NEW YORK – This fall, Laurie Berkner has been on a mission that likely will make children and parents happy: making more Laurie Berkners.
The singer-songwriter, whom Time magazine dubbed “the queen of children’s music,” has been training teachers to use her songs in a new music program for kids up to 4 years old.
The classes, called “The Music in Me,” are like having a Berkner in the room. “I’m trying to bottle it and pass it on to someone else,” the musician and educator said.
While still in its infancy – a pilot program is being used at four Manhattan locations – Berkner hopes it can one day go national, spreading her songs and philosophy.
She got the idea after so many people told her they were happily using her songs like “Victor Vita” and “Rocketship Run” in classrooms, libraries and day cares.
That got Berkner curious: “If everyone’s using them, does anyone actually use them the way I was hoping they would be used? Maybe I should start teaching some people how to do that,’” she said.
The education program comes at a time of flowering for all things Berkner: Her new musical “The Amazing Adventures of Harvey and the Princess” is playing at New York City Children’s Theater, she has two CDs – one of lullabies and a second hits compilation – and she’s got the animated musical preschool series “Sing It, Laurie!” on Sprout. Berkner also is touring, and makes a stop at 1 p.m. Saturday in the Riviera Theatre in North Tonawanda.
But the training program is the thing closest to her heart as she tries to put into words all that she’s learned at preschools, YMCAs and private music classes. Her attempt to make a curriculum from songs is part of a trend that includes Dan Zanes and Music Together.
Since starting in the mid-1990s, Berkner has written about 140 songs and has been experimenting with lesson plans to highlight them. Her program offers suggestions on when and how to introduce them, and in what sequence, always mixing slow songs and activity tunes up to keep things interesting.
“If you don’t follow that natural heartbeat-walking-talking human rhythm, then you’re not giving a 3-year-old what they need to be doing at that moment,” she said “They’ll just do something else.”
Jaclyn Dima, a music and movement teacher who has been following Berkner’s program, marvels at the way the lyrics and melody stick with kids. “The words will tell you what to do. The music will tell you what to do,” she said. “It just comes naturally.”
That natural skill was hard-won: Berkner was in a rock band that played downtown and an all-female cover band when she applied to be a music teacher at Rockefeller University’s Child and Family Center.
“I didn’t know what to do with them,” she said. Berkner learned a lot of folk songs, but “Old MacDonald” just wasn’t cutting it.
“They would run around the room. I couldn’t control them,” she said.
So she asked the kids what they liked, got them to stand up, march around, roar and the song “We Are the Dinosaurs,” her first real children’s song, was born.
Her philosophy hasn’t changed much since then.
“A lot of it is about following them, but also using the music to let them follow it,” she said.