Crocodiles & Other Tales
The Five Adventures for Piano and Narrator that we present here include three very different approaches to the form by three modern American composers. We have been performing pieces for this combination for several years and find it a wonderful way to make even challenging music more accessible to our audiences. In these pieces, the text informs the music and the music brings the stories to life. Unfortunately, there exists only a limited repertoire of pieces written or arranged for piano and narrator. Two of our favorites are Prokofiev's piano transcription of "Peter and the Wolf," and Poulenc's "The History of Babar the Elephant." After friend and composer John Tarrh attended our performance of "Babar," I suggested he consider adding to this repertoire. A few months later he had completed a first draft of "Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile," and the idea for this CD was born. The Adventures of Tom Thumb (1925) Ruth Crawford Seeger (1901-1953) was an American composer and ethno-musicologist. She was the first American woman to write in an atonal style and the first woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship. She was a member of a prominent musical family that included her husband Charles, stepson Peter and daughter Peggy. The Adventures of Tom Thumb was unpublished during the composer's lifetime. The manuscript was in the Library of Congress under the name Ruth Porter (Crawford) Seeger. Pianist Jenny Lin, who has championed Ruth Crawford Seeger's music, premiered and recorded the work with baritone Timothy Jones in 2001. She assisted in editing the score, which was published by Frogg Peak Music in 2004. Tom Thumb consists of six sections. The composer used original text from the Grimm's Fairy Tales for the first five sections, and her daughter Peggy (who collaborated with Jenny Lin in publishing the work) chose text for the final section. In the published version, Peggy writes that the final section is different than the earlier prose, using storytelling techniques and word choices of a folk singer or folk storyteller. "I've told it the way a child would tell it, whereas the earlier telling is in adult language and with adult logic," she writes. I asked Peggy about her choice of language, since the original contained arcane words from the 19th century. She said that she did not change the text in the first five sections out of respect for her mother's choices. Jack and I have also respected the composer's text choices, but in some cases have substituted modern language where the original would sound odd or confusing. Three Fairy Tales (1976) Sviatoslav Soulima Stravinsky (1910-1994) was a twentieth century pianist, musical educator and composer. Stravinsky taught piano at the University of Illinois for twenty-five years and his Six Sonatinas have become a standard album for the teaching of piano. Many of his compositions for piano are written with children in mind. Such works include The Musical Alphabet, Chantefables and the Three Fairy Tales. Soulima was the son of famous composer Igor, collaborated with his father at concerts and was known as an interpreter of his father's piano works. Since the Three Fairy Tales have well known stories, Stravinsky decided to have the narrator provide a barest outline and let the piano tell the story. The musical language that he uses in this supernatural set is full of color and wit In Cinderella listen how the two wicked sisters sputter and hiss in their endless cannon, or how the falling minor seconds in Cinderella's Flight are as jarring as a glass slipper scratched on a castle's stone staircase. At the Enchanted Castle in Jack and the Beanstalk, the clumsy and wicked giant can be heard in the left-hand base stumbling around in parallel fifths. In Sleeping Beauty listen to the skill and precision of spinning in The Spindle, and how the Beauty's pre-destined finger prick is foreshadowed as the wheel spins ever louder and faster. Listen for thundering horse hooves, which alternate with a patient and determined search in The Prince's Hunt. And does the lack of tonic resting places in Prince Awakes the Beauty and the unresolved chord at the conclusion question whether it is possible for even fairy tale characters to live happily ever after? Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (2009) John M. Tarrh (1947- ): Lyle, Lyle Crocodile (2009) John Tarrh is a composer who lives in Lexington MA with his wife and three children. Originally trained as an electrical engineer, John earned his B.S. from Virginia Polytechnic Institute in 1970 and his M.S. from MIT in 1972 and worked for a number of years at MIT. He later was a co-founder and CFO of Applied Science and Technology (ASTeX). Following the sale of ASTeX in 2001 to MKS Instruments Inc., John began to pursue a lifetime dream of studying and writing music, and earned Master of Music Theory and Composition degrees from the New England Conservatory. John has written music for a variety of ensembles, including solo piano, solo voice and piano, chorus and piano, string quartet, clarinet quintet, wind quintet, brass ensemble, concert band, chamber orchestra, and full orchestra. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile (2009) is a musical setting of one of John's favorite books by Bernard Waber. He read the book many times to his three sons when they were very young. The story concerns the issue of prejudice, among other things. Lyle, a big green crocodile, is not wanted in the neighborhood. He frightens a neighbor's cat because of his size and unusual appearance, which immediately sets the cat's owner, Mr. Grumps against Lyle. It becomes apparent that the only way Lyle can succeed with Mr. Grumps is through an act of heroism or some such extraordinary display. Fortunately Lyle triumphs, but only after a series of serendipitous circumstances and harrowing adventures. All major characters have a musical theme prompted by their personality. Lyle the crocodile is friendly, helpful, athletic, and talented. Loretta the cat is nervous, distrustful, excitable and easily frightened. Her owner Mr. Grumps is a department store executive who is excitable, snappy and irritable. Lyle's old friend Hector P. Valenti, star of stage and screen is a show off. Even the house on East 88th St., where Lyle lives, has a musical theme. The house is one of a symmetrical row of brownstones, much like those in Boston's South End neighborhood. Lyle, Lyle, Crocodile is also available in a version for full orchestra and narrator, and was premiered by The New Philharmonia Orchestra in Newton, MA in April 2010. Notes by Daniel Goodman Pianist Daniel Goodman studied science and music at Princeton University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Narrator Jack McCreless sings and plays with the Revels Repertory Company, a touring ensemble that offers programs on the sea, harvest, immigration, and Appalachia, and the Hutchinson Family Singers of New Hampshire. Goodman and McCreless have enjoyed performing together for twenty five years. In the 1980's they performed international folk music and toured New England as musicians with the Mandala Folk Dance Ensemble. In the 1990's they formed a Klezmer and Jazz band named "Neshama." They appeared together in the 1991 Universal Pictures film, "Once Around," which starred Richard Dreyfuss and Holly Hunter. Recording Engineer: Patrick Keating. LYLE, LYLE, CROCODILE by Bernard Waber. Copyright (c) 1965 by Bernard Waber. Used by permission of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.