How I came to writing songs for children.
It all started in April 1982. I was studying to become a music teacher at the Music Academy in Stuttgart. A fellow student, who was in fact my next-door neighbor in our dorm, Gerhard Zimmermann, asked me to write a song for him. He desperately needed a new piece for a children’s and youth orchestra to perform at a music camp over the Easter break. Without giving it too much thought, I set about composing a piece of music. When we met again in the summer semester, he told me that the song I had written had been a total hit at the camp. “URWALD – URWALD” (“JUNGLE – JUNGLE”) must have been heard ringing across the entire Allgäu region.
A few months later, my cheerful and talented friend Gerhard died in a tragic accident. I couldn’t and didn’t even want to think of ever writing another piece of music for children. From that point on, I turned in the exact opposite direction, concentrating fully on counterpoint, finger exercises, and the history of music.
But the genie of the “Jungle” song was out of the bottle and it kept on raising a joyous spirit in choral holiday camps. Copies of the music were passed by hand from one person to the next. One day I received a call: Where can we buy the sheet music for the Jungle song? Is there a piano score for it? I decided to make the sheet music available through a publisher. I wrote the song out in a presentable format, created a colorful title page and sent them off, along with a demo-cassette (at that time, one still sent cassettes!) all across Germany. The result was – the expected.
Ten letters sent and 15 refusals: “Unfortunately at the moment we are not in a position … “ – “… it doesn’t fit in with our existing repertoire …” – “… please contact us again when …” That was more or less the tone. At a certain point, I threw all the letters away. That was in the late 1980s.
At a certain point, someone recommended that I get in touch with the music publishing house Carus, whose headquarters were in fact less than a kilometer from where I lived. In 1992, I sent them my first package. The contents were: the “Jungle” song and a song about a little hen that flew around the world. Shortly thereafter, I received a call from Waltraud Graulich: “Yes, we could imagine including the pieces in our offering.” How fantastic: from that point on, the sheet music for the Jungle song wouldn’t have to be passed from one person to the next by hand. Since then, the piece has become a best seller with Carus; it is in fact still in demand today and being sung all over.
In 1994, together with Christoph Mohr, I started again to write songs for children. In 1998, through my colleagues at the “Stuttgarter Kulturbühne im GUM” theater, I got to know the texts of Babette Dieterich. The actor Ernst Konarek showed me the poems of Peter Hammerschlag, the “Blitz”-poet from Vienna. And so began the series of “Kinderhits mit Witz” (“Children´s Hits with Humor”) In 2007, I met Edith Jeske who invited me to teach a workshop on children’s songs at Celler Schule, a masterclass for German lyricists which she was organizing with Tobias Reitz. She she encouraged me to invent and compose new songs with the participants. In the town of Springe, where the Celler School is now located, I was able to work together with Barbara Berrien, Julia Hagemann, Edith Jeske, Jutta Rath, Maik Brandenburg, Peter Dünow, Johannes Göckeritz and Jens Wormstädt. But I also vigorously rummaged through the archives and discovered poems by Paula Dehmel, Wilhelm Busch and Hugo Ball, amongst others, just waiting to be set to music. Quality outlives time.
Since then, 21 collections of “Kinderhits mit Witz” (“Children´s Hits with Humor”) have been recorded. There are songs about travels, there are lullabies and birthday songs. There are also songs about animals, horrors and monsters. In addition, Christmas songs, Easter songs, non-sense songs and love songs. In 2011, an annual competition for “Kinderhits mit Witz” (“Children´s Hits with Humor”) was started, which the best performances of songs recorded on video are being rewarded.
To everyone who has helped to create and establish the series of “Kinderhits mit Witz” (“Children´s Hits with Humor”) I would like to express my most heartfelt thanks. My biggest thanks, however, go to all those who take joy in experimenting with and singing the pieces and who have fun performing them.
You make me really happy.