Read What They're Saying about Music for Aardvarks!
Ruby sits down and serves up the tea
She pours one cup, then two and then three
Yes, that's Ruby, she likes to pretend
A toast to the host with the most
And what counts in the end
Some very good friends
No, this isn't the latest release from John Hiatt and it's not a paean to a babe, though it works that way, too. It's a song about a little girl at her own tea party and it's part of an expanding repertoire of tunes that has mothers from Avenue A to Central Park West vying for space for their kids in a Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals class.
And oh, record labels are competing for rights, too.
The songs in the Aardvark program, created by rocker David Weinstone, are about subways, elevators, taxis, fights, playdates and other realities of a city kid's life - and they're blowing Old MacDonald off the stage.
"I see no reason why we introduce young kids to syrupy gobbledegook nonsense in our culture," Weinstone says. "We don't do that with any of the other arts."
Aardvark came about almost by accident after Weinstone, who by night fronts the band Mozart's Grave, checked out a toddler music program for his son. He found that "Kumbaya" was the high point: "The music really sucked."
So the classically trained composer began writing his own songs for his son, Ezra; soon friends brought their kids over. Word got out, soon Weinstone was holding class in the basement of a lower East Side restaurant, where, he said, "the kids would be jamming with timbale players," banging percussion instruments and singing raucous anthems like:
Beep beep, honk honk, can you spare a dime?
Have a bagel with a schmear
And we'll see the Guggenheim
From the Bronx to the Battery, it's all mine!
Like great children's book and films, the tunes seem to work for both urban grownups and children, as in "Taxi": "Roll the window up, roll the window down/ Sure beats walkin' crosstown!"
There are flights of fancy, as in a ditty about an oak that longs to uproot and dance. And there are some universals, like this turbocharged:
Oh! Little bitty baby all wrinkled and new!
Not much a little bitty baby can do
But that's okay, I'm gonna show you how!
'Cause I'm your big brother now!
Friends gave copies of Weinstone's tapes to friends. Within months, Aardvark exploded. "There was a line of people waiting to get in," Weinstone says. "We went from 6 to 140 students, with a waiting list."
And business keeps on growing. More than 50 classes (12 students per class) a week are offered in Cobble Hill, Williamsburg, Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Brooklyn Heights and Chelsea, in addition to Weinstone's original location on Lafayette St., where he still leads the singing.
Record companies are drooling to publish his collection of 120 original cuts. But Weinstone - the son of two artists who has a McCartneyesque gift for melody and whose inner child is very much outie - is keeping them at bay. He sells tapes of his music, but "what I really want to do," he says, "is give the program to the public school system." Somebody call him quick before he changes his mind. u
(For information about Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals classes, call 718-858-1741.)
David Weinstone and the Music for Aardvarks Band
David Weinstone and the Music for Aardvarks Band
It's no exaggeration to say that Weinstone has changed the musical geography of New York.
As creator of the Music for Aardvarks classes that take place all over the five boroughs and across the country, his music has gotten thousands of tiny toes tapping and launched at least one major singing career. So come out to hear the electro-funk of "Big Boom Whacker" or the whimsical blues of "Belly Button Song" performed live. It's a safe bet they'll play the Aardvarks song "Big Old Tree" and a lot of your youngster's favorites from his astounding collection of twelve Cds including his newest release TAXI.
By Harriet Barovick
In a spare room on the lower east Side of New York City on a Wednesday morning, a disheveled music teacher multitasks in front of his audience of 10 toddlers and their parents. As he sings Bagel, he wiggles his hips goofily, preens, then pretends to be a bread product inhabited by the spirit of Mae West: "I'm big and round, I got a hole in the middle/And I'm lumpy and I'm bumpy and they call me pumpernickel/I'm good in the morning, I'm good at night/A little bit of butter and I taste just right/Come on and gobble me up, gobble me up/ Gobble gobble gobble me up."
In this somewhat radical alternative-music class for toddlers--part of a four-year-old New York City-based program called Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals--much is free-spirited and unpredictable. But one thing is certain: there will be no renditions of Itsy Bitsy Spider or I'm a Little Teapot, thank you very much. Most programs that aim to introduce toddlers to music rely heavily on traditional folk songs, many of which have been around for centuries, but the music in Aardvarks classes (and sold on CDs) springs entirely from the brain of its punk-rocker founder and lead instructor, David Weinstone. With its topical song subjects and dizzying range of musical styles, Aardvarks has become something of a cult phenomenon among New York City hipsters. And the one-man operation, along with the 10 CDs of music it is based on, is gaining converts across the country.
