By Nicole Fitzgerald
Who: Fred Penner
When: Wednesday, May 24
Where: MY Millennium Place
Not the music from one of his 12 albums, not the hundreds or sometimes thousands of audience members waiting, but how his music and the moments he creates in his performance can impact the world spinning out of control. With the demands of consumerism, family time is often overshadowed by parents bogged down in work schedules, struggling to balance family with finances.
Deep thoughts for a man whose first claim to fame was the song The Cat Came Back, which was made into a children’s picture book last December.
"My songs have substance to them," Penner said, just before running off to pick up one of his four kids from school. "I hope they spark conversation within the family unit. I am trying to create moments. When the audience leaves the theatre, you want them to remember the points you have in it. Things like pride, home, co-operation, accomplishment: I make these little bench marks along the way and tie a melody to it and it seeds itself.
"This is what is always in my mind getting ready for a show, this whirling philosophical discussion. How does (what I am doing) fit into the system? I am not just getting up and singing songs with three chord progressions. My music is quite complex. I am creating a show, an energy, a moment."
Those moments have made Canada’s most beloved children’s performer a household name worldwide and not just among two-foot nothing tykes. There is nothing condescending about his family shows; he talks to kids the same way he speaks to adults: sharing a story, a song and always lots of laughs. His music connects on a broader scale, uniting family members, grandma, grandpa, mom and dad, brothers, sisters and friends under one roof.
"My shows are about drawing family together," he said. "Parents are singing. Children see parents getting involved. That is what it is all about. Finally getting some moments that have value."
Penner discovered the ability of music to touch people’s lives at a young age. As a teenager he witnessed the impact of music on his baby five-year-old sister, who suffered from Down’s syndrome.
"She was just discovering the joys of sound," he recounted. "She would get so wrapped up in it, it would cause her to express her joy in tears.… Those are the pieces that had the strongest impact on me. How one particular special needs child could relate to what I was doing.
"I put the pieces together and it became a pattern. I saw music as a valuable expression. It can create an internal spiritual connection, an emotional connection… There is something about the vibration that comes from music that can affect growing organisms, human or otherwise."
The psychology graduate worked with mentally and physically challenged children, using his musical talents to comfort and entertain before moving onto successes such as the CBC television show Fred Penner’s Place. To this day, he still receives fan mail from the 55 million American viewers who watched the show for its four-year run.
The eight-time Juno nominee and two-time winner received four Parents’ Choice Awards and one of his albums, Happy Feet , was named Best Children’s Album of the Year by Entertainment Weekly.
A heart even bigger than his success, the humanitarian brings voice to many causes as a spokesperson for UNESCO, World Vision, Unicef and the National Conference on Down’s syndrome, which he chaired.
His contribution to enriching the lives of children has not gone unnoticed. The Order of Canada recipient was honoured by the Canadian Institute of Child Health for his contribution to the wellbeing and safety of children.
Connect with both heart and hilarity at Penner’s matinee and evening shows Wednesday, May 24 at 4 and 7 p.m. at MY Millennium Place. Tickets are $17 for adults, $15 for students and $10 for children. Call 604-935-8410 for tickets.
Fred Penner wraps up the sell-out season of the Performance Series. His show is sponsored by Nesters Market and accommodation is provided by Whisky Jack Resorts.