2004-02-19 / Community

Showbusiness icon Van Dyke promotes choral program

By Saria Kraft


Dick Van DykeDick Van Dyke

For more than 50 years, audiences have been drawn to Dick Van Dyke for his song and dance, clowning style and pantomime technique. He is well regarded as a dramatic actor, author and illustrator.

But it’s hard to convince Van Dyke, 78, that he’s a triple threat.

"Singers mainly thought of me as a dancer, dancers think of me as an actor, and actors think I’m a singer," Van Dyke said over morning coffee in Malibu. "Nobody will claim me."

After wrapping eight seasons of "Diagnosis Murder," the TV, stage and film star has been claimed often by charitable and community causes throughout the Southland.

This weekend, Van Dyke and the Vantastix will perform at Civic Arts Plaza and at Ventura High School to benefit choral programs in Ventura County schools.

Van Dyke headlines the concerts for the third year as honorary chairman of the Harmony Foundation. The nonprofit has raised more than $50,000 for choral programs since 1998.

"Each high school has a (donation) box in the lobby, so parents can give to the school of their choice," Van Dyke said.

The lack of arts education funding is no laughing matter to the entertainer.

"The arts are disappearing from schools," he said. "Music and singing give kids a poise, presence and confidence that they can’t get any other way. But musically, they know the Top 40 (hits) and that’s it."

"To me, an appreciation of music is a great joy. A lot of kids have been taken off the streets and out of gangs because of it."

The east county performance of "Anything You Can Do" will feature choral ensembles from Thousand Oaks, Westlake, Newbury Park, Oak Park, Santa Susana and El Camino Real high schools.

Conejo Valley Harmony Oaks Chorus and the Agoura Hills Harmony Chorus will perform barbershop arrangements. In the finale, all groups will combine for "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better" from the musical, "Annie Get Your Gun."

Van Dyke grew up in Danville, Illinois, during the Depression. A nearby park offered free public programs that were common in the Roosevelt administration.

"You could take music lessons and art classes and it didn’t cost a nickel," he said.

The boy studied art, clarinet and trombone. By eighth grade, he was first trombone player in the school band.

"Our band made it to the state finals, but I froze from stage fright," he said. "After that, I never picked (the trombone) up again."

Thankfully, Van Dyke joined the drama club in high school. When he auditioned for the choir, advisors discouraged him. "Why don’t you go to metal shop?" they asked.

His advice for parents today is to instill a musical sense in children by exposing them to a variety of styles at an early age.

"When my kids were young, I had a harpsichord and I’d play that. And we played Bach on the hi-fi. (It’s why) they understand music and they appreciate it today."

In the 1950’s, the Van Dykes and their four children lived on Long Island, New York. Benjamin Spock was the parenting authority of the era.

"Spock said, ‘Play Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ and see how long it takes them to start moving,’" Van Dyke recalled. "Well, not a minute and a half passed before they started marching around."

"Anything You Can Do" starring Dick Van Dyke and the Vantastix, Sun., Feb. 22 at 2 p.m., Fred Kavli Theatre, 2100 Thousand Oaks Blvd. Tickets, from $7.50 to $25, can be purchased at www.gotchaticket.com or by calling (805) 449-2787.


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