With no promotion or advertising ("I'm not very business-minded," Weinstone says), Aardvarks has grown from one class with six kids in 1997 to 65 classes with 1,000 kids a week in New York, and 100 on waiting lists each semester. Clients of his $185 courses--in which toddlers listen to, dance to and accompany songs with shakers, sticks and tambourines--include some high-profile artists like members of the bands Phish and Sonic Youth. Just last year Weinstone was duping homemade tapes of his songs out of his Brooklyn apartment (sales last year: 1,000). This year he has mass-produced his 160 songs on CDs, and through grass-roots sources--classes, a new website www.musicforaardvarks.com) and local merchants who have asked to sell the album in their stores--he has sold some 7,000 in just three months.
A third of Weinstone's CD sales this year have come from families who live well beyond the Big Apple--parents who were not even aware that Weinstone teaches Aardvarks but have heard about his music from friends. (He knows this because he is the one who puts the CDs in the mail.) Two years ago, Weinstone began to license the program out to a few interested instructors. Now a dozen teachers in New York teach Aardvarks under his watch, and classes are under way in Chicago and Santa Monica, Calif.
In the insular world of children's music, say experts, this grass-roots popularity is unheard of. "Lots of kids' music, like Barney or Sesame Street, is marketed through TV or film," says David Wolin, a music-industry veteran who takes the classes. "No one is doing what David's doing. He has sort of grown at the pace he's been comfortable with. He's like a commercial boom waiting to hit. His numbers, small by label standards, are astonishing if you consider he's doing this all himself."
Since even the most pleasant kids' music can rankle--fast--an important part of Aardvarks' appeal to adults is that they too can appreciate the tunes. "It's real music--the songs are so good," says Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, who has taken Aardvarks with his daughter. "We listen to it all the time." The classically trained Weinstone, 40, who attended Berklee College of Music and once wrote a book of classical minuets for the piano without ever having played that instrument, writes songs that are alternately silly, loud and beautiful, in styles including Delta blues, hip-hop and thrashing rock 'n' roll. There are references to '70s and '80s rock that engage the parents. There are sitars and bongos, and hints of the Beatles, Bowie and Brazilian pop.
And if you think kids' music is just about talking teapots, think again. Weinstone addresses such disparate themes as spending the day alone with Dad, fighting with a best friend, toilet training, going to visit the museum, prejudice, old age and death. "I find kids get the joke and can appreciate some sophisticated content if the vehicle is correct for delivering it," he says. "Other arts for kids, like literature or theater, are of a different quality--any adult can enjoy Charlotte's Web--but in kids' music, so much of what's out there is gooey, badly written, condescending."
Kids get the difference. In his classes, where the comedic and unpretentious Weinstone skillfully puts even the shyest children at ease, it's not unusual to see a toddler rocking her head in perfect rhythm, or dancing a limbo, say, with a laughing parent. Temple St. Clair Carr, a jewelry designer, says her son Alexander, 4, likes Weinstone so much he has begun to compose ditties of his own on his ukulele. After Mollie Fox, a former client, moved to Chicago last year, the songs helped ease her son's transition to his new neighborhood. "He would refer to Superman, about people looking different, as a way of talking about the fact that our new neighborhood was less diverse than our old one." Indeed, local schools have used the music to inspire discussions on tolerance.
Runaround Kid Review
Runaround Kid Review
Weinstone is to music teachers as Dirty Harry was to cops:
He refuses to play by the rules but always gets results.
He sings straight to kids, not down to them, with a masterful use of kid-culture references.
Songs for Children That Won't Make the Adults Fwow Up
Songs for Children That Won't Make the Adults Fwow Up
(reprinted from The New York Times)
A Musician With a Struggling Punk-Rock Band Makes a Day Job Info a CareerThe songs are about things like farm animals and locomotives and everyone has heardthem a million times before. Music-appreciation classes for children can be endurancetests for everyone involved.
