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Pied Pipers Tune Up for Kids

September 18, 1997|LYNNE HEFFLEY | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It's a big event for children's music: An impressive lineup of locally and nationallyknown kids' favorites--Dan Crow, Uncle Ruthie Buell, J.P. Nightingale, Peter Alsop, Barney Saltzberg, Dave Kinnoin, Courtney Campbell, Jose-Luis Orozco and many more--will perform a rare group concert on Sept. 27 at the Jazz Bakery. A repeat performance with some of the same artists will take place on Sept. 28 at California Plaza.

These veteran independent singers and songwriters have a special reason for putting on a big show--they're paying tribute to one of their own, children's music pioneer Marcia Berman, in honor of her 65th birthday and her decades of commitment to children, teachers and other artists.

This First Annual Marcia Berman Day of Music for Young Children is also launching the Marcia Berman Fund for Music and Young People, a nonprofit organization meant to promote awareness of the importance of music for children and encourage activities that bring music to children and educators.

Although she is retired and many of her recordings are out of print, gentle-voiced Berman, a former kindergarten teacher, was for many years one of a very few artists creating music exclusively for children. She became a teacher of teachers, a leader in showing preschool and primary educators how to use simple songs to encourage a child's own musical interest and as a tool for communication.

"I still use her songs," said children's artist and educator Jackie Breger. Breger, who helped organize the event, will also lead a pre-show workshop for teachers and child development students featuring Berman's music.

"What strikes me about Marcia's songs," she said, "is that they are so basic and so simple and so supportive of the interests and development of children." For example, her song "The Mouse in the House" is a direct pipeline into "children's interests, fears, changes at home, things that affect their lives and therefore their performance in school.

"I've had this come up in my workshops with teachers. You sing, 'I had a mouse in my house last night, and this is what it said: Squeak, squeak, squeak,' and so on, but kids come up with all kinds of different lyrics. They'll sing about their bad dreams, or about the TV making too much noise and keeping them up." Or even, Breger said, "about gunshots in the night."

Berman's peers hold her in high regard also for her mentoring of performers just starting out.

Disney and film artist Dan Crow ("Welcome to Pooh Corner," "Milo and Otis") knows that firsthand.

"I met Marcia when I had recorded my first album for children in 1976. She heard my tape and she was so encouraging and positive. She not only arranged to have it heard by a number of people, but within a year, she had recorded one of my songs, reinforcing that level of belief in what I was doing. Anytime I record something new, I still try to have her hear it first."

Berman, who is "most honored" at the tribute, said her songs about such kid-appealing subjects as animals, Halloween costumes and ferry boats were a natural response to being with children as a teacher and parent. Using simply structured folk music as a framework, she created songs "that talked about what the children were doing, heightening what was happening to them.

"I just followed their lead," she said. "When I was teaching kindergarten at Manhattan Beach, we had some chickens and the day one chicken laid an egg was so exciting that I wrote a song, because we were all there when it happened and we got to feel that warm egg.

"When I think of music, I don't think of just songs for children," she added. "I think of it as being movement and songs and poetry and speech. I also think of it as more than just what we songwriters create for children. It's something that children create themselves, spontaneously.

"It seems like music is something we're all born with," she said. "Like breathing and walking and intuiting. It's just part of living."

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BE THERE

Marcia Berman Day of Music for Young Children, Jazz Bakery, 3233 Helms Ave., Culver City, Sept. 27. Workshop for teachers and child development students: 10 a.m.-noon. $25. Concert: 2 p.m. $10. ($30 for both workshop and concert.) Repeat concert: California Plaza, 350 S. Grand Ave., L.A., Sept. 28, 3 p.m. Free. (310) 828-6378.

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