By William Sweet
Ben Gundersheimer’s concerts occupy a zone somewhere between Sesame Street and a folk-rock club.
[Kids’ Music] With multiple tour dates and a CD coming out, Ben Gundersheimer ’89 has a fan base that is getting bigger every day: some don’t even need to ride in a child safety seat anymore.
Known to his pint-sized fans and their parents as “Mister G,” the singer-songwriter is at work on his fifth studio album of children’s music; previous work landed him a Parents’ Choice Gold Award. His concerts occupy a zone somewhere between Sesame Street and a folk-rock club. Pretty good, for someone who once called it quits as a professional musician.
“I was burned out. I was ready to make a change,” he says. “I wasn’t inspired and didn’t see a place for myself in it.”
Gundersheimer credits Amherst baseball for his persistence in music.
An English major and one-time captain of the Amherst baseball team, Gundersheimer spent his first two decades after college on the road and in clubs, pausing to attend Berklee College of Music.
After sharing the stage with Phish, Dan Zanes, the Spin Doctors and Martin Sexton, he shifted gears completely in 2008, earning a master’s in education from Smith College, intent on teaching school.
“I would write songs with my students, just because that’s what I knew how to do,” he says of his time as a student teacher at Smith’s Campus School. “The kids really came alive with that process. We were songwriting and learning through songwriting. For me it was more natural and more fun than going through a curriculum.”
Songs from the Campus School, where he later served as music teacher, became the backbone of his first children’s CD, Pizza for Breakfast.
Gundersheimer has been writing music since he was 9 and speaking Spanish since junior high (when he decided being bilingual might be useful in his desired career as a professional baseball player), but he thought to put the two together only after a visit to Colombia in 2010. Now he performs and records in Spanish as well as in English. The Spanish material, featured on his albums Bugs, Chocolalala and ABC Fiesta, has added a Latin flavor to his shows and introduced grooves satisfying to an adult audience.
Gundersheimer credits Amherst baseball for his persistence in music. In particular, he cites the influence of coach and taskmaster Bill Thurston: “The experience of playing for this rigorous coach was the preparation for my years in the rock clubs: You’ve got to earn it, it does not come easy, and no one’s going to give you anything.”
Or, in the words of Jimmy Dugan in A League of Their Own, there’s no crying in baseball. “There were a lot of reasons to quit in my first two years” on the Amherst team, Gundersheimer says, “but I stuck it out, and I ended up as captain. That was good preparation for the music business.”
William Sweet, who has violated the no-crying-in-baseball rule, is a writer in the college’s Office of Communications.