Rockstar Gotz Doll (Photo Credit: Pottery Barn Kids)
LOOG Guitar, $59-$89: This perfect-size guitar made for toddlers (ages 3+) and elementary schoolers feels more like a big-kid instrument than mom’s ukulele. Loog’s nylon-string axe is the ideal starter guitar, designed with a kid’s attention span and finger size in mind. Use the flashcards and Loog Guitar app to help your tiny musician learn the skills they can build on as they grow.
Loog Guitar (shown here in red)
Laurie Berkner “Monster Boogie” book, $14.81: Make your monsters dance and sing along to the “Monster Boogie” — perhaps the coolest kids’ song ever! — with this special, illustrated book.
VTech KidiJamz Studio, $39.99: This super-cool, interactive music station lets kids mix music with 20 kid-friendly songs for DJ fun. Includes 10 instrument sounds, five musical styles, and three rhythms, plus microphone and digital voice effects.
Alphabet Rockers’ Rockin’ T-Shirts, $20:This gold Alphabet Rockers logo T-shirt will help your miniature rocker stand out at shows.Available in Toddler, Youth and Adult Sizes. Includes download of The Playground Zone (EP).
Rothy’s Cowgirl Loafers, $65: These shoes, made from recycled bottles, aren’t simply good for the Earth. They also feel good on your feet, whether you’re jumping on stage or hanging out in the audience.
Laurie Berkner is no fly-by-night children’s music artist. My sons, who have loved her since they were toddlers, still regularly sing along to her tunes, particularly “We Are Dinosaurs” and “Monster Boogie.” The latter may just be their favorite, as evidenced by their obsession with a.) watching the video over and over again, b.) making monster masks, per Laurie’s instructions at the end of said video, and c.) running around like monsters screaming “rawr!” after watching the video EVERY SINGLE TIME!!
Rockmommy: We LOVE the new Monster Boogiebook. How did the idea to make a book come along?
Laurie Berkner: I was originally thinking that I would like to turn some of my lullabies into books. When I pitched the idea to Simon and Schuster they suggested doing a series of three books, only one of which turned out to be a lullaby. Monster Boogie was the third title they chose, and I thought it was a great idea!
Rockmommy: How did you write the original “Monster Boogie?” Do you remember how that idea came up?
Laurie Berkner: I wrote it for a class I was taking on how to teach kids music using the Dalcroze Eurythmics method. (It’s a method that teaches music through movement.) I don’t remember what inspired it exactly, but I thought it would be fun to write a song about monsters that was NOT scary, since so many kids are afraid of monsters.
Rockmommy: How old is your daughter now? Is she a music person, or does she help you out in any way with Laurie Berkner Band stuff?
Laurie Berkner: She is 14 now and sings, plays the drums, and writes songs on the ukulele. She is always happy to give me feedback on a song or anything else I’m working on, and she also sometimes works in my office. Right now she is officially in charge of taking pictures and video for my Instagram story!
Rockmommy: You have really great staying power — my kids always come back to you and your music. Why do you think they relate to your songs so well?
Laurie Berkner: That is a great question … I’m not really sure, other than that I really try to write a lot of my songs from a kids’ perspective. I think that creates a feeling of ownership, of the music really being theirs. I also try to make sure there is always at least one thing in each song that kids can really connect to, like a movement or an image or a rhythm.
Rockmommy: What other news is going on? What kind of shows are you playing?
Laurie Berkner: My big news is that I just created a new audio series for Audible.com! It’s called Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen, and it’s ten different stories with music that I wrote and narrated, featuring characters from my songs like Oscar Beebee the Bumblebee and Victor Vito and Freddie Vasco who are ferret cousins. Each story starts and ends in my song and story kitchen where I make something yummy with my friend, Thelonius Pig (acted by Josiah Gaffney).
Laurie Berkner’s Song and Story Kitchen
I also have a bunch of special themed shows coming up. Halloween shows in New York and California in October, and winter holiday shows with the whole band in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut in December.
Rockmommy: Also, let’s say guitar-playing moms want to write songs for/with their own kids. Any suggestions on how to start that process?
Laurie Berkner: I think the best way to write a song for kids is to listen to what they are saying, watch what they’re doing, and think about what they enjoy. Then use those things as inspiration to develop songs that are relevant and interesting to them. And try singing the songs with them while you’re writing them! You’ll see right away what works and what doesn’t.
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.