After careers in horse training and film editing, Jeanie found her midlife passion in composing and performing fun songs for young children with her band Jeanie B! and the Jelly Beans!
Tell us a little about your background…
I grew up in East Grand Rapids, Michigan, the youngest of five kids. We were a handful for my dear mom and dad, who are still alive and kicking at 88 and 89 years old—Mom still plays tennis twice a week and does Pilates! I want to be like her when I grow up! My parents have the fairytale marriage of 65 years and are still in love. Such a blessing and a joy to see, and for them to still have each other this late in life is amazing.
My two brothers and two sisters all still live in or around Grand Rapids. They raised 15 wonderful nieces and nephews for me and I am now a Great Aunt seven times over—with more to come! I contributed grandchildren #16 and #17! I love my big family; we love to dance and play and have a good time together. Every family has its trouble but for the most part, we get along and take care of each other emotionally and physically when needed. I feel very blessed to be part of such a big brood. I am the apple that fell from my Dad’s tree, he and I are wired the same and share the same silly sense of humor and a predisposition for puns!
I was very fortunate to spend most of my childhood on beautiful Reeds Lake in East Grand Rapids. Our house was set up on a hill that was like a ski slope down to the lake, great for sledding in the winter. And of course, the summer was spent boating and waterskiing and doing all things lake adventurous. I learned to be a very strong water skier and have enjoyed it for most of my life. Reeds was a small residential lake so I had lots of friends around the lake too. We lived near a small ski resort called Cannonsburg and I was an avid snow skier and enjoyed the sport almost daily in the winters. I attended East Grand Rapids High School and was a good student, graduating in 1977. I was too tall for cheerleading so I played powder puff football instead! I was on the girls’ basketball team and the ski team.
My strongest interests as a child were horses and music. I started riding horses (English) when I was about six and fell in love with those majestic creatures. I had my first job mucking stalls when I was 11, started to show horses early on, and also got paid to braid horses’ manes and tails for the horse shows. I exercised and hot walked Polo ponies to make extra money to show Hunters. I was always very tall (5’10” by 8th grade), so finding horses large enough to offset the length of my legs was always a challenge. No pony riding for me! I became a very accomplished rider and had my sights set on the Olympics at one time. It takes a lot of backing and expensive horse flesh to afford that endeavor. Who knows if I ultimately had the talent but I had the desire. Upon moving to Chicago in 1981, I got a job as a stable manager and assistant trainer. I bought and sold horses for clients and trained and showed them as well as taught lots of lessons. Eventually, I focused just on show jumping horses and going on the road to show them. I had horses up until just about 7 years ago when the last of my retired show horses passed away. I stopped show jumping when my first son was born because I no longer had time and it was very dangerous. I sold my two show horses at that time and kept two retired pals until they passed. I taught my children how to ride on them and they were introduced at a very young age. We all miss our beloved Sam and Ranger.
Music was always a passion and my first form of self-expression. I started composing songs in the style of Carole King and Neil Young when I was 15. I still have my first guitar that I got when I was 12, and play it almost every day. It sits in my office next to my desk like a faithful dog, always ready and willing to please. I have written the majority of my songs on this guitar. I always say it has the songs in it just waiting for me to discover them.
After high school, I went to Michigan State University and studied Pre-Vet the first year, thinking it would parlay well with my horse interests. I realized I was more interested in showing horses than caring for sick ones, so I transferred the next year to Lake Erie College, a small private women’s college in Painesville, Ohio. I tried their equestrian science program but found that it was aimed at women who didn’t know much about riding or horses, and I was underwhelmed. I was even asked to give clinics for the other students and be a teacher’s aide, instructing in bandaging and giving shots, etc. I couldn’t justify paying them for me to be teaching, so that didn’t work out.
