Who says learning stuff can’t be a blast?
BRATTLEBORO -- Award-winning children’s musician Mister G knows a thing or two about teaching stuff to kids.
But he’s also tuned in to what young people can teach us.
"With kids in general, they’re so open, and their desire to learn and have fun is so pure," said Mister G, aka Ben Gundersheimer, a Parents’ Choice Gold Award-winner dubbed "irresistible" by People magazine. "A lot of times learning and fun are treated as separate entities. Part of my agenda is to bring those together."
Music is the platform Mister G uses to bring learning and fun together, and the results are undeniable. Since finding his niche in children’s music just over four years ago, Mister G has released three CDs featuring original songs drawing from diverse influences from rock to folk to bluegrass, ska, bossa nova and Latin music. A fourth CD is due out this month. He has increasingly woven songs in Spanish and English into his repertoire. Called a "kid-friendly bilingual rock star" by the Washington Post, Mister G has an album ("Chocolalala") on the 2013 Latin Grammy ballot for Best Children’s Album.
On Sunday, Mister G will swing into Brattleboro to present two Back to School concerts at 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., at the New England Youth Theatre, 100 Flat St. He will come bearing his brand new CD, "ABC Fiesta," available in Brattleboro before anywhere else.
"ABC Fiesta" combines all of Mister G’s passions -- music, literacy and learning -- in songs in both English and Spanish. Mister G’s tunes are popular with kids -- and with their parents, from whom he often hears comments like "We drop the kids off at school, but we keep listening to the CD all day."
Devoting himself to literacy and learning is a natural fit for Mister G, who is the son of prominent children’s book author and illustrator Karen Gundersheimer.
"I grew up in a context where books and reading were really valued," he said.
Devoted to books, reading, writing and music, Mister G went on to become an English major at Amherst College and was awarded the first scholarship in songwriting in the history of Berklee College of Music. He then spent some 20 years pursuing a career in indie rock, opening for such acts as Phish, Dan Zanes, the Spin Doctors and Martin Sexton.
Gradually, his interest in education grew, and he enrolled at Smith College to earn his master’s degree in elementary education. It was then that his interests in music and education combined into a second career -- he began writing songs as a curriculum project for his master’s thesis.
Children’s music proved to be the ideal outlet not only for his ideas but for his omnivorous musical tastes, which had often confused music industry promoters and producers who could never fit him neatly into one box or another.
"The music’s really eclectic. Š It’s all over the map, and that’s been part of the fun for me as a writer and producer," he said. "I found it to be extremely liberating. Š What was viewed in some respects as a liability is an asset in the children’s music world."
Gradually, Mister G began weaving more Spanish words into his work, largely because he’s a Spanish speaker, and he just wanted to try it.
Turns out, kids love to learn songs and lyrics in other languages, and it’s been a boon to his work. For "ABC Fiesta," Mister G includes the voices of bilingual children, and includes playful interludes illustrating how Spanish words are used throughout Latin America.
"I did it in response to the state of the culture here in the U.S., with immigration. In some respects, there’s a sense that people should come here and assimilate and speak English, and I’m not completely on board with that," he said, with a disarmingly sentence explaining his advocacy of bilingualism. "Your life is enhanced if you learn to speak Spanish."
For the performances in Brattleboro, Mister G will sing and perform on acoustic guitar, and he will be joined by Mrs. G, who dons outlandish wigs and costumes and helps keep people engaged and entertained.
"We’re having a great time, we’re singing, we’re dancing, and suddenly the exchange of learning becomes a joyful experience," he said.
Mister G’s concerts at NEYT are made possible through the sponsorship of Gaines Farm, The Neighborhood Schoolhouse, The Grammar School and Minuteman Press. A national tour follows the release of "ABC Fiesta," which will continue with a tour of Latin America in 2014. And it all starts in Brattleboro on Sunday.
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