Interview by Brittany, Student Editor-in-Chief
AK: How did you get started singing for preschoolers?
LB: I got a job a year out of college as a pre-school music specialist. While I was teaching I started writing songs to sing with the kids. Eventually I recorded some of the songs I had written on a cassette (!) and started to sell them both to the parents of my students and to stores in NYC and a few other cities. That led to doing performances in the stores and as people came to know my music, eventually in larger and larger venues.
AK: What’s the best part of your job that encourages you?
LB: I love the creativity in my work. I get to be creative in writing music, in recording music, in performing for an audience and in developing my business (Two Tomatoes Records, LLC). I also love hearing from people how much pleasure my music has given them and in some instances how greatly it has affected them. I met a couple this past weekend when we were playing in Ohio who had a son with an extremely rare genetic disease. She told me that the doctors told her that he would never walk, but that now he is able to move somewhat with a walker and he only will do it while listening to one of my songs. I have gotten a lot of email from parents of children who have had to spend time in a hospital who tell me that listening to my music is what helped them get through the experience with moments of joy or parents of autistic children who tell me that their child’s first words were the lyrics to one of my songs or to ask for one of my songs to be played. It’s an amazing feeling to realize that something in this music that I’ve created seems to connect to so many people in such a positive way.
AK: Please tell us a bit about your cool band members and how they work together to make the fun CD’s from Two Tomatoes Records.
LB: I play with Susie Lampert (keys and vox), Adam Bernstein (Bass and vox) and Bob Golden (drums and percussion and other assorted sounds!)
Susie and I have been playing together for at least 12 years and we met each other while we both worked at Rockefeller University. I was the music specialist for their Child and Family Center and she was working there in a lab as a nurse. We met at the gym, discovered we were both musicians, and really hit it off. Eventually, we joined an all-female rock band together called Lois Lane. (She had been playing keyboards in bands here since she was a young teenager). When I started doing the kids’ music full time, I asked her if she would start performing with me, and it was one of the best choices I ever made!
Adam joined the band three years ago after my husband, Brian Mueller, decided to go back to school for psychology and stopped performing with us. I had known Adam through a circle of musician friends I had from college (Rutgers, New Brunswick) and we had played together on and off over the years in each other’s bands. Adam is a very accomplished bass player, composer, arranger and music teacher and brings a lot of great energy to the band.
Bob Golden is someone that I met as an audio engineer and producer when we were filming videos for NOGGIN. We hit it off so well that we decided to work together on our last album, Rocketship Run which he co-produced with me. He is a prolific songwriter and has worked on countless television shows writing and recording music. He also happened to be a great and creative drummer (He’s actually the drummer for the house band on TV show, 30 Rock) and ended up laying down drum and percussion tracks to many of the songs we recorded. Once the CD was released we asked him if he wanted to start performing with us, and it has been a wonderful addition to our sound and the experience of performing together as a band.
Rocketship Run is the CD that we all really worked on together. Adam and Susie each contributed a couple of their original songs, we all worked on the arrangements and really spent time as a team to pull all the songs together in a cohesive way. It was quite a journey to create it together.
AK: What do you enjoy about writing songs for kids?
LB: I find when I’m writing songs for kids that I have to be pretty disciplined about keeping the themes direct, understandable and relevant. That helps me to write good songs that I feel [good about]. I also write about things that moved me or that I found fun and exciting when I was young, and that I still feel the same way about now. It connects me to my own memories and parts of myself that I haven’t been as in touch with as an adult; [those parts] that gave me a lot of pleasure as a child. I also love the way that kids are so free to really enjoy music in an unabashed way. And it feels wonderful when I see them experiencing music that I’ve written that way.
AK: How have preschoolers made a difference in your life?
LB: When I was teaching music to that age group, I felt as if I had to learn a whole new way of looking at the world and I was reminded of some of the basic things that we all want, even as adults. We want to be loved, we want to express our feelings and still feel acceptable, we don’t want be hurt, that it’s hard to be apart from the people we love and that it’s really fun to move our bodies.
I have also certainly been affected in profound ways by my own daughter who is 4 1/2 now. I’m not sure where to begin with her, except that I feel as though I see the world through very different eyes having her around. And because of her, there is so much more love in my life.
AK: If you weren’t playing the guitar, which instrument would you like to learn (or play)?
LB: The drums. I always wished I was a good drummer.
AK: What is your best advice for kids who want to write songs/produce CD’s? Where should they start? What can they do now to prepare for a career along those lines?
LB: I think that it’s most important to do what you love. So, if songwriting is something that you love to do, prepare for a career by doing it as much as you can. Explore what it means to combine creativity and hard work. Decide to write a song a day or a song a week. Put time into it and approach your songwriting like you would a report or a project for school (in an ideal world, of course!). Having a career in music, whether it’s songwriting, performing, recording or producing, is a combination of inspiration, following your gut feelings and creativity, and knowing how to turn those ideas into something tangible to share with other people. I also think it is extremely wise to spend some time learning about the business side of music. Too many musicians don’t know how to translate their art into a career only because they haven’t taken the time to do this.
Then the exciting part is that we can also be creative with our businesses and perhaps change the world in more than one way!
EDITOR’S NOTE: Check out our P.A.K. (Parents of Amazing Kids!) Review of Laurie Berkner’s newest CD, Rocketship Run!