While I was there, however, I minored in music and started a weekly coffeehouse in an empty building on campus. It gained popularity, and in just a few months was attracting wonderful musicians from all around the area, including Cleveland. I was able to collaborate with some wonderful folk musicians and was even asked to host a radio show on a Cleveland radio station in May of 1979. I declined as I had decided to leave Lake Erie College in pursuit of a different degree and to be closer to my then-boyfriend and future husband, Jay Bonansinga.
As fate would have it, not only did I walk away from that amazing opportunity (silly ignorant young lass) at the radio station but, in the summer of 1979, I had an accident while working a summer factory job and cut off the ends of 3 fingers on my left hand, starting with my index finger. I was told in no uncertain terms I would never play the guitar again since these are the fingers that hold the strings down. Jay (harmonica) & I had just landed a great gig playing weekends at a restaurant—my first real paying music gig—and was devastated. Of course, I have learned that when I am told I can’t do something, it becomes a challenge to prove that I can. The only thing standing in most people’s way to success is the will to succeed. I am very strong willed and truly believe you can do what you put your mind to doing—and have proven it over and over again!
While I was recovering, a good friend of mine—Stuart Hartger—also a guitar player and a bit of a geek, experimented with making fake fingertips for me. He landed on a formula that I still use to this day exactly as he first made them. I make fake fingertips out of plasti-dip, the same material you would dip your tool handles in to coat them in a rubbery compound. I’ve tried other things but in the end, this works the best. I cannot play the guitar (well) without them, they are bulky and cumbersome compared to natural fingertips and of course I have absolutely no feeling through them; this limits some of what I can do on the guitar and I need to be able to hear myself play on the stage and be able to see my hand so I know that my fingers are in the right place! I have proven all the doctors wrong, not only would I play the guitar again, I’d make my living playing the damn guitar!!
After a brief stint at Hope College in Holland, Michigan, I arrived back in East Lansing at good old MSU and graduated from there with a major in TV & film and a minor in music. I promptly moved to Chicago in 1981 along with my boyfriend Jay, who was going to attend graduate school at Columbia College. We looked at Northwestern for graduate school and fell in love with Evanston, where I still live to this day.
My first full-time job in Chicago was as a receptionist at Swell Pictures. It was the late and wonderful Walt Topel’s vision of a full-service film center, where you could shoot on a soundstage and edit all in the same building. It was housed in the old Marshall Field’s carriage house on North Halsted, which is now Walt’s true love and life’s dream, The Briar Street Theater.
While I answered phones by day, I rode horses every night after work. I also played in coffee houses and small venues that were looking for live music. Jay Bonansinga and I continued our romance and married in November of 1982. He played harmonica and sang with me as well. We were The Bratch and Bono Band! We played a lot of original music and a good string of covers.
As my interest in film increased, I gravitated towards the editing process. I was fortunate enough to talk Walt into letting me apprentice with his top editor, the amazing John Fogelson. He was hands down the most respected editor in Chicago and had trained some of the upper-tier editors around town too. He was a gruff old man (with a very soft heart) who was a task master and had no mercy, but damn he knew his trade. His nickname for me was “Nursey”! Everyone called him the film doctor, so I guess that fit! We were actually cutting film and taping it back together back in those days. He taught me all the tricks of the trade and, after two years of putting up with his gruff self, I landed the assistant editor job for Joe Sedelmaier, just as he was gearing up to shoot the now infamous “Where’s the Beef?” spot for Wendy’s. I rode that wave for three years while his career skyrocketed, keeping the film flowing through the Moviolas on a daily basis. Sedelmaier slowed down in 1986 to pursue feature films and I left to be a freelance editor.
Sidebar: Joe’s was a 9-5 shop, which is very rare in film, and allowed me to have a night job as a stable manager and assistant trainer. I taught lessons starting at 7 every evening then close up the barn. I also spent my weekends there; I bought and sold horses for clients, trained and showed them, eventually focusing on going on the road to show the show-jumping horses. I had to stop teaching when I left Sedelmaier and was swept up into the reality of the film business, which is 24/7/365. I owned a horse by then and continued to ride and show when I could.
