Sweeping Sounds & an Engaging Story Line in ‘The Story Concert’

story-concert-photoThe show “fused classic children’s literature with the wonderfully dulcet tones of the Chappaqua Orchestra.”

By Matt Smith

Orchestra Photo by Carolyn Simpson

“There are a lot of personalities to deal with when you’re part of an orchestra. All the instruments are so different–strings, woodwinds, brass, percussion–but when the instruments play together, the orchestra is one big happy family.”

Such was the message emphasized to great effect at the second annual Story Concert held at Wallace Auditorium on Saturday afternoon. The event, sponsored in part by the Chappaqua Children’s Book Festival, fused classic children’s literature with the wonderfully dulcet tones of the Chappaqua Orchestra, under the baton of (who else?) composer extraordinaire Michael Shapiro.

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When I attended last year’s inaugural performance, I wrote that it was a delightfully moving experience that should not have been missed!! This year was no different, offering equally dynamic performances from musicians and narrators alike.

The melodious afternoon was kicked off in style with “The Tale of Custard the Dragon,” based on the popular poem by Ogden Nash, about a cowardly dragon who eventually steps up and saves the day when pirates attack.

With the sweeping sound, particularly of the violins, the composition, a sung-through recitation of the poem–by local musician (and HGHS grad!) Brad Ross (who, it should be noted, was in attendance at the event)–truly sounded as though it was plucked straight from a Broadway musical… fitting, as it was delivered (quite exceptionally, we may add!) by Main Stem alum Roger Seyer, late of such hits as Les Miz and Miss Saigon.

Of note, to add to the excitement and further engage the young kiddies in the audience, during breaks in the narration, Seyer would bound across the stage, acting out climatic moments within the story in full–a smart move on their part, which further enlivened what was no doubt an already stellar piece.

Following a short break, Paul Shaffer (yes, that Paul Shaffer), emerged from the wings (dressed as only he can) to narrate the second selection, “A Family for Baby Grand,” another composition by Ross, with a story by Sharon Dennis Wyeth (also in attendance at the event) which centers around a baby grand piano who breaks free from the antique shop in which she’s kept (the location of which is cleverly reworked to be Chappaqua… just to keep it familiar) and ventures out into the world to play in a first-rate orchestra.

Preceding the piece, Ross and Shapiro made it a point to mention that, in an effort to educate kids on all the moving parts of an orchestra, each instrument within the piece is given its own individual chance to shine. And shine they do!! Particularly notable standouts include the flourish of the piccolo, played by Rebecca Quigley, the oom-pah-pah of the tuba by Jonathan Greenberg, and of course, the grand piano of the title, whose ivories were tickled to perfection by Cynthia Peterson.

But while these individual instruments did indeed shine in their own right, to drive home the idea that everyone sounds better when they perform in unison, each section and set of instruments built on the previous one as the story went along–that is, after they have their solo moment, they’re added to the overall group. The result, as you may have guessed, is a rousing finale with the rich, resonant sound of all the instruments playing together in perfect harmony.

Furthermore, Shaffer attributed each character with its own voice–adding quirks and inflection to sound exactly what the instrument would sound like were it humanized–which, like in Seyer’s piece, added to the overall liveliness of the composition. You simply can’t beat it!

TCO Executive Director David Restivo, for one, concurs, stating: “The concert was a huge success [and] the orchestra never sounded better.” He also wishes to extend personal thanks to Shaffer, Seyer and Ross, whose contributions were indispensable (haha) to the outcome of the afternoon.

In addition to treating the audience with wonderful music and providing an escape from the blustery November afternoon, Restivo hopes “we were able to inspire the children to think about playing an instrument in the future or at least learn a little something about the orchestra itself.”

It seems to have worked–at least for some young audience members; as Restive mentions: “One of my good friends said his nephew was skeptical about coming to the concert – but left wanting to learn an instrument.”

Goal accomplished indeed! And with recurring events like these stellar concerts, hopefully, we can continue to drive the force of the importance of music home, and peak kids’ interest in music and the world around them–instilling them with the confidence to, as Mama Grand tells her baby in the afternoon’s second selection, “Be forte! Be pianissimo! Be grand!”

 The Wallace Auditorium is located within Chappaqua Crossing, at 480 Bedford Road in Chappaqua, just off of RT-117. Of note, the Story Concert will return in April 2017, with a performance of Peter and the Wolf, narrated by WQXR’s Elliott Forrest, and an original composition by Shapiro, featuring his “Babbling Orchestra.” For more information on these events and the orchestra itself, please visit www.chappaquaorchestra.org.

Matt Smith is a freelance writer based in Chappaqua. For further information or inquiry, visit www.mattsmiththeatre.com.

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