Saturday, May 2, 2009

Talking about music - it can work!

I've taken WCRB's "Kids' Classical Hour" to task several times for being poorly conceived, so I should also give credit where due. This morning, they had Boston Ballet conductor Jonathan McPhee on talking about Tchaikovsky's Sleeping Beauty, and he did something remarkable. He talked about the music; he talked about how it worked, what techniques (using non-technical vocabulary) the composer used, always with well-chosen examples to illustrate. This is as opposed to a few weeks ago when the KCH show about "color," made the following kinds of brilliant connections: "Aaron Copland wrote music for a film called The Red Pony. Here's an excerpt!" & "Now, as we continue our exploration of color, let's listen to Ralph Vaughan Williams' Fantasia on Greensleeves!!" I wish I was kidding.

Anyway, McPhee is really good, maybe a little low-key in demeanor for kids, but he sounds like an actual person talking - he never sounds like he's reading from a clunky script, unlike another more popsular Boston conductor who appears on KCH frequently. In fact, the couple of other times I've heard McPhee on the show, he's been equally fantastic, managing most importantly to encourage real listening. I wish it was as easy as he makes it seem.

Also on KCH, a few weeks ago, I heard a fascinating little interview with Henry Chapin who, as a 10ish year old boy, narrated Leonard Bernstein's recording of the Britten Young Person's Guide. It was interesting first of all to realize that Chapin (not a musician) got the gig mainly because he was the son of Schuyler Chapin, a big-league arts administrator and friend of LB. But, I love how Chapin talked about watching LB for cues and being mesmerized by the experience of watching the score go by. As I've said many times before, giving people the experience of following a score is underrated as a music appreciation technique. At least, that's the rationale for all the score excerpts that float by in my debut podcast and in various score visualizations I've done. Maybe only I (and young Master Chapin) get a kick out of that.

Not so coincidentally, I've just started a collaboration with an artist (for a November exhibit) which will be exploring the score as a visual. Should be least to me.

1 comment:

sarah marie said...

Jonathan McPhee is awesome. I played a children's concert under him with the Lexington Sym... he is fantastic at both talking to and working with (a rather young soloist performed Mozart on the program) children.