From 1986-1989 I traveled from production company to production company with my splicer and cut whatever needed to be cut—mostly commercials at that time. And then I got into the union and was hired to work on some feature films and a TV pilot. I was working on Poltergeist III when poor little Heather O’Rourke died! What a disaster and such a heartbreaking story.
Features and TV keep a grueling schedule and I spent many nights sleeping on the cutting room floor with my good pal Treva Bachand, who was my partner in crime at that time. We kept the dailies flowing!!
After too many hours in the union world, I focused once more on advertising and rented my first office space, with a cutting room adjacent, at Zenith DB studios on La Salle St. I started a humble little business called Edit Sweet, Inc., that was just me and freelance assistance when needed. I had an old DOS computer and did my books by hand. I truly was the first female-owned editing house in Chicago among a good-old-boy network of editors, who I felt were a little too macho for my taste. As my popularity grew as an editor, I expanded and moved next door to Cutters, which was an up-and-coming premiere edit house. They had all the finishing tools I needed for my creative edits so being next door to them was a plus for me and I was a good client for them. My good friends Tim McGuire and Chris Claeys still own and operate this now international hot shop that is respected worldwide.
With Edit Sweet Staffers
I grew Edit Sweet slowly and by 1998 had 7500 square feet of custom office space at 515 N. State Street, with 25 full-time employees which boasted 8 editors including me, and about $4.5 million a year in billing. I was having the time of my life and running a fun and fair company with a feminine touch. My employees were my family and I loved them all. I tried to treat them with respect, provide an opportunity for growth, include them in profit sharing and also give back to the community with the riches that the business was creating. I owned four horses by then and had grown my music into a larger band now called Angel Paint. We were playing some clubs and I was writing original alternative rock songs about everything in life.
When did you start to think about making a change in midlife?
I had taken on the roles of CEO, COO, CFO and all the responsibilities that go along with owning a business, which kept me at the office about 70 hours a week. Now I was about to add Mom to my titles. Kids change everything.
My beautiful Joey, my pride, was born Dec. 30, 1998; by May of 1999, I had had my heart broken by phone calls from my full-time nanny too many times, reporting all the “firsts” that I was missing at home. I retired from doing editing work myself that summer so I could keep regular office hours and be home to see my little man by dinner time and enjoy weekends at home too. I sold my two show horses and retired the two older guys at a friend’s farm. Angel Paint was put on a back burner. Life as CEO/Mom began in earnest.
During that time, I started the LA office of Edit Sweet because one of my partners, Jim Staskauskas, moved there after divorcing the pop singer Liz Phair, who had taken their child to LA. I had always considered doing this and here was the push to do so. While I was flying to and from LA to get that underway, I found myself with baby #2 on the way. Joey was just 12 months old!! In fairness, I had to get going on #2 because I was 39 when Joey was born and had been married 16 years. The clock had stopped ticking; it was now on alarm mode!
On September 17, 2000, Bill, my joy, was born. Now I had two kids under the age of two and was a bit overwhelmed by the tug on my heart to be with these precious people, who I had brought into the world, full-time. I decided the best route would be to sell my company and started looking for buyers for my little editing empire. In the fall of 2001, I signed the papers that sold Edit Sweet to one of my competitors, Optimus. It was a hard-fought deal and they took all my employees on except two, which was not too bad considering how things like that can go.
Joey and Bill
Two days after signing the deal, 9/11 happened. The bottom fell out of commercial real estate, advertising came to a screeching halt, and editing companies started going out of business one by one. The deal I had only covered my rent for 18 months to give Optimus time to move and merge the businesses and for me to find a sublet. There were no sublets anywhere to be found and I took on the burden of $18,000/month in rent for the space, while I tried to settle with my landlord over the eight remaining years on my lease. In the end, we settled and I walked away with far less than originally foreseen. My lawyers got a good chunk and the landlord took more than I would keep.
