How does Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals prepare kids for music study?
Like other music classes for young ones, Music for Aardvarks provides an environment where music is the medium that enhances brain development, social development, motor coordination, and more. The difference is, we believe that for the youngest children a highly-structured music class can be counterproductive. We want children to first experience the joy of participating in and exploring music on their own terms, in their own way, with other children. Maybe some children will pursue music study later – but hopefully all will become music lovers and appreciative music audiences.
Tell us about a typical class.
The goal of our class is to participate in live music — freely and without any adult expectations — and to have as much fun and do it with as much ease as kicking a ball. When I write the songs, I’m thinking of how the song can be used – how kids can participate in the song. There are songs where the children may use small percussion instruments – like shakers or tambourines – or run around, or dance during our “free dance” time. Parents get much more involved in these classes because it doesn’t bore them – the music is interesting to them, too. There’s no part of a class where a child isn’t participating, right through to the goodbye song.
“We want children to first experience the joy of participating in and exploring music on their own terms, in their own way, with other children.”
You’re a punk rock musician. How did you get into children’s music?
I played in rock / punk bands my entire life, and also had classical training. When my first child was two years old I signed up for a parent-child music demo class, thinking, “How great is this – we’re in a group, he’s learning about sharing, being in social situations, not just passively listening, but participating.” It was great for him, but I was bored. The music was bland, old fashioned – public domain songs. I wondered about what was possible musically, thinking, “they don’t know what they’re missing – how much better could this be?”
I wrote and recorded a few songs for my son, and played them for friends in playgroups. The recordings were passed around and shared with a lot of enthusiasm by other parents. A friend suggested I try to form my own children’s music class. So I did, and it just sort of took off in about three months. I was signed to a major label with a punk band at the time, but I had a family, and I saw how much people were clamoring for this new kids’ music, so I decided as an artist to go where the applause was louder!
Music for Aardvarks: an excerpt from Time Magazine
Mar. 4, 2001
By Harriet Barovick
In this somewhat radical alternative-music class for toddlers–part of a…New York City-based program called Music for Aardvarks and Other Mammals–much is free-spirited and unpredictable. But one thing is certain: there will be no renditions of Itsy Bitsy Spider or I’m a Little Teapot, thank you very much. Most programs that aim to introduce toddlers to music rely heavily on traditional folk songs, many of which have been around for centuries, but the music in Aardvarks classes (and CDs) springs entirely from the brain of its punk-rocker founder and lead instructor, David Weinstone. With its topical song subjects and dizzying range of musical styles, Aardvarks has become something of a cult phenomenon…in which toddlers listen to, dance to and accompany songs with shakers, sticks and tambourines–include some high-profile artists like members of the bands Phish and Sonic Youth.
Since even the most pleasant kids’ music can rankle–fast–an important part of Aardvarks’ appeal to adults is that they too can appreciate the tunes. “It’s real music–the songs are so good,” says Phish keyboardist Page McConnell, who has taken Aardvarks with his daughter. “We listen to it all the time.” The classically trained Weinstone, 40, who attended Berklee College of Music and once wrote a book of classical minuets for the piano without ever having played that instrument, writes songs that are alternately silly, loud and beautiful, in styles including Delta blues, hip-hop and thrashing rock ‘n’ roll. There are references to ’70s and ’80s rock that engage the parents. There are sitars and bongos, and hints of the Beatles, Bowie and Brazilian pop.
And if you think kids’ music is just about talking teapots, think again. Weinstone addresses such disparate themes as spending the day alone with Dad, fighting with a best friend, toilet training, going to visit the museum, prejudice, old age and death. “I find kids get the joke and can appreciate some sophisticated content if the vehicle is correct for delivering it,” he says. “Other arts for kids, like literature or theater, are of a different quality–any adult can enjoy Charlotte’s Web–but in kids’ music, so much of what’s out there is gooey, badly written, condescending.”
Kids get the difference. In his classes, where the comedic and unpretentious Weinstone skillfully puts even the shyest children at ease, it’s not unusual to see a toddler rocking her head in perfect rhythm, or dancing a limbo, say, with a laughing parent. Temple St. Clair Carr, a jewelry designer, says her son Alexander, 4, likes Weinstone so much he has begun to compose ditties of his own on his ukulele. After Mollie Fox, a former client, moved to Chicago last year, the songs helped ease her son’s transition to his new neighborhood. “He would refer to Superman, about people looking different, as a way of talking about the fact that our new neighborhood was less diverse than our old one.” Indeed, local schools have used the music to inspire discussions on tolerance.