Mister G’s musical tour: Children’s songwriter releases new album made with musicians from around the globe

  • Ben Gundersheimer, aka Mister G, in his home recording studio in Whately. The Latin Grammy award winner has a new album out that he produced with digital contributions from musicians around the world. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben Gundersheimer, aka Mister G, sings in his home recording studio in Whately. The Latin Grammy award winner has a new album out that he produced with digital contributions from musicians around the world. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben Gundersheimer, aka Mister G, sings in his home recording studio in Whately. The Latin Grammy award winner has a new album out that he produced with digital contributions from musicians around the world. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben Gundersheimer, aka Mister G, sings in his home recording studio in Whately. The Latin Grammy award winner has a new album out that he produced with digital contributions from musicians around the world. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben Gundersheimer, aka Mister G, in his home recording studio in Whately. The Latin Grammy award winner has a new album out that he produced with digital contributions from musicians around the world. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben Gundersheimer, aka Mister G, in his home recording studio in Whately. The Latin Grammy award winner has a new album out that he produced with digital contributions from musicians around the world. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Ben Gundersheimer, aka Mister G, in his home recording studio in Whately. The Latin Grammy award winner has a new album out that he produced with digital contributions from musicians around the world. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Mister G in his studio pre-pandemic with Sengalese percussionist Massamba Diop, who plays on the new album. Image courtesy Laudable Productions

  • Mister and Missus G do a Zoom-based performance at Northampton’s Academy of Music in early September, a benefit for the environmental coalition Moms Clean Air Force. Image courtesy Laudable Productions

  • Mister G collaborated with some three dozen musicians from around the globe — almost all of it done digitally — for his new album, “Children of the World.”

  • Chilean-American jazz vocalist Claudia Acuña joined Mister and Missus G for a virtual performance in September, streamed from the Academy of Music. She also sings on the new Mister G album. Image courtesy Laudable Productions

  • Mister G at the September livestreamed show at the Academy of Music, with a screen shot of one his younger audience members watching at home via Zoom. Image courtesy Laudable Productions

Staff Writer
Published: 9/22/2020 1:27:06 PM

Like any number of musicians across the country — around the world, really — Mister G has had to find a new rhythm due to the pandemic.

The longtime children’s musician and songwriter, whose real name is Ben Gundersheimer, had a busy touring schedule set for this spring, summer and fall before COVID-19 came to town. “I don’t want to go there,” he said with a laugh when a Gazette reporter recently asked him how many of his gigs were canceled.

But Gundersheimer, who lives in Whately, has still found ways to stay musically engaged over the past several months, including doing some virtual performances from his home studio, a series he calls MisterG.tv. He also just released a new album, “Children of the World,” that he produced almost entirely digitally, merging tracks performed by nearly three dozen musicians around the globe with his own work in his home studio.

His wife, Katherine Jamieson (Missus G), a writer and former college professor, is a key part of this equation, working as her husband’s manager and often performing alongside him. The duo recently played in the (empty) Academy of Music in Northampton for an event they’d previously headed for five years in Washington, D.C.: a concert for Moms Clean Air Force, a coalition of parents from across the country who advocate for clean air and climate action for children. This year, the show went virtual.

Gundersheimer says he has long collaborated with other musicians, both on tour and in the studio, and he has forged bonds with plenty of players from different countries. But “Children of the World” is a new entry in the Mister G repertoire: It’s an album of its time, he says, one that speaks both to the reality of the pandemic, the connections we make through music, and the need for people to band together to fight problems such as climate change.

“Zoom and FaceTime have become such a part of our lives, so in a way doing this album [remotely] didn’t feel like that big of a stretch,” he said in a recent phone interview. “The pandemic has affected so many of us, and doing this suddenly gave us a reason to come back together to make music.”

