It’s time to showcase another project I created for my friends at Enchantment Theatre Company, Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Sylvester was the second original score I created for Enchantment, following up on the successful collaboration that led to the creation of Harold and the Purple Crayon. I wrote it four years ago, in the summer of 2011, and recorded it with the same group of instrumentalists that were featured on Harold: Matt Gallagher (trumpet), Ron Kerber (saxes and flute), Kevin MacConnell (bass) and Lars Halle (drums). I’ve already posted a few of my favorite tracks, which you can find using the Sylvester tag, but now I’m starting from the beginning – from sunrise.
Sylvester and the Magic Pebble is a book by William Steig (1907-2003), the illustrator and author who is probably best known for Shrek, the book that launched an animated film franchise and a Broadway musical. Sylvester was published in 1969; it won the Caldecott Medal and was a finalist for the National Book Award for Children’s Literature the next year. The book is well known and beloved by teachers at the elementary school level, or so I’m told by my friend Laurie, a teacher who has taught several generations of young readers.
The score begins with a musical representation of a sunrise, followed by a theme which I call “Welcome To Oatsdale,” a friendly down-home tune that conveys the easy, happy life in the small fictional town where Sylvester Duncan and his family live. The Duncans are all donkeys, if you haven’t figured that out from the picture above, but they live in a way that wouldn’t be out of place in rural Connecticut, where Steig lived for many years.
I took my copy of Sylvester down from the shelf and discovered that this edition includes the speech that Steig gave when he received the Caldecott Award. May I quote a bit from it?
I am well aware not only of the importance of children — whom we naturally cherish and who also embody our hopes for the future — but also of the importance of what we provide for them in the way of art; and I realize that we are cometing with a lot of other cultural influences, some of which beguile them in false directions. Art, including juvenile literature, has the power to make any spot on earth the living center of the universe, and … ithelps us to know life in a way that skill keeps before us the mystery of things. It enhances the sense of wonder. And wonder is respect for life.
… I am hopeful that more and more the work I do for children, as well as the work I do for adults, will approach the condition of art.
I don’t think I have anything useful to add to that statement, except perhaps to say, True dat.