Thursday, August 16, 2012

Chippewa Nature Center's Dennis Pilaske cuts a CD with three other nature folks

Dennis Pilaske in Concert
-- 2 pm Sunday, Aug. 19, Picking at the Pavilion at the Chippewa Nature Center, 400 S. Badour in Midland. In the Bus Pavilion at the east end of the main parking lot. Free. Bring your own seating.

-- 7pm Saturday, Aug. 25, Message from the Marsh series at Bay City State Recreation Area, 3582 State Park Drive in Bay City, Free but $10 state park pass required of all vehicles. Bring your ow seating (moves indoors in case of bad weather).

Dennis Pilaske at the Chippewa Nature Center River Overlook

story and photo by Janet I. Martineau

Nature “troubadour” Dennis Pilaske says he wrote his first song at age 5.

“Now I have about 20 or 25 I would play in front of people” -- which he often does in connection with his job as director of interpretation at Midland’s Chippewa Nature Center (see above Aug. 19 gig). 

Earlier this year, the Port Hope native broadened his scope when he and three other nature center guys released a CD titled “Good Four-tunes: Songs of Land, Wildlife and People from the Great Lakes.”

Joining Pilaske on it are Foster Brown, a historical/naturalist at Cleveland Metropark; Dan Best, a senior naturalist at Geauga Park District in Ohio, and Mark Szabo, a park interpreter at the Stony Creek Metropark Nature Center in southeast Michigan.

The CD contains 14 songs, all written and performed by the foursome. Pilaske will touch more than a few chords with mid-Michigan residents in his “Rivers Are Highways,” which mentions the Saginaw River and Green Point, and his “Forty to One” dealing with the making of maple syrup, which Chippewa does.

The other three men serve up such ditties as “Hoot Owl Blues,” “Gettin’ Ready (for the Winter),” “Where’s the Groundhog,” “Cloud Song,” “It Went the Otter Way” and “Leave ‘Em Alone.” And scat (yes that, in whimsical fashion).

On his three selections on it, Pilaske accompanies himself on acoustic guitars, bass and mandolin.

“Rivers,” he says, has a  nice waltz feel to it and he notes that the French Voyageur fur traders used big-haul canoes to navigate the river system as a way to build business like businesses  today use the semis on the interstate highway system. Its lyrics note the Frenchmen often traveled 50 miles a day, 60 strokes to a minute.

“A couple of the (14) songs deal with cultural history but most are about the natural world,” says Pilaske. “They’re also educational since they have what we call interpretation” -- like his “Forty to One,” how many gallons of gathered maple sap it takes to boil down and generate one gallon to pour on pancakes.

“And all the creatures that are sung about call the Great Lakes region home.”

The four men are members of Region 4 of the National Association for Interpretation, which encompasses Michigan, Ohio, Indian and Ontario. And while the CD is a first for  Region 4,  Pilaske says music always is a part of their conferences.

“The other three are friends, really good musicians,” he says. “Foster even has number of CDs out. When we had a regional workshop in Midland a couple of years ago the four of us did a session on using music in programs and came up with the idea of a joint CD.”

Thankfully, the Region 4 leaders said yes and paid for the making of the CD. The four performers donated their time and each submitted finished tracks recorded in their own locals. “Fortunately we all like the same genre of music, blues and folk, and like I said we were all familiar with each other’s stuff.”

Pilaske, who celebrated his 15th year at Chippewa in July, has two hopes for the album.

“We want people to use the songs and/or the CD  in their programs -- other nature centers, schools. It is with our blessing that the songs be shared (for free) for non-profit uses and giving us credit. 

“And I hope youngsters out there who play guitar, write songs, sing  take a listen and think ‘I never thought about writing a song or singing about that.’ Well, I  did and they can too.”

Pilaske also has written  about life on a farm, lumbering. “My way is to find a topic that I think  would be neat to have a song about. I tend to write the music first and then the lyrics."

“Good Four-tunes” is on sale the Chippewa Nature Center, priced at $15.95. And is also is available at for $15 plus $2 shipping (that site also includes a downloadable  mp3 of Pilaske’s “Rivers.”

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