Monday, August 11, 2014

Interview with Joni Klein-Higger: Musician and Author

It is my great pleasure to welcome Joni Klein-Higger to the blog today.  A talented musician and author, she and I are in the same writing critique group.  Please welcome Joni to the blog.

1       You are such a multi-talented person. Please tell us about your early music; how you began and if your use of the skill is different today.

 Thank you for your kind words, Nancy.  For as long as I can remember, writing songs came naturally to me.  As a child I used to make up little songs, whether it be about tying my shoes, going to the ice cream shop or jumping rope—there was always something to sing about.  I wrote my first completed song in high school and continued writing throughout college. 

Immediately after I completed my BA at Ithaca College, two songs of mine got “picked up”—one by the 60’s girls group, “The Shirelles” and the other by singer, Eddie Fisher. Unfortunately the songs they recorded never made it to the public, but for the first time I realized I was a “real” songwriter.  From then on I took a variety of songwriting and musical theater workshops in New York City and had the opportunity to work with some of the finest songwriters and musical theater playwrights in the country.

Since then I’ve had various artists, schools and organizations perform and record my songs and one of my retro songs was featured in the movie, PETUNIA.  When I had children of my own, my focus went from writing pop, ballads, rock and country songs to writing children’s music and children’s musicals. 

As far as my songwriting skills go, I spent many years honing the craft of songwriting and continue to apply all those skills to what I do today.  The main skill I am concentrating on mastering these days is trying to keep up with technology.  The music world has changed drastically since I first started out in the music business thanks to computers and home recording devices.  While I raised my children, I spent a lot of time creating musical works but little time keeping up with technology, selling and marketing my work.  This technological dinosaur is finally starting to catch up to music world.

2      What prompted you to begin writing books?

 Let me start by stating if anyone would have told me years ago that I would become I children’s book author, I would have thought they were crazy.  I was not a strong student academically in elementary school and high school, had little interest in reading and had no desire to write other than writing songs. I stumbled onto writing children’s books in 2003 when I was a Girl Scout Troop Leader.   My Co-leader was in charge the business and organizational aspects of the troop, and I was in charge of creating fun activities to help the girls achieve their badges.  Lucky for me, the girls chose to earn a literature badge, so I created an activity that involved each girl creating their own picture book.  The “blank books” order came in a package of 12 – let’s see, 12 books, ten Girl Scouts, two troop leaders, two books left over—my first picture book awaited me.  I decided to write and illustrate a book about my beautiful Girl Scout troop (which included my daughter, Sara, who later illustrated covers for two of my published musicals), and entitled it “A Rainbow Of Friendship.”  FYI, it only took ten years of revising that Rainbow Of Friendship manuscript, until it finally got picked up by Guardian Angel Publishing—it should be released by the end of this year.

The first book I actually had published was based on a children’s song I wrote called “Ten Little Latkes,” a Chanukah song I wrote for one of the preschools I was teaching at.  My latke song was picked up by Hachai Publishing, and with the help of Hachai’s wonderful editor, Devorah Rosenfeld, the song was turned into a children’s picture book called, Ten Tzedakah Pennies, released on Hachai Publishing in 2005. To this day this book is still used in many Judaic preschool curricula throughout the world.
3.      You have been successful in combining the printed word and music to make musicals for kids. Please tell us a bit about that.

In musical theater, each song needs to be an integral part of the story and story movement while establishing time, place and characters.  Because the children’s musicals I write are designed to be performed by elementary-school- aged children (not “for” them,) I try to keep the production time between 30 and 45 minutes, make the songs a reasonable length so the kids can easily sing them and try to incorporate fun melodies so the performers will enjoy singing the songs over and over again.

I also try to include an ensemble dance number so the performers can move around  during the musical, preventing stage boredom. For example, in my recently released musical, Recycle – The Musical, I have a dance number called “Rock and Roll With Me” that is a fun 50’s dance designed to combine the rock ‘n roll energy of the ‘50’s decade along with dance movements that are fun for the kids to do; as for story movement, this song introduces the modern day kids to the 1950’s kids while establishing a new setting and bringing new elements to the story—time travel.

Joni and fellow author Eileen Goldenberg
4     What’s next for you? Any more musicals or books for kids?  Can you tell us about them?

It has been an exciting year for me, Nancy.  My rhyming picture, Rainbow Of Friendship, illustrated by talented author/illustrator Eileen Goldenberg, should be released sometime within the next few months. It is the story of a red girl who moves from the comforts of her red town to Rainbow Row City, only to discover that friendship comes in many colors, shapes and sizes.
Eileen Goldenberg will also be illustrating I Have A Voice, a children’s picture book I co-wrote with Dr. Flora Zaken-Greenberg, PhD, that addresses Selective Mutism, an anxiety disorder that affects a child’s ability to speak. This manuscript was recently signed with Guardian Angel Publishing, so it probably won’t be release for another year or two.

And finally, another children’s musical, RED, which I co-wrote with the amazing Jane Tesh, should be released by the end of this year.  It is the story of Little Red Writing Hood, who turns Fairy Tale Land upside-down with the help of her magical pencil.  

5     How can you be reached to purchase your books or musicals?

If anyone is interested in purchasing any of my books, musicals or songs, they can find me at and will have access to all of my published works.

Thanks so much for interviewing me for your blog, Nancy. I am honored to be a part of it!

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