Fred Penner, a.k.a. the 'Canadian Minister of Positivity,' knows how to make a genuine connection with children. (Design by Ben Didier/CBC Music)
He's the guy who wrote the perennial kids' favourite, "Sandwiches" (sing along, everybody: "I like sandwiches I eat them all the time"), and whose version of "The Cat Came Back"
is beloved by countless children -- and the adults who grew up with it.
And then there are the fans of his long-running CBC TV kids show, Fred Penner's Place (1985 to 1997).
Yes, Penner is one of the cornerstones of high quality children's music, along with fellow Canadians Raffi and Sharon, Lois and Bram. The Juno-winning gentle giant of the genre (called the "Canadian Minister of Positivity" by Los Angeles Parent) has much insight into what performers should do to make a genuine and joyful connection with children. He shares some of that insight with CBC Music.
Ask yourself, 'why?'
Why are you performing for children? It is important to understand your audience.
Connection, connection, connection
Children are sponges, they observe and imitate the world around them, and as a performer you have the opportunity to make a real difference in their lives. Look at the faces, enjoy the expressions and make everyone in the theatre (or wherever you are) from the front to the back feel that they are part of this performance.
Never apologize, never explain
Never apologize. If you forget some lyrics or make a musical mistake, don't lose you cool, don't let it throw you off balance.
Keep it fresh
Be spontaneous, even if it is something you have done many times before, sing or play or tell a story as if it was the first time.
Have a batch of finger plays or rhymes or call-and-response pieces that you can pull out [of] the bag at a moment's notice. These can help the flow of your performance.
Make good music
Make good music - quality sounds, with good arrangements and strong lyrics. Realize that you are an artist and you owe it to yourself and your audience to create to the best of your ability. Don't be afraid to edit.
Children are intelligent and bright and ready to accept your offering. Be respectful to your audience and do not condescend.