Pine Nuts: Bringing a famous frog back to life with music
I love Russians. On the outside they’re tougher’n a two-dollar steak, not unlike New Yorkers, and on the inside they’re soft as the middle of a Twinkie, not unlike New Yorkers.
So I was especially honored to be invited to narrate “Peter and the Wolf” at this year’s Lake Tahoe SummerFest.
Written for children by Sergei Prokofiev in 1936 in the USSR, “Peter and the Wolf” has become one of the best loved compositions of music of all time.
I had heard recordings of Peter while in college that featured Basil Rathbone and Peter Ustinov, so of course I was eager to be in that august company.
Prior to the performance at Sierra Nevada College, Elaine Courtney conducted a special presentation for children of all ages, during which she explained the story as it is played out by the respective instruments.
I was then invited to tell Mark Twain’s jumping frog story and inspire the young musicians in the audience to imagine how their instruments might enhance the story.
Of course they all raised their hands and volunteered to make the sound of Dan’l Webster belching up a double handful of shot.
Then something unexpected happened. A gentleman walked up to me, told me he was a composer, and volunteered to compose a piece of music to compliment Mark Twain’s “Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County,” that these same kids could perform next summer.
His name was Daniel (wouldn’t you know) Wyman, and I could just tell from the tone of his voice and the twinkle in his eye that he meant what he said.
The performance of “Peter” came next, conducted by the gifted Artistic Director of SummerFest, Joel Revzen. I had to keep my eye on him like a duck on a junebug for my cues, which was not an easy task, as I am used to looking around the room like a first grader, yet I managed to keep him in my sights and he was right on the money with his cues as advertised.
At the end of the composition, the duck can be heard quacking in the wolf’s stomach, having been swallowed whole. Of course in the USSR of 1936 this was considered a happy ending.
That aside, Revzen’s orchestra put me in a good mood for a week.
Upon arriving home I opened up the jumping frog story and tried to imagine what the various instruments of an orchestra could do to bring Dan’l Webster to life. It was such fun.
So I invite you to do the same with a short passage from the story, and I also invite you to be in attendance next summer when our North Tahoe Youth Orchestra introduces “The Jumping Frog” by Mark Twain and Daniel Wyman…
Smiley he stood scratching his head and looking down at Dan’l a long time, and at last he says, “I do wonder what in the nation that frog throw’d off for I wonder if there an’t something the matter with him he ‘pears to look mighty baggy, somehow.”
And he ketched Dan’l by the nap of the neck, and lifted him up and says, “Why, blame my cats, if he don’t weigh five pound!” and turned him upside down, and he belched out a double handful of shot.
And then he see how it was, and he was the maddest man he set the frog down and took out after that feller, but he never ketched him.
Learn more about MyAvoy Layne at http://www.ghostoftwainorg.
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