That said, I got to stay home with my kids and find life after advertising. I had enough saved to get them through early childhood before I would have to earn any real money again. Jay was doing okay at that time too as an author, so we had enough to be comfortable.
What is your next act?
I am a children’s musician, composer, band leader, and music teacher. I have my own band, Jeanie B! and the Jellybeans!
Motherhood was the catalyst that got me out of the editing business but the way I moved into my next career was totally at the hand of God, the Universe, whatever you want to call it. I had ramped up my band, Angel Paint, again while I had the luxury of full-time motherhood and, while out playing a casual coffee house gig one night in 2002, I was approached by the very talented musician and songwriter Julie Frost, who had opened a little studio for kids featuring music and yoga. She and her partner, Ann McGinley (yoga guru), were at that concert and asked if I played children’s music. I told them that I wrote songs for my two kids but not publicly. They replied that my style was perfect for children’s music and they had a job opening for a music teacher with their mom & tot classes, at their studio, Happy Child. It was right down the street and just two classes a week. I said I’d give it a try and after the first day, I knew that I had found my calling. I LOVED playing for these little duffers and the moms/caregivers had a blast with me too. The hours were much more in keeping with parenting because I wasn’t playing in a club until 3 am then coming home to get woken up by my little pea pickers at 5:30 am! All the hours are kid-friendly and so are the shows and the songs. I could take my kids to work with me! My son Bill had a game he played with me where he would say “mommy sing a song about ______” and believed that I knew a song about any topic he chose. Turns out I could make them up on the spot, they rhymed and were fun and catchy, and he loved them. I thought, hmm I may be onto something here!
At age 42, this was the beginning of Jeanie B! and The Jelly Beans!
Angel Paint was made up of guys who were mostly single and had no interest in playing for kids, so I looked around and created a new band made up of kid-loving, fun-loving folks who were ready and willing to take on the knee-high audiences of the world. The first incarnation of The Jelly Beans was my husband Jay on harmonica, Lisa Crowe on bass, and Teresa Drda on drums. Being a veteran at marketing after all the years at Edit Sweet, I started by recording a CD (“I’m a Kid”) so I had a product to market and a sales tool, then set about researching where I could get paid to play for kids.
I had the luxury of the proceeds from Edit Sweet to take the time to learn and grow this business without having to have a “day job” like so many musicians do. We got some nice gigs and by 2004 were playing about 30 shows a year and I had started teaching at Creative Kids Corner in Chicago, owned by the lovely Linda Kusel. Happy Child went out of business and I was glad that Creative Kids Corner was looking for a new teacher.
I continued to write, record, and market my songs and today, I play over 100 shows a year around the Midwest and teach music in five schools, two of which are for Ravinia’s outreach program, Reach, Teach and Play. I also offer school assemblies and teacher and librarian seminars on how to use music in the classroom/storytelling environment for young children. I have now recorded five CDs of children’s music, with a new one on the way in 2017. I have taught hundreds of guitar lessons to kids of all ages and my current eldest student is 80 years old! She just composed her first song, a love song for her husband.
My school age music students range in age from 16 months to 3rd grade. I’ve also kept my hand in Angel Paint and have recorded 3 CDs of original music for adults. I have also become a songwriter for hire and have had the honor of writing multiple songs for an organization called “Songs of Love,” which is partnered with Make a Wish Foundation to create original songs for and about children who are faced with extreme medical conditions, some terminal.
To say I love what I do would be an understatement of grand proportion! I adore what I do, I am passionate about teaching young children how to sing, dance, and create music. I know it enhances their ability to learn and it unlocks their creative centers, which is essential to self-expression and self-confidence.
I sometimes forget to ask for my paycheck when I’m done with a concert because it was just so much FUN to play music and dance and sing and inspire kids and families! They say if you love what you do you’ll never work a day in your life. I don’t buy that line entirely, it’s a ton of “work” to get to the good stuff, but well worth the sweat.