Gundersheimer, a veteran guitarist and songwriter — he’s a graduate of the Berklee College of Music in Boston, and also of Amherst College — says that though working virtually can have its technical issues, there are also apps and high-tech recording tools available that can make the sessions quite smooth, with great sound quality and no delays in processing the music and conversation.

During some of the recording for the new album, he says, he could be interacting with other musicians via the internet, “and it would be just like being in a studio with them.”

All told, he worked with musicians, engineers and others from five continents and 14 countries, including Argentina, Chile, Brazil, Romania, Liberia, Senegal, France and Bangladesh. Some of the players — singers, keyboardists, saxophonists, drummers — were friends he’d worked with before or musicians he knew and admired, but others were introduced to him during the process. He calls this group of far-flung musical collaborators the “Global Citizen Ensemble.”

He says he’d actually written initial versions of some of the songs well before he began recording the new album, as pre-pandemic he’d been envisioning a project that would address themes of social justice and collective action. For instance, “Dinosaur,” a mid-tempo rocker, offers lyrics about the importance of preserving the planet or having humanity go the way of the giant creatures that disappeared from earth millions of years ago.

The song also touches indirectly on the issue of immigration and makes a plea for accepting people’s differences: “We may speak different languages/ We may eat different foods/ The only thing that matters/ Is what we say and do.”

A life of its own

After the pandemic hit, Gundersheimer was also working online with a friend and multi-instrumentalist in Florida, Jose Valentino, on another album — “Ritmo y Rima,” or “Rhythm and Rhyme,” a collection of Spanish-language songs released earlier this year — and the two began envisioning a larger project that would bring in additional musicians.

“José began connecting me with some of his friends, I reached out to people I knew, and the whole thing just began growing organically,” he said. “It really took on a life of its own.”

Gundersheimer shared files of the demos of his new songs, with him playing guitar and singing, with other players, who in turn began embellishing the tunes with a riff or harmony/backing vocals. Through video calls, emails and continued file sharing, the songs began to grow, Gundersheimer says, sometimes in surprising ways.

For example, he’d originally conceived of the song “Earth Beneath Your Feet,” a celebration of nature, as an Americana-type tune, maybe with some fiddle. Instead, the song includes a number of backing female vocalists, several of them friends of Donna E. Scott, an African American jazz and R&B singer who also co-produced the album; the singers gave the song a more gospel sound, Gundersheimer notes, and the tune is carried along by an African drum beat.

The 12-song album offers a range of sounds, from folk to funk to rock to a bit of rap. A couple of the tracks also feature a demonstration of an unusual instrument, such as the dan tranh, a type of Vietnamese zither. In the latter case, Gundersheimer talks with the player, Tri Nguyen, a native of Vietnam now living in France, about the instrument’s sound and history.

A few tracks were captured live in Mister G’s studio. Massamba Diop of Senegal, who plays the talking drum and is a friend of Gundersheimer, was in the Valley last year and did some recording with him that now appears on the new disc. (Diop, an in-demand percussionist who spends a good amount of time in the U.S., has also played with Gundersheimer’s neighbor, longtime percussionist Tony Vacca.)

And, this being a kids’ record, there are plenty of young voices on the album, too; several of the children also crop up in an accompanying video for the funk-flavored song “Washing Our Hands,” certainly a topical subject these days.

Gundersheimer at one time led the music program at the Smith Campus School in Northampton and also earned a master’s in education, thinking he might become a full-time teacher. Instead, he has wedded that interest to his music, the goal being to write good, non-schlocky songs that can be both informative and accessible to kids.

With the pandemic’s duration still uncertain, Mister G & Co. are preparing for more virtual work. In fact, “Children of the World” has been dubbed the “debut album” of Mister G and the Global Citizen Ensemble. “I don’t see this as a one-off,” said Gundersheimer. “I think there’s a lot more music in all of us.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com. Mister G’s annual Halloween concert, normally held at the Academy of Music, will be staged virtually this year. More details are at mistergsongs.com.


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