I’m so excited!

I have always loved Peter and the Wolf, but now there is a wonderful and new piece for children to learn about the orchestra and all the sections and instruments that make the full joyous, but sometimes dark and melancholy sounds that tell this story and many others through music.  Those of you familiar with the the composition written by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936 can probably hear Peter boldly proclaiming he is not afraid of a wolf and you are recalling all the animal characters (listed below) and their instrumentation and without realizing it are humming and thinking of the somewhat scary story line.  It is a wonderful and educational piece.

  • Bird: flute
  • Duck: oboe
  • Cat: clarinet
  • Grandfather: bassoon
  • Wolf: French horns
  • Hunters: woodwind theme, with gunshots on timpani and bass drum
  • Peter: string instruments

But now there is something new, still a bit scarey, and definitely playful for kids to enjoy and learn from…. drum roll (that seems only appropriate given the circumstances don’t you think?)  The new work is “The Composer is Dead” with text by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler) and music by Nathaniel Stookey.

I think this is best described in Daniel Handler’s own words, which I heard on Fresh Air, “The Composer is Dead” is a piece for narrator and orchestra, certainly inspired by “Peter and the Wolf.” It’s in collaboration with the composer Nathaniel Stookey with whom I went to high school. …  [When we met more recently..] “The Composer is Dead” was born. So each section of the orchestra demonstrates its sonic color and then is also interrogated. It’s a mystery “The Composer is Dead” and so we like to say it’s like “Peter and the Wolf” meets an episode of “Law and Order.” 

Fortunately for the pair, and especially composer Nathaniel Stookey, the work was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony and premiered at Davies Symphony Hall on July 8, 2006, with Lemony Snicket narrating and Edwin Outwater conducting.  And now YOU can own it or you can watch it on YouTube!

I believe in supporting art when I can, so in my most recent Amazon order is the CD tucked inside the book, which is wonderfully illustrated by Carson Ellis  – who I can see lives in Portland.  Now there is a reason to go visit some friends in Oregon!  However, I will warn you that Amazon warned me, it won’t be here by Christmas.  Sigh.

To intrigue you further – from Amazon’s description:

There’s dreadful news from the symphony hall—the composer is dead!

If you have ever heard an orchestra play, then you know that musicians are most certainly guilty of something. Where exactly were the violins on the night in question? Did anyone see the harp? Is the trumpet protesting a bit too boisterously?  In this perplexing murder mystery, everyone seems to have a motive, everyone has an alibi, and nearly everyone is a musical instrument. But the composer is still dead. Perhaps you can solve the crime yourself. Join the Inspector as he interrogates all the unusual suspects. Then listen to the accompanying audio recording featuring Lemony Snicket and the music of Nathaniel Stookey performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Hear for yourself exactly what took place on that fateful, well-orchestrated evening.

A funny line I just love, “The composer is found, decomposing!”

Take a look and tell me what you think!

The Composer Is Dead (Book & CD)