I have also been available to my own children on their schedule all these years and now they are amazing teenagers and musicians themselves, who started out by my side on stage as toddlers, singing and dancing along. Now Joey is my bass player and is now attending Chicago College of Performing Arts in the music conservatory, to study jazz bass as a profession, and Bill is a drummer. They both tour with me and we rock those babies like nothing else. I have the great honor to spend time teaching my kids about the music industry and playing alongside them while encouraging people to enjoy and have fun with their own kids! I have had the honor of playing at some fabulous venues like Lollapalooza Millennium Park, The Bandshell in Rockford’s Sinnissippi Park, Ravinia, Chicago Botanical Gardens and many, many more.
To be fair, while Joey is my bass player most of the time, the official Jelly Beans! now consists of the great Michael Krayniak on bass (and electric guitar when Joey is on bass) and the ever timely Paul Bivans on drums. They hail from many bands, including Trigger Gospel, and are the backing players in multiple bands along with my go-to guitar/mando/all-things-strings player, Andon T. Davis, who has co-produced every song I’ve ever recorded. These are some of the best players in the Midwest and I feel honored every time we share the stage. Smart performers surround themselves with players who are better than they are, so it makes them look better.
I have from time to time hired people to help me with booking shows—like my agency, Bass-Schuler Entertainment, that handles booking park district events for me—but I handle 90% of my show’s itinerary and marketing. I am the chief cook and bottle washer and carry lots of gear and drive many, many miles, and coil cables like a pro. I had always dreamed that I would make my living writing and singing my songs—ever since that missed opportunity back in Cleveland and the severed fingers and all the detours. I didn’t know it would be with children, but that is the biggest gift of all. I love kids, they love me, we speak the same language, and I am passionate about education and my educational tool of choice is music.
During this rise of Jeanie B! and The Jelly Beans, my marriage fell apart and when I felt that I could support myself and my boys alone through music, I filed for divorce in 2010. The next few years were a struggle but the Universe once again took care of me and led me to all the gigs I needed to be ok and live in a nice little bungalow with a finished basement, where all the sound gear, drums, rack of guitars, collection of basses and amps, and a million kid-friendly props live. There is always someone playing music in Jeanie’s house of happiness and, like I said, that first guitar is sitting by my side as I write this memoir, begging to show me another song that it has hidden in its cracks and grain. My trusted friend that I have held all these years and told all my secrets to. It has been bathed in my tears and rejoiced in my joy and taught me how to share all those moments in song.
How hard was it to take the plunge?
Transitioning to the music business from the film business was not a far stretch in terms of the business end. I added a new bank account to my QuickBooks and set up a new corporation, and got all that in place pretty easily. I had already been in a band playing my original music for years, so the music changed and the purpose changed, but that was all fun and great. The biggest challenge was learning about the children’s music industry and the various areas that you could specialize in and how to make a living doing it. I was confined to a small region when I started, due to having young kids at home, whereas now I travel the full Midwest and will cover the country once my kids are out of the house. I also teach a great deal and will expand that as my boys fly the nest as well.
I already knew about recording music, and knew all the studios in town, since everything I had edited required music at some point. The recording software is editing software minus the visual aspect so I totally understand the technical end of recording and creating the tracks. I recorded my first Angel Paint CD in 2001 so had completed the process once before Jeanie B! ever stepped into the studio. Marketing is marketing; you just need to find your audience and convince them that you are worthy of the gig. Then my job is to put on a great show and leave them wanting more. These days, my marketing is more about opening up new markets to explore and expand, but the shows pretty much come to me. I never take that for granted and am always reaching out to past and potential clients and venues. I continue to write and come up with fun activities for my shows and teaching so that it’s fresh for me and I can learn about the creative process more and more. It took nearly eight years to really get enough going that I was self-sufficient and established, and now 15 years into it I still have to cultivate new clients every day! The big difference between adult audiences and kid audiences is that kids will outgrow my music so I am always cultivating new kids but I’m really trying to reach the parents!! Kids can’t ever be a fan if I don’t get the parents attention first.
