Catching up with Dan and Claudia Zanes Read More
In advance of their upcoming virtual family concert, the musical duo talk about life, creativity, and “electric folk music for all ages.”
With a long-standing history of delighting family audiences at the Jewish Museum, Dan Zanes continues to be one of the Museum’s beloved children’s performers. On October 22, the singer, along with his wife and musical partner Claudia, will regale viewers through a Virtual Family Concert on the Museum’s YouTube Channel. The duo took some time out of their busy schedules this summer to fill the Museum in on their experience during the pandemic year, what it’s like to collaborate on music as husband and wife, and their (then) upcoming record release.
Interview with Dan and Claudia Zanes
Rachel Levine, Assistant Director, Family Programs: It is a pleasure thinking back to the history of working together! The first concert for families that you performed on the Jewish Museum stage was in February 2003 with the full band of Dan Zanes & Friends! What was the spark or driving force in making music for families at that time?
Dan Zanes: I remember that show! The Jewish Museum was one of the first, if not the first, places in New York to regularly present family music. The energy in the room was tremendous! I was a new parent back then and I wanted music that would be a shared experience for my daughter and me. I wasted my youth playing rock and roll and making music for the all-ages crowd had a similar feeling. There was no road map. We could be as creative as we wanted to be and, best of all, at every show there was someone who’d never seen live music before! So we had the opportunity to share the joy of music making with people who were likely to go out and make their own music.
Rachel: I must say experiencing the magic and synergy of you two performing together has brought the repertoire to new levels. Share a little bit about your creative process for working together and writing music.
Claudia Zanes: We’ve been singing together since the day we met almost five years ago. We sang gospel, Haitian folk music, a little country. I guess that’s who we are at our core. We were always aware that this was something new for both of us. Even though Dan’s catalog of songs is pretty huge we’ve been writing new ones all along. The way it’s evolved is exciting. It feels like the best way to describe it is “electric folk music for all-ages.” We’ve been more conscious lately that families want to have conversations that aren’t always natural or traditional for them and we’re realizing that part of our job is to sing about life as we see it so that other people might have a way in to certain subjects. The first single from our new record is called “Reparations is a Must (4th of July Love Song)” so that gives you some idea. But there has to be joy in all of this. I think we’re good at sharing the joy and hope that we always feel.
Rachel: Last fall, when we were developing the virtual concert you performed, we spoke a lot about social justice and other important issues echoing in everyone’s minds. Your powerful song selection and version of “Shalom Rav” gave me chills!
Both: Thank you, we love that one!
Can you tell us a bit about how current events have impacted your music and/or performance style? How has it changed the way you share your music with families in terms of your focus or musical direction?
Dan: When I met Claudia I knew almost immediately that she was the person I’d been looking for my entire life. When we sang together I could hear something that I’d only dreamed about, a sound I didn’t think I would experience in this lifetime. When we wrote the songs for this record we were responding to the events of the world, trying to be like musical newspapers. It felt like we needed to sing about all that was on our hearts but we were also hearing from so many families who were saying “yes, more like this!” So we sing about the ferris wheels and summer nights, but we also sing about John Lewis’s nonviolence and dismantling systems of oppression. In other words freedom. We sing about freedom of the spirit and freedom in the world … with the occasional tickling song thrown in for good measure!
Rachel: Certainly the pandemic greatly impacted your approach and the “Social Isolation Song Series” comes to mind, how did that series develop?
Claudia: When the pandemic was declared in March of 2020 we decided we’d make a new video of a song every day. We wanted to give people some fresh music and stay connected to our community. And we thought it would probably go for a few months. 200 consecutive days later we played our last Social Isolation Song. The collection now lives in the Library of Congress Digital Archives. It gave us life and purpose during some challenging times and we felt anything but isolated. Many people responded every day and the conversation grew and grew. When we couldn’t find the song that said what we wanted to say we wrote one. By the end we had dozens of new songs … and dozens of new friends.
Rachel: What are you most looking forward to in the months ahead?
Dan: Our record!
Claudia: Yes, This is so exciting, our first record as Dan & Claudia Zanes. It’s called Let Love be Your Guide and it comes out on Smithsonian Folkways on September 10. The first single, “Reparations is a Must” came out recently and there will be two more before the release. So we’re planning videos and booking shows and choosing outfits and figuring out this sound we like to call “Electric Folk for All-Ages.” And how could I forget, we’ll be spending time playing with our young sheepadoodle named Rezi.
Dan: And we’re really looking forward to joining you all again. The Jewish Museum has a very special place in our hearts and we’re grateful for you, Rachel, and for all of the families that come out to sing and dance with gusto.
Dan + Claudia Zanes YouTube Video Premiere launches on October 22, at 4 pm EDT. Reserve free tickets for this online event at TheJewishMuseum.org.
“Catching Up With Dan and Claudia Zanes” was originally published in the August 2021 Jewish Museum Member Newsletter.