But even adults say David Weinstone's "Music for Aardvarks and Other mammals" is oneof the exceptions.
Mr. Weinstone writes songs for children growing up urban and particularly as NewYorkers (with titles like "Annie the Nanny," "Modern Ar1.' "Playdate' and "Taxi"). andhi s classes arc more like panics.
When Mr. Weinstone's son, Ezra, S, the star of many of his songs, was just 2, they wereinvited to a national music program class, a children's enrichment program in Princeton,NJ .. that star1ed in 1987 and has 400 centers in the United States and abroad. <InManhattan, he registers more than 2000 families a semester.) The re st is history."I really didn't like it," Mr. Weinstone said. "It didn't have much to do, context-wise withthese children's lives. This city is such a rich environment. How could it be ignored for solong?"
But he was a musician with a struggling punk-rock band and a family to feed, so heoffered to teach music classes in Brooklyn . He lasted for two semesters in the winter of19%-97. "J was bored by it,” he said . So he wrote and recorded a tape in his kitchen andgave it out to the families in his son's play group. "I star1ed it as a joke and it immediatelytook off," he said. They clamored for more.
In September 1997 he rented space in the basement of a restaurant on Avenue A andstarted a Saturday class with six children from the play group. By the next week, herecalled . there was a line down the block and he had to star1 formally registering.Mr. Weinstone , now 40, was a bar1ender then, and within three months, he said, he couldafford to quit his job. Parents in the classes started buying his CDs and copying them forfriends. He started getting calls for more CDs from all over the United States.He sells SO 10 100 a week for $12 each ($ IS with shipping and handling), and T-shirts for$ 12. His classes are now held in a studio space at 440 Lafayette Street at Astor Place andare $185 for a IO-week semester. They are filled and have wailing lists. He and AliceCohen, a fellow Aardvark teacher who has rewarded with him, along with Laura Schurichteach 275 children a week, and with licensing deals with other music teachers inBrooklyn and Manhattan Music for Aardvarks is taught to an additional 600. He wouldnot say how much money he was making, but did say with a laugh. "Its funny what $12adds up to when enough people give it to you."
He is loath to say who takes his classes, but when pressed, he gives a hint: "Agingrock'n'rollers that have kids."
In 1998, the punk· rock band he founded. Mozart's Grave, signed a five-record contractwith Sire Records label . They recorded one album, and it flopped."I would have signed you can take my legs away and give me fins" he said, only sort ofjokingly. But he did write a clause excepting his children's music from the deal. His 12CDs of children's music since produced are self· published and virtually self. recorded andself-performed. (He has finished his first compilation CD, a best of the lullaby from biscartier CDs.) He plays all the instruments. Because of his experience with the band. he iswary of a deal for his children's music.
Since the fourth CD, he has had a co-producer, Eddie Sperry, from Sperry Sound andPictures on Ann Street in Manhattan, where he records. "He Stops me from doing reallydumb things," Mr. Weinstone said. "For instance, I would say. "I'm thinking of putting akazoo in that pan .' And he says, 'Raffi would put a kazoo on the re.' And I say. 'Whew.thanks,'"
He has his critics.
" It is educational or is it entertainment or is it somewhere in between'r said Kenneth K.Guilmartin, founder and director of a national music program. "Or docs it mailer? [don'tknow."
"What's the difference between buying that and buying anyone's CD that you like? Wehave different goals. We do thaI tOO, and more."
But others say Mr. Weinstone's music offers a refreshing change."Some people don't feel that Aardvarks material is appropriate for a young child." saidNanette De Cillis. She is the director of Artscetera, a music and art school in CarollGardens, Brooklyn, who teaches Music for Aardvarks. She gave Mr. Weinstone his jobteaching music classes.
"I love that David pulls from so many different musical influences from the Beatles. toreggae 10 70's and 80's hits," Ms. DeCillis said. "That variety of music is really good forchildren 10 hear. Instead of going down in the music, he's going up. The true secret lOAardvarks' popularity is that adults like it:"Parents need to be not bored and not insulted." said Margot Glass. an artist and a motherof two. Mr. Weinstone says he is just starting to feel comfortable with his fame. "It is JU Stphenomenal," he said of his new life amld his success. "My wife and [don't take it forgranted. Sometimes we're just lying in the bedroom arid we just laugh ."