How supportive were your family and friends?
By the time I started declaring that I would make a career out of this, my friends were all on board, bringing their children to my shows and giving me song ideas. It was a foregone conclusion that Jeanie B! was here to stay. My family had learned from experience that I was tenacious so they did not doubt my ability to parlay my experience into this new venture. They were very supportive and still come to as many of my shows when I’m playing near them. Who doesn’t love music? I was determined to prove that I could be a viable musician and feed my kids, even as a single mom, doing what I love and making a difference in the lives of children.
With my mom
My silly dad
What challenges did you encounter?
Every business has its challenges. That’s what drives entrepreneurs; we love a challenge and the opportunity to overcome it. Managing a band is always a challenge. I have a very busy schedule as do all my bandmates. When I book a show that requests my band, I have to make sure they are all available on that date and we have to rehearse, learn new material, and be a cohesive group.
Very often, we are all too busy to rehearse so it is not uncommon for me to send a rough recording of a new song (just me and my guitar) to my band, a chord chart with lyrics, and a request they show up a few minutes early for our sound check at the next gig to run down the song. We usually go through it three or four times (the guys have listened to it, made notes, and figured out their parts beforehand) then play it live at that show for the first time. It’s a HUGE thrill the first time I hear my band play a new song with me. I have the song in my head and hear it a certain way, then they always bring more to it and I get goosebumps. I love the thrill of playing something we just learned and making it work. We hone the songs live until they finally settle into what they want to be. I usually don’t record a new song until it’s been road tested multiple times.
The challenge of bandmates is also very real, especially when someone needs to leave the band for whatever reason. I have had folks quit and I have had to fire some too. That leaves you with gigs where you need to get someone up to speed on real quick, and auditions, and looking for that perfect player who fits all the criteria of being a Jelly Bean! It is not just being good on your instrument. You have to be fun, easygoing, love children, spontaneous, willing to play with kids all around you—including sometimes walking up to your equipment and playing with the dials—punctual, and available to play during the daytime hours. My concerts are almost exclusively original music, so you have to learn my catalog so you can play along to any song that is requested or that I call for during a performance, when I’m reading the audience. Like any business, it’s about personnel—I’m still the HR department!
My biggest challenge is time. I do everything myself, so budgeting my hours between marketing, writing, recording, accounting, performing, teaching, lesson plans, travel plans, writing contracts, and writing songs for hire and raising two kids means I am never without something to do and always behind. My website has information on it that’s way out of date but I haven’t found time to rewrite the bio, etc. It’s a more than full-time job although the time I’m actually on the stage is the minimal part of it, except in June and July, when I play two or three shows a day and make half of my yearly income in just eight weeks!
Were there times when you thought about giving up?
Yes, I have considered giving up many times, mostly because it’s very hard work both mentally and physically. Playing a show consists of carrying heavy gear, setting it up, tearing it down, loading and reloading my van over and over again, and tons of energy on stage to engage and be present for the audience. I run and jump and dance and get down on the floor and run up into the audience throughout the show. I even gallop around like a horse for one whole song! Teaching is exhausting too and just managing young children in large or small numbers is a constant demand on your focus, energy, resources, and patience.
The fluctuating bank account can be daunting. All of us children’s musicians have tumbleweeds in September until things start to ramp up for fall festivals and the holidays, and there are times when I wonder how I’ll pay the bills. I am single and have two kids headed to college now and the uncertainty of income is stressful. Luckily, I have always managed my money prudently so am fine, but I’m far from banking what Beyoncé does!
