Harold and The Purple Crayon – Part 1a (Day 74)

Harold posterOnce upon a time, there was a little boy named Harold. He was the creation of an illustrator named Crockett Johnson, who published his book Harold and the Purple Crayon in 1955, the year I was born.

In 2009, I composed music for Enchantment Theatre Company’s stage adaptation of Harold and the Purple Crayon. Their production featured projections of hand-drawn animation that appeared to bring Johnson’s drawings to life, and my recorded voice narrating the stories.

Next month, on April 12 and 13, The Adventures of Harold and the Purple Crayon will be presented at the Merriam Theater in Philadelphia. This is the third season that Enchantment has presented Harold on tour, and it is undoubtedly one of its most successful productions. The music you’ll be hearing in the next few days has been heard by tens of thousands of people throughout the US; without question, this project has given my music its greatest exposure.


Enchantment’s production of Harold is highly visual in nature, and hearing the musical score (with its various sound effects) without seeing the stage imagery will be a bit puzzling at certain moments. I’ll do my best to fill you in via these annotations on what is going on.

Part 1 is based on the first of the Crockett Johnson books. It introduces the little boy Harold and his magic crayon; the things that Harold draws with his crayon come to life and he is able to interact with the objects he draws.

The music begins with a mysterious prologue, as many of the Enchantment shows do, which culminates in the revealing of the protagonist. This begins with a strong fanfare that uses a two-note melodic motif in the interval of a descending third (G to E); you might want to think of this as the “Harold” motif, as if the boy’s mother was standing at the back door and calling to her son to come in from playing: “Har-old!” That motif is developed into a melody that will be heard at the end of each of Harold’s adventures, and is associated with the idea of his “Coming Home,” returning to a safe place after the excitement of his excursion. In this instance, however, the melody is not completed, and in fact I delay completing this melody until the last time it is heard, in the finale of the show. Instead, it is interrupted by strange chords and a mysterious figure of five descending pitches; this rhythmic figure, which sometimes shows up as a five-tuplet and sometimes in the time signature of 5/8, will also recur frequently throughout the work. As the pattern of five-tuplets continues, the horns introduce a third theme that begins with the pitches ti-do-sol arranged in an ascending pattern (a half step up from the leading tone to the tonic, followed by a leap up to the fifth scale degree). This figure will also recur throughout the piece. This little prologue, which was one of the first things I wrote for Harold, is a chance to encounter in fragmentary form some of the most important musical motifs that will be featured in the coming hour.

The next section is titled “Child’s Play.” It is written in a relaxed 5/4 meter with very simple rhythmic and melodic figures. During this section, Harold’s purple crayon is revealed for the first time. I borrowed a riff from the very first children’s show I composed as an undergraduate, Dorothy Louise’s “Spreading Tales,” for this composition.

This is followed by “A Walk In The Moonlight” (about 2:50 into the track), a jazzy ballad that begins with a distinctive ascending interval of a major seventh. For fun, you can try singing the title of this section, “a walk in the moonlight,” to the first pitches in the melody. Harold draws a moon, and we see for the first time the way that the projected animation will be used in synchronization with the stage action to create the illusion of Harold “drawing” an apple tree and a frightening dragon.

The next section is titled “Bright Purple,” a jazz waltz theme. Harold shakes with fear at the sight of the dragon he’s drawn, and his trembling crayon draws lines that turn into water. The waves rise and Harold is submerged beneath the water, then bobs to the surface in a sailboat which he draws. After riding the waves happily for a few moments, the boat disintegrates, Harold submerges and then is washed up on a beach (you’ll hear the sounds of the surf).

This is followed by an episode where Harold lays out a picnic with all his favorite kinds of pie. The score for this section is titled “Pie Dance,” and features a swinging tenor sax solo by Ron Kerber. Harold eats his fill of pie, and then shares the leftovers with a hungry moose and a deserving porcupine; he draws the two creatures and then they appear and dance with him. Today’s excerpt concludes as the pie dance comes to an end.

Tomorrow I’ll post the next part of the score with more commentary and some explanation about how this musical score was developed. Looking at the finished product, a seemingly effortless fusion of music, movement and video, it’s hard to picture the painstaking detail and patient iteration that went into the creation of each moment.

3 thoughts on “Harold and The Purple Crayon – Part 1a (Day 74)

  1. Pingback: One Sick Piece (Day 73) | Notes from a SAVI Savant

  2. Pingback: Harold and The Purple Crayon – Part 1b (Day 75) | Notes from a SAVI Savant

  3. Pingback: Harold and The Purple Crayon – Part 4a and b (Day 79) | Notes from a SAVI Savant

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