Laurie Berkner, the vivacious children’s music performer and preschool TV star, is releasing Laurie Berkner’s Favorite Classic Kids’ Songs. Recorded with her band, the album features 51 children’s classics and six new original compositions, and premieres exclusively today on Rhapsody.
I spoke to Laurie about her favorite songs from her childhood, how she went from being an insecure preschool music teacher to a well-known children’s music artist, and the bond between love and music.
When you record a classic children’s song, do you feel an obligation to bring something new to it?
I don’t feel I can completely reinvent the songs, because that’s what’s so lovely about the songs you remember from childhood – the familiarity of them. We don’t need them to be absolutely new. But it’s fun to not have them feel tired, to not have them feel so exactly like the songs you’ve always heard.
Is there a song that you have particular memories associated with?
“Daisy, Daisy” – the bicycle built for two. I loved that song. I had a bunch of uncles that were similar to me in age. One of my uncles loved to play the piano and we would get together and sit around and drink grape juice and pretend it was wine. I would sit at the piano and say, “play a bicycle built for two.” I loved singing it. I was pretending to drink a grown-up drink and I was singing a song that made me happy. I was about seven.
You were a preschool music teacher. What got you into songwriting?
Basically, I was terrible [laughs]. I was such a bad music teacher. I didn’t know how to communicate with the kids, and I didn’t know what to sing with them.
I kind of just gave up one day and I looked at the kids and said, “I’m tired of Old MacDonald. What do you want to sing about?” One kid said, “dinosaurs.”
I thought about the song “The Ants Go Marching” and I said, “We’re going to march around and be dinosaurs.” Suddenly it worked. And that was a lot easier than trying to find a song that didn’t drive me crazy and that they responded to so I thought, why don’t I make up some more?
What common thread have you found in songs that endure over time?
Usually it sparks imagination when you hear it. Like “Take Me Out to the Ball Game.” The peanuts and Cracker Jack, there’s something so great about that.
Do you collaborate with kids when you write songs now?
I have a daughter and she does like to tell me how to write songs [laughs], but I don’t usually write them with her. She’s 11 now so she’s not really in the age range that I’m writing for.
I like to listen to 4-year-olds or younger. Like a song I’ve written called “Moon, Moon, Moon.” I heard a 2-year-old point up and say, “Moon. Moon. Moon.” Or, “I’m gonna catch you, you’d better run.” That was from a dad yelling that to his daughter.
There’s a lot of talk about how important music is for developmental growth and creativity. How do you think parents should get kids engaged with music?
Having music on at home is great. The main thing is to connect music with feeling loved. I think parents don’t realize how easy it is to do that when you have a very young child. All you have to do is put on music and walk your child to it, hold them while you’re listening to it. Dance with them. Sing with them. Share music together when they’re a little bit older and talk about how you love it. Let them see you enjoying it. Of course, at a certain point they’ll tell you to stop [laughs].
How do you see the kids music scene today?
There are a lot of things happening – a lot of people making really good kids music. The problem is how do you find that music? That is one of the cool things about what Rhapsody is doing by creating a music app just for kids.