I cannot tell you how many times I’ve thought I needed to look for a “real job” that had steady pay, benefits, paid vacation, a retirement fund, and all those perks. The truth is, what keeps me playing music full-time is that every single time I have considered quitting, someone will contact me out of the blue and tell me that one of my songs touched their lives or their children’s lives in a profound way, and thank me for doing what I do. Or I’ll get a video of a young child singing and dancing to one of my CDs and the joy that I see on their face and the faces of the parents is priceless to me. When I go to a concert and a flock of kids runs up to me calling out “Jeanie B!, Jeanie B!” and my legs get hugged like I’m Santa Claus, I can’t stop. Those kids may outgrow me someday but I’ll never outgrow them. The good news is that you can keep playing music until you fall over dead and just keep getting better and better at it. Kids don’t care how old you are, they just want to be engaged and have fun and learn. Also, and maybe most importantly, my own kids have followed my footsteps and become musicians. I am so proud that they were inspired by me and I’ll never forget one day when my boys were maybe 8 & 10, they were both taking piano lessons and Bill wanted to stop. Joey had already chosen the Bass as his instrument and he turns to Bill and says “You can quit piano but you have to choose another instrument to play because that’s what we do… we play music!” Yep!
I have been self-employed since 1986 and I know that business ebbs and flows and I’ve learned to live with that uncertainty. I am an advocate for musicians to get paid fairly and believe that people should pay for the music they download. Everyone loves music, and life would be very dull indeed without it, yet we have raised our citizenship to think that they are entitled to it for free. You cannot get a plumber to come work on your house for free and you shouldn’t expect musicians to donate their music to you when it costs a ton to make it and performing is not just about being paid for the hour you’re on stage. It’s the years leading up to it, honing your skill, writing, rehearsing, buying and setting up gear. It’s not an hourly wage; we aren’t flipping burgers here. If the mentality is that music should be free, then there won’t be any more musicians. We have to feed ourselves and our families too. If you want us to be good at what we do, you have to let us make a living doing it.
What have you learned about yourself through this process?
I have learned that people who follow their dreams are risk takers.
I have learned that giving back and sharing your knowledge with people who are up and coming will not be a threat to your success but will come back to you in spades. I am not in competition with other musicians, I am in harmony with them.
I have learned that, when my job gets hard and seems impossible to continue, I will be given a gift from someone, somewhere, that spurs me on.
I have also learned to be resilient, believe in myself and my abilities, challenge myself, step out of my comfort zone, and push myself to the next level.
I have learned how to take criticism as a gift and disappointment as a motivation to try harder. I have also learned that my kids are watching and see me struggle and see me succeed so they have learned about working hard for your dreams and the struggles that will include.
I have most importantly learned that I see the world differently than other people. I hear the world as a song. People will say something and I will hear a song. This may be the most important thing I have learned about myself: Songs are gifts; they come from the muse and when the muse chooses you to write a song, you honor it, immediately, at that moment, before it’s lost.
I have songs come to me at all hours of the day and night and I always have a recording device or a way to write lyrics down wherever I am. I have lost many ideas by not grabbing them and documenting them immediately, thinking they will return. They often don’t, and the muse gives them to someone else. If a song comes to me, I go to my trusted guitar and ask it to guide me in its creation. It still takes my breath away to compose and get that lightning strike out of the blue. It’s like being touched by a mystical being, silently, softly, and profoundly.
I have a dual existence when it comes to songwriting. My children’s music is reflective of children’s journeys and joys, their hunger for adventure, fun, and knowledge. My grown-up music is full of heartache and the struggle of human existence. I write love songs and songs of loss. I have written multiple songs for people who have passed and send them as condolences for family members. My work with Songs of Love has given me more opportunity to bring joy to heartache and honor a family that is struggling. The opportunity to touch lives is boundless; this is why I love what I do and feel so, so blessed that God gave me the gift to be a songwriter. I’m glad I was brave enough to accept the position.
Looking back, is there anything you’d have done differently?
Sure, there are always things we can look back and say “wish I’d known then what I know now…” but we didn’t, so we make our move and hope for the best.
