A Children’s Classic

An example of a crankie storytelling machine; the paper is backlit and advanced on rollers. (The Crankie Factory)

An example of a crankie storytelling machine; the paper is backlit and advanced on rollers. (The Crankie Factory)

Chapel to present ‘Peter and the Wolf,’ complete with crankie

As part of an effort to expand its children’s programming, the Chapel Restoration in Cold Spring on March 25 will present two performances of Peter and the Wolf, the 1936 composition by Sergei Prokofiev that is also familiar to many grown-ups.

“Many adults have memories of Peter and the Wolf because it’s the first piece of music that makes us aware of the connection between music and storytelling and emotion,” says Bekah Tighe, the president of Chapel Restoration. “It’s amazing to learn that instruments, along with musicians, can tell their own stories.” 

Sergei Prokofiev with his family in 1936, the year he composed Peter and the Wolf while living in Moscow.

Sergei Prokofiev with his family in 1936, the year he composed “Peter and the Wolf” while living in Moscow.

Based on a Russian folk tale, Peter and the Wolf tells the story of Peter, a boy in the countryside who encounters a duck (identified with an oboe), a cat (clarinet), his grandfather (bassoon), the wolf (horns) and a bird (flute), among others. A narrator guides the proceedings.

The composition was designed not just to delight but to introduce children to classical music in an engaging way, by learning to recognize the sound of each instrument. 

Rachel Evans

Rachel Evans (Photo provided)

Rachel Evans, the musical director for the performances, recalled a piano student of hers “who wanted to go over it for a year. She loved to act it out. The fact that the animals all embody all these qualities that go way beyond themselves made such an impression.” 

Most people are familiar with truncated versions, which inspired Evans to add a violin and viola, which she will play. “It was fascinating looking at the score, seeing how Prokofiev brought out all these characters,” she says. “It’s so colorful — percussion by itself uses five or six instruments.” 

Evans brought her idea for a performance to Barbara DeSilva, the Chapel’s artistic director. The result was a multimedia collaboration, with the score adapted for wind quintet, violin, viola and percussion. Along with Rachel Evans, the musicians are Joel Evans, Chris Hughes, Marie Kenote, Elizabeth Romano, Matt Smith and Will Stevens. 

Lisa Sabin

Lisa Sabin

The narrator, Lisa Sabin, has a personal connection with the piece. Her father, Ruben Gurevich, is an orchestra conductor. He reminded his daughter that he had conducted Peter many times for schoolchildren in Winnipeg, Saskatoon and other Canadian cities, and that he often took her along. 

“It seems as though my love and enchantment for Peter and the Wolf started early and was reinforced periodically,” Sabin says. “I do remember the surprising moment when I first was able to conjure an animal in my mind just by hearing an instrument play its theme.”

It was no small ambition bringing in seven musicians and a narrator. But wait — there’s more! Each performance will include instrument demonstrations and, in what’s been dubbed a “musical petting zoo,” children will be invited to touch the instruments, supervised by each musician, following the concert. That means moving the valves on the horns, pushing keys and discovering what it takes to play a clarinet or oboe.

The performance will be accompanied by a crankie, a form of storytelling that originated in late 18th-century Europe. An illustrated scroll, lit from behind, is wound between two spools, unfurled at the pace of a story or music. 

The Chapel Restoration

The Chapel Restoration (Photo provided)

The crankie will be a collaboration between Lauren Wallis Hall, a Chapel board member who designed and drew the scroll, and Colin Wright, who is constructing the viewing box. They also will create shadow puppets. Both are members of the Permaculture Arts Collective, which Hall describes as “a queer-run, loosely knit group of local artists and makers focusing on nature-inspired creative projects.”

Hall finds many aspects of crankie storytelling appealing. “First, it’s so analog, which we hope will be inspiring for the children — perhaps they’ll want to make their own simple crankie out of a shoebox,” she says. “We are also attracted to the inherent slow pace. It’s a form that invites imaginative interpretation and plays with the perception of time. Colin and I are both parents of young children and we are excited to introduce kids to this old form of storytelling.”

The performance concludes with a parade, hopefully the first of many, according to Tighe.

“We hope to make Peter and the Wolf an annual concert and a tradition for the children of Philipstown and beyond,” she says. “It is expensive to produce, with seven musicians and a narrator, so we are working on raising money for this and future children’s programming. We want to make sure what we provide is outstanding.”

The Chapel Restoration is located at 45 Market St., in Cold Spring. Parking is free on weekends at the Metro-North train station. Tickets are $25 ($5 for children) at bit.ly/peter-wolf. The rain date is March 26.

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