John Kelly's Washington

Silver Spring music store stays in tune with its customers

Carol Warden says Dale Music hasn't changed much since 1950.
Carol Warden says Dale Music hasn't changed much since 1950. (John Kelly - Washington Post)
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By John Kelly
Thursday, June 17, 2010

Carol Warden was showing me around Dale Music, the store her parents opened in 1950.

"We haven't changed much in 60 years. Just a few computerized cash registers and a computer system," she said.

Indeed. The store, on Georgia Avenue in downtown Silver Spring, strikes me as the sort of place where your request for a certain piece of sheet music is more likely to be met by a contemplative clerk running his fingers along the weathered spines of manila folders before announcing, "Ah, here it is," than by an antiseptic peck at a computer keyboard.

And, really, isn't that how it should be? There's something timeless about music -- the human voice is our oldest instrument -- and it seems fitting that this temple to the musical muses should have a worn, dusty, antique feel to it. Its folders, drawers and bookcases are filled with sacred texts, hieroglyphs to be puzzled over and brought to life like ancient incantations.

You can also get the sheet music to R. Kelly's "I Believe I Can Fly."

That's in a rack up front, along with other popular showstoppers: "A Whole New World," "The Rose," "Don't Cry for Me Argentina." And "Unstoppable" by Rascal Flatts.

"That'll be sold out by the weekend," said Jon Musgrave, an instrument sales associate, and for a moment, I'm filled with hope. In this online blogging/tweeting/poker/porn world, there are still people who will walk into a store and exchange money for a piece of paper that they can take home and conjure magic with.

Carol's dad, David Burchuk, knew when he was 5 that he would become a conductor, and he did. He opened Dale Music (named after Dale Drive in Silver Spring) with his wife, Rhoda. Carol, a trained cellist, never thought she'd be running it, but her parents got sick, she got divorced and here she is, overseeing one of the country's best-stocked music stores, selling everything from "Afro-Cuban Play Along CD and Book" to a Russian edition of Shostakovich's Quartet No. 1.

Onetime local girl Goldie Hawn bought sheet music at Dale to prepare an audition piece for her high school musical. (She didn't get the part. And she tried to return the music.) Singer Cass Elliot shopped there, when she was a student at American University. Spiro Agnew came in after he'd left the vice presidency in disgrace and was thinking of getting back into the piano. A waggish employee slipped a copy of the Samuel Barber opera "School for Scandal" onto the counter.

Richard Strattan, manager of the choral and organ department, said: "People call from their cars and say, 'I just heard a piece of music on the radio. Can you get it?' "

Yes, they can get it.

The shop sells and rents musical instruments, too. "When 'Deliverance' was out, you couldn't keep a banjo in stock," Carol said. "This summer, it's ukuleles."

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