Performing music for kids isn’t that much different than performing for adults, says Dan Bursey. You can gauge each crowd’s enjoyment by their reaction, and feed off of their energy.
They both enjoy humour and little stories told between songs, and they both appreciate a catchy tune.
If adults don’t like you, they just won’t come back to see you again. If kids don’t like you, well, you might get hit in the head with a juice box.
Bursey, of Lewisporte, has just released his fourth full-length album, “Spread Your Love.” An acoustic singer-songwriter, Bursey’s debut record, 2008’s “Hope Will Rise,” and 2010’s “Roots by the Water’s Edge,” were both faith-based and in the folk-roots genre, and aimed at an adult audience.
They also earned him critical acclaim: he was nominated for the 2008 MusicNL Award for Gospel Artist of the Year and, as well as for two 2009 Canadian Gospel Music Association award nominations, for Jazz/Blues Album of the Year and Jazz/Blues Song of the Year.
Last year, despite his success, Bursey decided to take his career in a new direction, joking that it was “just getting too difficult to convince adults that I was cool.” Having worked with children for about 10 years as a youth minister, Bursey decided to record a children’s worship album on a whim.
“I was in the studio with Dean (Stairs, of Citadel House) one day and just said, ‘Why don’t we try this?’ I knew there wasn’t a lot of music that churches could use for children, so I thought this might be something to explore; there might be a bit of a market,” Bursey explained.
The jump to a children’s market paid off: the record, “God is in my Corner,” won Bursey the 2011 MusicNL Award for Gospel Artist of the Year, as well as East Coast Music Award and Canadian Gospel Music Award nominations.
It also opened the door to more opportunities for live performances, at churches, camps, and other family-orientated venues across the province. These days, he’s got a gig booked practically every weekend.
As an adult Christian artist, Bursey found his music was a little too churchy for a mainstream audience; not churchy enough for religious types. As a children’s gospel musician, Bursey feels less pressure to fit in, finding the kids are more receptive and open to fun.
“I love the fact that they’re so open to creativity,” Bursey said of the children in his audiences.
“Maybe it’s me being emotionally needy, I don’t know, but whatever you do, they eat it up. What I like, too, is they can tell if you’re being authentic. They’ll call you on something. I really enjoy that because it’s part planned and part improv, and you never know what’s going to happen. It’s such a fun dynamic, I find.”
With “Spread Your Love,” Bursey wanted to create a playlist of songs that was catchy without being cheesy or insulting children’s intelligence, and something cool enough for parents to be able to handle playing on repeat in the car. Twelve local children back Bursey up on the record.
“I don’t mean to put other people down, but I’ve listened to some children’s performers and after a while you go, ‘I need to turn this off, it’s driving me crazy,’” Bursey said, laughing. “I wanted to make this one very parent-friendly. We’ve tried to make it legitimately good music with messages kids can relate to.”
The messages on the album are simple, and approach God and religion in a way that’s not specific to a particular denomination, from the point of view of a child. The first track on the record, “Sing it Loud,” is about the many aspects of God.
“The chorus says basically I’m amazed by you, there’s so much to you, I just can’t hold it in. I want to sing it loud, shout it out, my heart cannot contain just how wonderful you are,” Bursey said.
“It’s trying to communicate a message and maybe teach some things to kids about who God is.”
Bursey has already begun working on his next project, another children’s record, which he hopes to release later this year. This one won’t be faith-based.
“Last week we cut a song about picking your nose, and we sing about Kraft Dinner,” Bursey said, chuckling.
“When I speak, my message to the children is that you’re valuable, no matter what people think about you or have said about you or what’s happened to you. You’re valuable and you’re priceless. That’s a message I think can translate into a church setting or a school setting or a festival.”
Bursey has partnered with Compassion Canada, a Christian organization working to reduce poverty around the globe. He encourages audience members to sponsor a child through the organization, and over the past year about 60 children have been sponsored thanks to his appeal.
“I don’t want (my career) to be just about me, I want it to be bigger than that, and this partnership has been great,” he said.
Bursey will play across the island throughout the fall, and will do shows in Ontario and the Maritimes in November. “Spread Your Love” is available at various locations across the province, online at www.danbursey.com and iTunes.