Songs for Children That Won't Make the Adults Fwow Up

Songs for Children That Won't Make the Adults Fwow Up

The New York Times

(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 ."

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