Childview

Faith in Action: Fred Penner

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Fred Penner.
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I grew up watching your show. Your website lists a lot of tour dates. It’s really cool that you’re still entertaining kids.
It’s quite exciting. The children I first entertained are now grown up and they’re having their own kids. So, the circle is complete.

Are you working on a new album?
There’s an album that I started working on over a year ago with some new tunes and some old tunes. But I’m collaborating with some of the younger generation. 

You’ve been performing for more than 30 years. What’s your motivation?
The best part of being an entertainer for children—for families, really—is making that connection between the child and the parent and the grandparent. My performances are very much a dialogue where I am asking questions of the audience. I’m asking them to sing along, to participate in my musical journey, in my process. I am constantly being energized—the feedback that I receive reaffirms that the path I’m on is positive and creates something in that family that they treasure and hold on to.

Is there a particular message you try to get across to kids and families?
At the end of a performance, I want the audience to think about the songs, about home, about love, about caring and,ultimately, the value of being a person. We are in a crazy, challenging world, to say the least, and the only way that we can really survive is by supporting each other.

What do you do when a child cries?
When that happens, the parents may be inclined to take the child out of the theatre. I try to circumvent that process. I say, “What is that child’s name?” Then I wave directly at that child. Pretend his name is Michael. I say, “Hello, Michael. I see you.” The child now has a connection with me. Suddenly, Michael is not anonymous. He has an identity. And that’s a huge part of what children are trying to find.

That’s a good segue into what part your faith plays in your identity. Could you share that with me.
I’m from a Mennonite background. My parents were from small farming communities southwest of Winnipeg. I was raised with a strong Christian base.  As I was growing, Sunday was church time. I learned the books of the Bible. I went to Sunday school. At my critical development time, I learned the importance of faith and to be a good, caring person. The Golden Rule has always been really critical in my thinking. And I think we can lose it along the way. But if we follow that rule more clearly, I know our world would be a better place.

You went to Zambia with World Vision in 2005. Could you talk about that experience.
My son and I spent about a week in this little community. We met two different families and talked to them about what their world was. They had a lot of joy and happiness. The journey was certainly life altering for me and for my son. Seeing the value of the work that’s happening—so many people who are stepping up to the plate and who are trying to make a difference. The trip reinforced much of my perspective on life.

Interview has been condensed and edited.​

*This article originally appeared in the Winter 2013/14 issue of Childview.

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