Really Inventive Stuff: Producers and Performers of The Story of Babar, the Little Elephant
Newsletter of the Singapore Symphony Orchestra
Jan - Apr 2014
Hi Michael, looks like you have a busy calendar with many shows and tours lined up in the USA and Canada! How do you feel about performing in Singapore for the first time?
Yes, our 2013-14 season is quite busy, and we are super excited! Singapore will be our first international debut outside North America and that makes this trip to Singapore especially exciting! Before arriving in Singapore, we’ll have premiered a new original program for families, celebrating Beethoven, his remarkable age, and the four famous notes of his Fifth Symphony. Then, we have two new pieces we’ll be presenting with the Philadelphia Orchestra: The Night Before Christmas and The Remarkable Farkle McBride. In addition, we’ll be performing for the first time in Washington, D.C., where we will present our signature show Peter and the Wolf.
Our trip to Singapore, however, is the highlight of our season. We will always remember Singapore as our first overseas debut, and for that it will always be a special place for us.
What do you enjoy most about working with orchestras?
We love how each orchestra we perform with reflects the pride of its city and community. Whether it’s Saint Louis, Philadelphia, or Singapore, it’s remarkable to see how a community takes pride in claiming a group of artists as their “hometown team.” It’s a thrill that for the brief time we’re guest artists we get the chance to contribute and be part of the culture of the place we’re visiting. Music is a necessary and much needed part of a community. Music is for everyone; it’s a vital part of humanity. We are honored to be able to use our talents as actors and storytellers to help introduce classic compositions and musical stories to young audiences.
Can you tell us briefly the story behind the company Really Inventive Stuff, which you co-founded with your wife Sara? What made you both decide to produce shows combining music, acting and storytelling?
We’ve always loved classic stories, vaudeville, and music. For years, we had created theatre for families and young audiences. In 2005, we were invited to create a performance of Peter and the Wolf for an orchestra in New Jersey. We drew upon the storytelling that inspired us, and discovered that our theatrical style was a great fit with orchestras.
After the success of Peter and the Wolf, we began partnering with more orchestras and exploring other musical stories that we could tell with a theatrical twist – such as The Story of Babar, Tubby the Tuba and Green Eggs and Ham. In 2007, our performance with the Philadelphia Orchestra was reviewed as “simplicity as a form of genius”. We’re honoured by such a compliment. We believe simplicity is a key to great storytelling. It asks the performer and the audience to take the kernel of an idea, and from the collective imagination, create the world of the story.
Can you tell us about Sara’s character in The Young Person’s Guide to the Orchestra? What kind of research did she do to prepare herself for the role?
As we develop programs for orchestra, we try to create characters that complement and support the music while bringing the story of the music to life in an entertaining way. Britten’s Young Person’s Guide is an educational and informative composition. The characters are the instruments themselves. It was apparent that Britten’s composition required a tour guide, someone like a Discovery Channel expert, to introduce each of the instruments. So Sara combined the characteristics of a British nanny, a museum curator, and a school librarian, with a sprinkling of Mary Poppins, to create....Symphonia Semi d’Quaver, an internationally renowned “Orchestra ologist” and devoted fan of composer Henry Purcell. Since the Young Person’s Guide is all about orchestras, Sara invented a first name that’s a spin on the word symphony, and a last name derived from a specific, minute musical notation that’s also fun to say.
The Story of Babar, a beloved piece of children’s literature, is rarely performed as a symphony production. Why did you choose this work?
There is a wonderful story of how composer Francis Poulenc was inspired to create the musical adaptation of The Story of Babar: one afternoon as he was improvising at the piano, his young niece placed a children’s book on the piano and said “Play this, Uncle Francis.” The book she gave him to “play” was Jean de Brunhoff’s The Story of Babar. The rest, as they say, is history. Children love stories about animals who do extraordinary things. Babar is one of those characters. His story of running away to the city, having adventures, and then becoming King of the Elephants lends itself to inventive, fantastical storytelling. It’s fun to imagine an elephant getting fitted for a new suit, or driving a car, or eating pastries, or being coronated as King! The music is also very dramatic, and paint a musical atmosphere and provide evocative moods, much like a French Impressionist painting.
For children who are new to or less familiar with classical music and orchestral instruments, do you think these works by Britten and Poulenc are a good start?
Absolutely! The two pieces are very differentin style and feeling, so children will be able to enjoy a variety of sounds and textures from the orchestra. Young audiences will not only leave the concert knowing more about each instrument and family of instruments that make up an orchestra, but they will also experience how music tells a story.
What can the audience members expect when they come to see your performance with the SSO in March?
We endeavour to create performances that are, first and foremost, playful. We love storytelling that is surprising and delightful. Our goal is to inspire and engage the audience’s imagination while being in the presence of fantastic orchestral music! In the end we want audiences to have had such a fantastic, memorable, and inspiring time with the orchestra that may learn to play an instrument or take music classes, and make coming to hear the orchestra or attending music part of their lives everyday.
Catch Really Inventive Stuff together with the SSO this March!
Concerts for Children:
The Story of Babar,
the Little Elephant
Sat, 15 March 2014
The Republic Cultural Centre Theatre
11am & 1pm