Here are the few things I might have done differently:
I would have stayed in Cleveland to see where the music would have taken me BUT then I would have missed a fabulous film career and Edit Sweet and I would not have met my BFF Monna O’Brien who was my best client there!
I think I should have kept Edit Sweet and hired a CEO so that I could keep a hand in it but be home with my kids and still have a paycheck. However, with 9/11 knocking editing businesses down with a baseball bat, I could have lost everything.
If I have any “regret” it would be that I was reluctant to file for divorce when it was clear my marriage had run its course. As much as we would like to think we have met the love of our life and that part of our lives is all set, relationships are either for now, for a while, or forever. I took a vow and wanted to believe that I was going to be married forever. You can’t force forever. If the formula no longer serves you and your partner, the best and the hardest thing to do is call it quits. I felt that the last thing this world needed was another 50-something divorcée with young kids to raise, but that’s exactly what it needed and I could not be happier to have reunited with myself free from a troubled relationship! We are both better parents to our kids because we are divorced.
I have learned that whenever I jump off a cliff in life, my parachute opens with grace and I land on my feet. When you know in your heart that “it’s time,” trust yourself, it is. Know that what lies ahead is an awesome adventure! I have lessons that have come to me throughout my life and I embrace where I’ve been and hope that I am blessed with enough years ahead to fulfill more of my dreams and look back at a wonderful life, rich with love and music and struggles and triumphs. My dear friend Liz Stitely, who just passed away, told me that what she had learned, as her life was being cut short, was that all that matters is love. So I try to remember that every day. Love will show you the way and dreams don’t have deadlines. Never give up hope.
Skiing with my boys
What advice do you have for women seeking reinvention in midlife?
I firmly believe that we are allowed to have multiple interests in our lives and multiple passions. I have been a horse trainer, a film editor, and a musician so far. I was passionate about these endeavors and let that passion guide me. I was, of course, prudent about making it work and would go bag groceries if I had to in order to make ends meet (although I’d end up managing the store before too long, knowing me!).
Follow your dreams, learn everything you can about your desired industry, get the education and hone the skills you need, talk to others who have successfully done what you want to do and hear their story. Your path will be different but there is much to learn from those who have blazed the trail. Believe in yourself and your ability to overcome obstacles. Never get complacent; keep pushing yourself and challenging yourself. Make friends with your banker and lawyer and other key professionals who you need along the way. Imagine your life just the way you want it to be and go for it! Just remember it may not turn out the way you imagine it but even better with all the gifts and surprises along the way. We are each powerful forces and yes, one person can make a difference; all successful people started out with a desire and learned how to turn it into a reality no matter how big or small the venture. Every journey starts with the first step.
What advice do you have for those interested in pursuing a career as a children’s musician?
I think if you’ve read everything up to this point in this article, you know what it takes. Tenacity is essential, musical ability, creativity, love of children and teaching, and a head for business and marketing. A never-ending smile and a fountain of joy inside you help along with patience, patience, patience. As my favorite songwriter Darryl Scott once said to me “music is a hell of a way to make a living, but it’s a great way to make a life”! Call me! I’m happy to help!
A great place to start is The Children’s Music Network! This international group of children’s musicians are far and above the nicest people on earth and are ready willing and able to guide you to your path of success as a children’s musician.
What’s next for you?
My dream “next act” would be to write songs for other artists, be a writer-for-hire, and dig deeper into my songs for grown-ups. I adore writing songs and would love to be in Nashville writing for other people and communing with the songwriting community down there with the likes of Darryl Scott and other greats. I need to get my kids out on their own first and keep Jeanie B! going forward for a good while and start to merge the two. I think I am a better songwriter with each song I pen so someday I will be worthy.
Music Education is very dear to my heart and I may get more involved in that from an administrative standpoint someday—when jumping around on the stage gets to be too much for my aging bones!
Connect with Jeanie Bratschie
Jeanie B! and The Jelly Beans Website
Jeanie B! and the Jelly Beans Facebook
Angel Paint Website
Angel Paint Facebook