Maestro Orpheus and The World Clock

Copyright © by Fred Flaxman, 1997.


Once upon a time, not so very long ago, former teachers Joanne Grodzinski and Robert Pennee decided to open up a music store in the town of Guelph, Ontario, Canada. There they kept getting requests from parents for recordings that would introduce their children to classical music.

"Once they've gone through 'Peter and the Wolf,' 'The Carnival of the Animals,' and 'Beethoven Lives Upstairs' and a handful of others," Grodzinski told a Canadian newspaper, "the well suddenly runs dry. Robert and I had been talking about producing something that would meet the demand for some years. One day... we decided to go ahead and do so."

The result was a compact disc and audiocassette called "Maestro Orpheus and The World Clock." The CD premiered in the Flaxman household for an audience of two, of which I was the least important. Although I enjoyed it very much, what really counts is the opinion of the other member of the audience. She usually votes with her feet, by leaving or, at least, by moving them rapidly if she's bored.

But she loved it! She sat in rapt attention without fidgeting for the entire 62 minutes, 10 seconds it took to play the entire recording. And she almost always fidgets! Why? Because she's a high-energy, seven-year-old, and an hour is a long time for any seven-year-old to keep still.

The CD held my attention throughout as well, although my attention span is not much longer than a seven-year-old's if the material is anything short of excellent, and I find it particularly hard to concentrate on children's stories. But this recording was very well made from all points of view. The story was interesting and thought-provoking. The narration by R.H. Thomson was very well read, as were the supporting roles. The music was very well performed by the English Chamber Orchestra and solo pianist Elizabeth Acker. The sound was superb.

The story is a dream-like tale of a young boy named Fred who is visiting his grandfather when time suddenly stops. Setting out to discover why, Fred meets Maestro Orpheus and together they begin a musical adventure along the Corridor of Time, on their way to wind the World Clock.

The walk down the Corridor of Time includes stops for stories and music from Bach, Haydn, Chopin and... Janacek. Now I like the music of Janacek, but wondered why he was included rather than Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky or a host of other more important, more famous composers. It surely wasn't that Janacek had a more interesting story to tell. The music selected by Janacek was not even amongst his best-known pieces.

Turns out there was a good reason for this selection. The piece is called "Good Night" and it is from "Along an Overgrown Path, Book 1." All of the music in the CD -- with the one exception of the Haydn piano sonata -- is thematically linked around the subjects of time, night, Orpheus and grandfathers. "The Janacek piece sets the tone and mood of the story at this point extremely well," Grodzinski wrote me. "We tried to select music throughout the recording that we felt enhanced the words and story and it happened that these selections were often less familiar than the standard pop classics. We didn't feel that we had to restrict our choices -- in fact, most of the fun of creating the recording was putting the music and the story together. Sometimes we would choose the music and revise the script accordingly -- or often as not, it would happen the other way around!"

My wife and I had dinner with our granddaughter just after playing the CD. The conversation was all about time and what would happen if it stopped. This got very deep and centered on the definition of time. Have you ever tried to define time for a seven-year-old -- or anyone else? ("The Carnival of the Animals" never led to such philosophical discussions!) After dinner I went to the big dictionary in the living room. I read the very long definition out loud. It didn't help anyone understand time any better. But that's what finally put our granddaughter to sleep. My wife, too.

The choice of Frederick (Fred) as the name for the 10-year-old boy struck me as curious, although welcomed. I didn't think that anyone had named his or her son Frederick in the last 20 years. I thought the name had become totally démodé. All the Freds I know are my age or older. But perhaps this is one of the cultural differences between Canada and the U.S. the Canadians are so anxious to believe exists. Or perhaps the producers were trying to appeal to the older generation of music writers. In any case my granddaughter thought it was very funny that the young boy was called Fred, rather than the grandfather. But I'm hoping that, if enough of these CDs sell in the U.S., it will bring that perfectly good name back into style again. And classical music, too.

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Copies of "Maestro Orpheus and The World Clock" can be obtained from record stores and children's toy and book stores across Canada or directly from Maestro Orpheus Productions, 10 Carden Street, Guelph, Ontario, Canada, N1H 3A2. Telephone: (519) 821-9551. Fax: 519-821-9556. E-mail: cardenstreetmusicshop@sympatico.ca. World Wide Web: http://www3.sympatico.ca/cardenstreetmusicshop.


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