Tuesday, December 04, 2007

Spinning Wheel part 7: Gigi Weisman

Once upon a time, I thought I'd like to become a journalist because I thought nothing would be better than listening to other people's stories all day long. Working on the high school paper cured me of that fantasy. Some people would consent to interviews, but then drawing anything interesting out of them was a slow, painful process. Really, all I wanted to do was set the tape recorder running and listen to them talk.

Educational consultant and musician Gigi Weisman is a journalist's dream. Not only does Weisman answer questions, she offers additional stories about her life. Some of them are revealed in this edition of Spinning Wheel, and some of them will have to wait for a future Special Edition.

Weisman volunteers at the Fletcher Free Library in Burlington, Vermont where she performs and records children's music recordings with Robert Resnik (highlighted in the last edition of Spinning Wheel). Check out Weisman's recordings with Robert Resnik and Carol Scrimgeour: Children's Sing-Along Recordings. I finally have my own copy of A Little Bit Jumbled and Jivey, and it's just as enjoyable and useful as I remembered. Some of my favorites are "A You're Adorable," "Sodeo" and "The Ladybug's Picnic," as well as some good storytime warm-up songs like "Keep Moving" and "Wake Up Hands."

Gigi Weisman with 2 of her 5 grandchildren


Saints and Spinners: What exactly do you do for a living?

Gigi Weisman: I am an Educational Consultant who works mostly with children with Autism Spectrum Disorder, as well as individuals with other abilities and disabilities. Songs, chanting, rhythm, music and laughter have often created a joyful connection with my students, their parents and teachers.

S&S: How long have you been working in your chosen profession?

GW: I’ve had my own consulting business for 19 years, and was a special educator in the public school system before that.

S&S: What prompted you to work with and perform for children?

GW: I’ve always enjoyed children of all abilities and have incorporated music into my work. It was a natural step to begin performing as a volunteer at our library. I decided to become an educator when I was in high school. A group of my friends had been volunteering in an institution for young women with significant disabilities. The room was colorful and alive with sound. I happened to see a “Do Not Enter” sign. Naturally, I opened it. I don’t want to go into details, but I witnessed how the men with disabilities were being treated. I knew in that moment that I wasn’t going to be a music major, but I would go into Special Education. I wrote an article about the institution and what I saw there published in the local “underground” newspaper.

Over 10 years ago, Robert Resnik was already doing children’s shows at the Fletcher Free Library where he worked and he invited me to play with him. [Editor's note: Weisman plays violin and sings.] I’ve been playing there ever since. It has been very fulfilling volunteer work.

S&S: Why do you continue to do it?

GW: It’s fun and meaningful for the audiences and myself. Playing at the same venue for so long has helped build a real community with the love of children and music being the glue. It is also great fun to play for strangers and visit libraries and events throughout the United States.

S&S: Which performers are your inspirations for your work?

GW: Ella Jenkins, Pete Seeger, Danny Kaye, Mr. Rogers, Burl Ives, Raffi, Gary Rosen, the Marx and Smothers Brothers! It’s impossible to count how many times I watched Hans Christian Andersen starring Danny Kaye. I used to watch Rosenshontz (Gary Rosen and Bill Shontz) with my children when they were very small. I had the opportunity to play at an ALS fundraising event as a warm- up for Mr. Rosen. It was such an honor. Gary Rosen died from the effects of ALS last April. His death was a tremendous loss to children’s music and humanity.

S&S: What are some of the things you enjoy doing outside of your profession?

GW: Visiting with my children and grandchildren and sharing our interests is my very favorite thing. Finding trinkets and treasures at flea markets and walking in the woods are other favorites.

S&S: What’s one thing that most people don’t know about you?

GW: People seem surprised to find out I am an individual with Learning Disabilities.

S&S: Was there ever a time when your audience surprised you? What happened?

GW: I was asked to perform at a woman’s 100th birthday party. Wehnona “Nonie” Robinson played piano and asked me to play violin with her. We met weekly and performed together until she passed away 9 months later. My memories of our playing music together, organizing her first recital and the joy we shared stays with me until this day.

S&S: What’s in heavy rotation on your stereo/iPod lately?

GW: Honestly, I’m listening to a CD of original songs I’ve recorded with one of my musical partners, Joni AvRutick. I’m also listening to Kermit the Frog singing
Rainbow Connection and Neil Young.

S&S: If you could headline a festival with three other performers, who would they be?

GW: Ella Jenkins, Raffi, and Paul McCartney. Imagine a finale with all of us singing; “All I Really Need Is A Song In My Heart And Love In My Family!”

S&S: What’s the song or story that never gets old for you?

GW: Pete Seeger performing “Abiyoyo,” and Dr. Seuss’ Horton Hatches the Egg.

The Pivot Questionnaire:

What is your favorite word?

What is your least favorite word?

What turns you on creatively, spiritually or emotionally?

What turns you off?
When someone lies to me and I have no tolerance for bigotry.

What is your favorite curse word? (optional)
Dagburnit-- Learned that one from Hoss Cartwright!

What sound or noise do you love?
The sound of a cardinal singing and the honking of geese.

What sound or noise do you hate?
Dentist drills

What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
Teaching college

What profession would you not like to do?

Anything with bugs!

If Heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the Pearly Gates?
Your grandmothers have been waiting for you and they’ve become friends with Nonie! They’re all very proud of you. Now let me introduce you to Danny Kaye so I can get back to that “peace thing.”


HipWriterMama said...

I wanted to be a journalist, too! I worked on my college news station.

Great interview. The answer Gigi gave for what prompted her to work with children...wow.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Thanks, HWM. I hope I get to meet Gigi in person someday!