Lynbrook musician's music strikes a chord in classes across different countries

Long Island Herald, November 1, 2018
by Mike Smollins

Lynbrook musician and Red Pants Band frontman Danny Weinkauf was shocked to learn how widely known his catalog of children’s songs has become, he said. Teachers in Europe, Asia and Australia have contacted him to tell him how they are using his songs to shape young minds.

“It’s really heartwarming to know that it’s reached that level where a teacher would find it useful for their class,” Weinkauf said from a hotel room in Baltimore while on tour with his other band, They Might Be Giants. “When somebody from Argentina contacts me and says they’re listening to the music, that’s mind-blowing to me.”

The Red Pants Band will release its fourth album on Friday, titled “Inside I Shine.” The songs are geared toward a young audience, and Weinkauf said he hopes they will help teachers and parents share lessons with their students and children. “Early-learning teachers told me they were using songs from previous albums to complement early language and science topics,” he said. “The topics are a little simpler in this one.”

Weinkauf recorded all the songs in the basement studio of his Lynbrook home. The band comprises Weinkauf (guitar, vocals), Tina Kenny Jones (bass, vocals), Steve Plesnarski (drums) and newcomer Russ Jones (guitar). Weinkauf recorded most of the music and vocals for the album, but Kenny Jones also sang on it, and Weinkauf’s wife, Michelle, lent her voice to the record for some of the songs. At live performances, the band wears red pants — hence the band name — and they also frequently switch around the instruments that they play.

Weinkauf rose to fame as the bassist of They Might Be Giants, which recently released its 20th album and is now on a tour of Europe and parts of the U.S. and Canada. In addition to his two major projects, Weinkauf also records music for advertisements and television shows. One of his most famous projects was with TMBG when they wrote and recorded the theme song to the sitcom “Malcolm in the Middle,” which aired on Fox from 2000 to 2006.

In April 2014, the Red Pants Band released its debut album “No School Today,” and followed it with a self-titled record in July 2016. Last August, the band released an album called “Totally Osome!” Their discography is intended to educate children, but also entertain adults, Weinkauf said.

Over the past four years, the band has developed a loyal following, and teachers from different areas have used the songs in their lessons. “I use Danny’s songs in my classroom pretty frequently,” said Mike Mangiaracina, an elementary school teacher in Washington, D.C. “His music is absolutely great for teaching science.”

Veronica Oquendo, a kindergarten teacher in Valley Stream, said she also plays the songs often as a way to educate her students and start conversations.

Over the past three albums, Weinkauf has focused his songs on many themes, including women’s empowerment, archaeology, geology and a song encouraging people to put down their smart phones and be outside. He said that even though the new album was created for a younger audience, he didn’t want to dumb down the music.

“It doesn’t have to be burdensome for your child if he or she wants to listen to it eight times in a row,” Weinkauf said of the songs. “I try to make it for the whole family, and maybe if I’m lucky, the teacher will use the song to help introduce a topic.”

“Inside I Shine” covers a wide range of themes for young students. “We Love to Verb” is meant to teach children about action words, “Good Morning” instructs them on all the things they should do when they wake up, including brushing their teeth and getting out of bed, “B is for Body” goes over different parts of the anatomy, and there is also a song about the importance of going to the library.

“’Inside I Shine’ is more about feeling good about yourself and self-confidence,” Weinkauf said, noting that despite the simple topics, he made it a goal to make sure the music was melodic and interesting.

Weinkauf said he generates ideas for songs from everyday interactions with young people. Though his son, Kai, is in college at Binghamton University, and his daughter, Lena, attends Lynbrook High School, he said many young children in the neighborhood still spark ideas. One of the new songs, which addresses the differences between over and under, came to him when he was working part-time as a physical therapist and a patient with autism couldn’t establish the difference between the two.

The band is planning its album release concerts in conjunction with the 25th anniversary celebration of the Long Island Children’s Museum on Nov. 17 and 18. The group will hit the stage at 12:30 p.m. on both days.

Weinkauf said he is excited about how much his music has resonated with parents, teachers and, most important, students. “It’s been fantastic,” he said. “The nicest thing sometimes is I’ll get emails with videos from a classroom in Australia or Thailand or something, and they’re trying to teach children English, or there are American students learning about paleontology or botany, and they’ll have the entire class memorize and sing the song.”