The song is about to end at Dale Music, a top spot for buying sheet music


Dale Music on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring opened in 1950 and will close this June. (John Kelly/The Washington Post)
John Kelly
Columnist March 10

I can’t really read music, but I do know that a thick vertical line at the end of a measure means the song has come to its end.

Well, it’s almost time to draw that line on Dale Music, the venerable sheet music emporium on Georgia Avenue in Silver Spring.

John Kelly writes "John Kelly's Washington," a daily look at Washington's less-famous side. Born in Washington, John started at The Post in 1989 as deputy editor in the Weekend section. View Archive

“I’m going to be 70 in June, and I said to myself, ‘What should I do?’ ” said owner Carol Warden, whose parents, David and Rhoda Burchuk, opened Dale Music in 1950.

The last few years have not been easy for the store. Nearby construction made it hard for customers to park, Carol said. And many people prefer to order sheet music online — or photocopy it illegally.

“The world is changing and I’m not smart enough to run an Internet company,” Carol said. “So we’re going to close.”

Carol has sold the building. (“That’s why I’m able to retire,” she said.) Dale Music will close on June 30. Carol expects the whole block will be torn down. In its place will be something big and multi-use, another example of Silver Spring’s rebirth, but a rebirth that is not without its cost.

The store took its name from Dale Drive, a Silver Spring street Carol said her father thought was “gorgeous. He didn’t like the sound of ‘Dave’s Music.’ ”

It sells musical instruments and offers music lessons but is best known for its encyclopedic collection of sheet music, everything from pop hits to serious symphonic and choral works. Many a church choir director has thumbed through the offerings.

That’s a tactile experience the Web doesn’t offer. Carol is disgusted by shoddy sheet music, flimsy paper that tears easily, its staffs and notes barely legible from poor printing or multiple reproduction.

“Whereas if you look at a Bärenreiter or a Henle edition or a Breitkopf, it’s something you can own for 50 years,” she said of quality imprints. “The paper won’t degenerate. You can erase on it. It’s well bound. It’s a pleasure to play from.”

Carol said she can’t understand today’s shoppers. “I have to go in and look around the store and feel the fabric and try on the shoes. But people just buy online. I worry about there not being places that I want to go shop in.”

For the next few months at least, you can shop at Dale Music. “We’re having a great big sale,” Carol said, which should be music to a lot of ears.

The doors

Knock knock.

Who’s there?

It’s Paul College, and he’d like a minute of my time.

Paul is a salesman. His aim is to knock on an average of 13 doors every single day. I assume sometimes he rings the doorbell.

In a recent column, I wrote how irritated I am by door-to-door salesmen, at least the kind who spin some story of “already being in the neighborhood” when trying to persuade me to buy their replacement windows, landscaping or meat.

Not so fast, said Paul.

“I have been knocking on doors since the ’70s,” Paul wrote. “I sold life insurance from the mid-’70s to mid-’80s, cable television from the mid-’80s to mid-’90s and real estate from the mid-’90s to the present with Long and Foster. My goal is to knock on 5,000 doors annually. I love what I do. I meet some of the most interesting people through knocking on doors, and 99 percent of the people are fantastic. In any sales job, to be successful you have to prospect. The best way to prospect is face to face, and I believe there’s no better way than knocking on doors.”

Paul lives in Hyattsville. Even though you might not think a real estate agent would need to knock on doors — don’t they do most of their promotion with direct mail? — he said he still knocks on doors, asking people if they would like to buy or sell a home in the near future.

He keeps track of all his sales calls. In 2011, Paul knocked on 5,609 doors. In 2012, he knocked on 4,295 doors. In 2013, he knocked on 4,437 doors.

This snowy winter has not been good to him, he said. He’s going to have to pick up the pace when spring comes if he wants to reach his target.

Reston’s David Rambo also wants to defend the noble salesman, especially in the face of online competition. David is a former newspaper reporter who later started a quick-print shop in Sterling. “I ran it semi-successfully for 18 years before, indeed, the Internet put me out of business,” he wrote.

David said he has a lot of respect for the people who engage in the sales function: “Our society is based on somebody’s going out there and selling something. Your paycheck depends on it. . . . Of course, the traditions of lying, misrepresenting and otherwise cheating people out of their money have tarnished the sales function.

“But selling — which is a lot like reporting in many ways — is the necessary first step in our democratic way of life. We should appreciate the fact that the guy offering a quote on windows is trying to feed his kids. He also is generating the power that makes our world turn. I, for one, make an effort to treat sales people with courtesy, especially the ones who obviously are working hard and trying to be honest. Because the buck starts with them.”

Twitter: @johnkelly

For previous columns, visit washingtonpost.com/johnkelly.

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