The photograph of Michele Valerie that ran on the Arts page in Tuesday's Style section was the work of photographer David Lindstrom.
MICHELE VALERI slept through her big moment -- words of high praise on "Good Morning America" for her childrens album, "Mi Casa Es Su Casa."
"After so many years of people saying they were going to do something, I just didn't believe it," Valeri says. The television shot was actually the cap on an earlier honor: The bilingual album, subtitled "A Musical Journey through Latin America," was chosen by the influential Parent's Choice magazine as one of the best children's albums of the year.
The idea for the record came out of Valeri's work as a teacher in the Montgomery County school system (she also performs in area schools, teaches at the Smithsonian and works in the outreach program at Wolf Trap). "The school I was working in, Rosemary Hills, was predominantly bilingual and the largest part of that population was Spanish," Valeri explains.
"They wanted me to do a class in creative dramatics with the Spanish and American children; the school was aware that the kids were losing their enthusiasm for speaking Spanish in the crunch to learn English. So, in a way, I was exposing the American children to Spanish and the Spanish children to the idea that the fact they spoke two languages was a neat idea."
Much of the dramatics class was built around song and in reseaching available teachings aids, Valeri found very little material useful to such a bilingual project. "I said to myself, 'I can do better than that.' " She had already been involved in one children's album project, "Are You My Mother?" recorded in 1979 with folk singer and street musician Bob Devlin. That one had been honored by the American Library Association's Services for Children as one of only three music records on its annual "most notable" list. Because of a copyright dispute over one of the few non-original songs, the album is being remastered and should be available again in the next few months.
Both albums are built around songs coming out of the creative dramatics classes; Valeri spent six months researching Latin American rhythms and writing the songs. About 35 to 40 kids were involved and Valeri admits that when they finally went into the studio (at Bias in Falls Church),"they were a little awed. I had to get them to relax and act natural. Eventually, they were leaning all over the mike stands. Producer Norm Rowland was a saint. I don't know many studio engineers who would have allowed that. He took it all in stride. But I wanted quality; the kids deserved that. Records for children should be good, but they're often shortshrifted."
Even before going into the studio, Valeri had decided to produce the album herself ("Bob Devlin convinced me it would be a good learning experience"). She raised $10,000, the last $4,000 coming from an anonymous benefactor. The production involved many fine Washington musicians: Maria Rodriguez, who leads her own salsa band, did the arrangements and lent some of her players to the sessions; Patti Clements, who had studied with Rodriguez, played piano on the album and in the school programs with Valeri; Paraguyan harpist Jesse Pessoa and classical guitarist David Perry were featured on one cut. Raffaele De Gregorio came up with a wonderful cover utilizing the colorful hand puppets Valeri uses in her programs.
With the initial run of 1,000 albums almost exhausted, Valerie is hoping a major children's record company such as Caedmon or CTW will pick up "Mi Casa Es Su Casa" for more significant distribution. One of the problems the record faces is Reagan administration cutbacks in federal funding for bilingual education. "But the record's really for American children learning a little about Latin America; except for building self-worth and pride in where they're from, it's not really for the Spanish kids to learn English," Valeri says.
"The whole process was long and very difficult," she adds, "but I did learn a lot." In fact, Valeri's already working on her next project, an outgrowth of being asked to write songs for the Smithsonian's recently opened dinosaur exhibit. "I did five songs and liked them, so I'm going to do five more and do a record called 'Where Did Everybody Go?' "
(For more information on "Mi Casa Es Su Casa," write to Rossinyol Records, 6014 Timber Hollow La., West Springfield, Va. 22152.)