Beloved family entertainer Fred Penner brings Christmas to the Bert Church Live Theatre Nov. 26 accompanied by the voices of Footprints for Learning Preschool choir.
Penner, who has a professional career spanning 45 years, said the concert is composed of a selection of songs off his 1990 Christmas album The Season.
With a love of working with both children and choirs, Penner said each performance along the Fred Penner Christmas tour brings an energy unique to the community they are in.
“I’m very exciting to be working with that particular group,” Penner said. “We’re going to have a lovely time.”
Emily Costello, choir director at Footprints for Learning Preschool, said in an email to the Airdrie City View the children have been preparing for the concert for several weeks and are excited to take the stage with Penner.
Costello said the students are often caught by their parents at home “singing his songs at every free moment of their day.”
“I am so proud of their dedication and love for singing,” Costello said. “We all cannot wait for Saturday to show Fred Penner and Airdrie how hard we’ve been working.”
With a more than four-decade résumé that includes radio, television and stage production, Penner said he often meets families with generations who grew up loving his music.
Penner said what he has found interesting about those encounters is that it isn’t a “nostalgia trip,” but rather parents seeing what he does as still relevant today as when they were children.
“It’s all about positive connections between people,” he said. “It’s all about bringing families…together to share in a common moment and just be excited about being in a space together.
“It’s very heartening to know that the generations are still keen on connecting with the Penner guy.”
Music is the perfect medium to create those connections, Penner said.
As creatures of rhythm and pattern – which starts with the pulse of our heart – he said we connect our lives with music, whether it be a song that defines a relationship or reminds us of a special event.
Interactivity with music is also key, Penner said.
The audience wants to connect with the musician on stage and he said it is not often enough these days the performer gives the audience a part to play in the concert.
“You relish the opportunity,” Penner said. “That’s certainly what will be happening in Airdrie from the beginning to the end of the show.”
The sold out Fred Penner Christmas with the Footprints for Learning Preschool choir runs at 2:30 p.m. Nov. 26.
Q& A with Fred Penner:
Did you always have a dream to become a musician?
No. I didn’t know what I wanted to be until my early 20s when I decided to see what I could do. I played guitar and sang well and people seemed to like me.
When did you start playing music and do you have a first memory of that experience?
I learned guitar when I was 15 and played in high school at coffee houses. I loved singing in choirs and my first experience was when I was in Grade 3 in Winnipeg.
What was playing on eight-year-old Fred Penner’s turntable?
I didn’t have a turntable at eight-years-old, but my mom and dad would have been playing classical music/opera and the swing music of the 40s – Benny Goodman, The Dorsey Brothers et cetera.
What was playing on 16-year-old Fred Penner’s turntable?
Harry Belafonte and Peter, Paul and Mary.
What was the first concert you ever went to?
A country concert with Stonewall Jackson – a singer from way back.
What the last concert you went to?
Boy George and Culture Club…Great show, great music.
Who are some musicians you reached to for inspiration in your own musical career?
Through their music, not directly, The Beatles, James Taylor, Joni Mitchell and Gordon Lightfoot.
Why did you focus your musical career working with children?
I love creating music for families, children happen to be a part of the family. I like singing about things that are important to people – love, cooperation, friendship, animals, food, home et cetera.
What do you enjoy most about writing children’s music?
As a family entertainer/musician, I love that my songs get inside people and they remember them and sing them to each other.
Is it fulfiling to find parents who had grown up listening to Fred Penner bringing their own children to a Fred Penner concert?
Very much so.
What do you enjoy most about performing for a crowd?
Hearing voices coming together. Seeing the smiling faces. Seeing people really listening.
What are some of your other hobbies?
I draw a little bit, but music is my life and hobby.
If you weren’t a musician, is there another profession you would have liked to do?
If there were one message you wanted every person in the world to hear, what would it be?
Pay attention. Listen to each other. Listen to the thoughts and the feelings and the needs that each person in your life is expressing. Pay attention to everything around you. Don’t get trapped in your own little world. We’re all in this insanity, and it is insanity, together and if you lose that ability to pay attention then things go downhill. Pay attention to your spouse, to your partners, pay attention to your children, pay attention to life as you are going through it. It’s all about being present in the moment and listening to and seeing what is happening around you.