WHO KNEW? Going by the recently announced Grammy nominations, it seems Washington, D.C., is a hotbed of children's music. Three of the six nominations in the category of "Best Musical Album for Children," have a Washington connection: One--"Ella Jenkins and a Union of Friends Pulling Together"--was released by Smithsonian Folkways, while two others--"Dreamosaurus" by Dinorock and John McCutcheon's "Springsongs"--are by local acts.
Congratulations to all involved, including "Dreamosaurus" producers Cathy Fink and Marcy Marxer (local folkies whose CDs have been nominated in this category in previous years), "Springsongs" producer Bob Dawson (of Springfield's Bias Recording Studio) and mastering engineer Charlie Pilzer who mastered all three of these CDs out at his Airshow studio in Springfield. (Pilzer's a previous Grammy winner for his 1997 work on the "Anthology of American Folk Music.")
Those three recordings are up against "The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland," "A Bug's Life Sing-Along" and "Mannheim Steamroller Meets the Mouse," but the folks at Dinorock aren't letting a little stiff competition get them down. "We knew we were among the 65 finalists to be considered for a nomination," says Dinorock co-founder and musician Mike Stein, "so when we made the cut to the final six we were incredibly happy."
Stein also talks with pride of being nominated along with Chicago folk singer Ella Jenkins. "She's the matriarch of children's music. She's really the queen. We were lucky enough to spend time with her at the National Association for the Education of Young Children conference last year, and she's a real inspiration." Stein created Dinorock with Silver Spring resident Michele Valeri in 1981, but had been singing for children long before that. "My mother was a kindergarten teacher," Stein says, "and the first time I played guitar anywhere was in her classroom for her kids."
Stein, a fiddler and guitar player who's also a cantor in a local synagogue, got a call from Valeri in 1981 asking if he could sub for her and perform songs about dinosaurs at the opening of a new exhibit at the Smithsonian. "She had a chance to travel to Asia, so I learned the songs she'd written and thought they were really great. There was one about a paleontologist, and when he yodeled dinosaurs came to life, and that's perfect, because I don't know if you know, but I do quite a bit of yodeling." (Here, Stein's voice dips with modesty, but it doesn't take much prodding to get a nice yodel out of him over the phone. He's very good.)
"I'd done a record with Bob Devlin a long time ago," Valeri says, "and on it was a song about a dinosaur. So the Smithsonian called me up, figuring maybe I had a whole bunch of songs about dinosaurs, which I didn't, but I ended up writing a whole bunch." Stein was so taken by Valeri's songs that a collaboration ensued, leading to 1984's "Dinosaur Rock" and a few years later, "The Great Dinosaur Mystery." Stein and Valeri also recruited puppeteer Ingrid Crepeau and musician/writer Joe Pipik, who helped turn Dinorock into a performance troupe in great demand, featuring characters like "Doris the Stegosaurus" and "Shy Kyle the Ankylosaurus."
"I try to keep the puppets friendly looking," Crepeau says, "but still somewhat anatomically accurate. Our T-Rex has very pointy teeth for instance, compared to, say, Barney's capped flat teeth." Accuracy is a big part of Dinorock's mission, to the point of regularly consulting with specialists to keep up with the latest discoveries. "We're rigorous about the science," Valeri says, "and we'll even change things as the knowledge increases." Check out these lyrics from "The Alan Apatosaurus Lament" off the new CD that reflect recent paleontological discoveries: "They called me brontosaurus for so many years, and every time I heard it my eyes filled up with tears. No one is to blame, but that's not my name. My name is apatosaurus."
Dinorock has another CD's worth of material written, material that will make up a live show called "The Dinosaur Book of World Records" (which they'll perform at the Smithsonian's Discovery Theater and area schools later this year), but for now they're happy with the accolades that "Dreamosaurus" is receiving. Besides the Grammy nomination, these include a Parents Choice Gold Award and a citation from the Children's Music Web. Check out Dinorock online at www.dinorock.com.
To hear a free Sound Bite from Dinorock, call Post-Haste at 202/334-9000 and press 8108. (Prince William residents, call 690-4110.)
In October I wandered into the Czech embassy for an evening sponsored by the D.C. Society of Young Professionals to see what kind of night life took place outside my familiar world of bars and clubs. That evening about 200 people, most between 25 and 35 years old, ate Czech food, drank Czech beer, heard a chat from an Embassy attache about the Czech Republic and heard some Czech music. I'd gone to a similar DCSYP event at the Indonesian embassy (wow! what a mansion!) in August and came away feeling pretty impressed at the scope of the events.
But when I spoke with some folks at the Czech embassy, the talk was mostly about how hard it was to be single in this town. And about how groups like the DCSYP were filling a gap for people who aren't inclined to hit smoky bars in hopes of finding their soul mates.
"When we were 24 or 25, going out to clubs was fun," says Greg Bland, the founder of DCSYP, "but now that we're hitting 28 and 29, we're wanting something more, a little classier." Bland himself is 29 and single, but just this week became engaged (not to someone he met at a DCSYP event). He formed his group late in 1998 when he realized that there was a need for something more in Washington. A lawyer and a New Yorker, Bland came to Washington to work, and like most New Yorkers do, found something to be desired in the area's nightlife scene. He co-promoted Decades, the Friday night dance event at the Ritz (and then at D.C. Live), then spun off into DCSYP, merging with another event planner (and another lawyer from New York) Michael Karlan.
"I knew huge numbers of people in legal professions who worked long hours and wanted to meet people but didn't always know how to go about it," Karlan says. "And let's face it. That's where you'll find some very ambitious people, and they all pretty much agree that it's hard to network at bars." So Karlan and Bland have created a combination singles group/networking club of Washington's young professionals, using that very modern way of communicating, the e-mail message list. And while they balk at calling DCSYP a singles group ("Lots of our members are married couples," Bland protests, "they come because we throw interesting events.") they're unrepentant in catering to ambitious people. "These are the future power brokers," Bland says. "In 20 years people you meet at our events are going to be running this city, and maybe this country. Who knows?"
At the Czech embassy, there were virtually no wedding rings on the hands of attendees. Kelly Moser was chatting with Bland when I interrupted her to ask why she was there. "I teach at the Francis Hammond Middle School so I don't get much of a chance to meet people," the 28-year-old Moser said. "This atmosphere is pretty low pressure, plus, it would be nicer to be able to say I met someone at an embassy than I met someone at a bar."
Groups coalesced and dispersed, clusters of men and women chatted by the several bars and tables of food. A trio of women, all in graphic design, scoped the room. "It's a chance to meet people in other areas of work," said Tamera Lawrence. "The bar scene? Yuk!" said Jennifer Martin. "At least here you know they've paid $50 to get in so you know they're serious."
Ah! Money as weeding out factor! Smart. For your money you get the food and the booze and the music, but not least, it buys you a chance to talk to people. But so why are these three ladies talking amongst themselves? "You're right," said Lisa Catalone. "We're as lame as the guys we complain about, the ones who are afraid to come up and talk to us. Now we're the ones not going to talk to them."
I left them to their search.
D.C. Society of Young Professionals is hosting another international evening on Thursday at the Hong Kong Economic Trade Office and has many other events booked, not all of them embassy evenings. To find out more, click on www.dcyoungpro.com or call 202/686-6085.