When composer Rob Kapilow started creating music for families, he expected a lot from his audience. "I had the crazy idea that if I could get families to spend an entire weekend with me, I could get them to like‹and understand‹classical music," he says. The logistics didn't quite work out, but Kapilow still became a zealous promoter of children's programming, eventually creating Family Musik. In its new incarnation as a series of three concerts, each an hour long, it debuts at Lincoln Center this season.
Since proposing his musical weekend a dozen years ago, Kapilow has honed his approach to create an upbeat, musically informative program that reaches all generations. "It has to," he says. "My challenge is to find a way of talking to kids that's also meaningful to adults." Kapilow's own acclaimed composition Green Eggs and Hamadeus kicks off Family Musik on December 11. The other concerts in the series are Peter and the Wolf on February 5, 2005, and Dr. Seuss's Gertrude McFuzz and Stefan Wolpe's Lazy Andy Ant on March 5.
"Rob Kapilow is really unique in his ability to communicate his extraordinary passion for the music, which is extremely contagious," says Jane S. Moss, the Vice President of Programming for Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts. While this is Great Performers' first-ever family series, Lincoln Center does have a long relationship with Kapilow, whose What Makes It Great? series has been a regular part of Great Performers since the 1997-98 season. In What Makes It Great? Kapilow takes a single work and dissects it for the audience, which then listens to the work played in its entirety.
Family Musik functions much the same way, Kapilow says, in that he will help the audience figure out how the music works. But having three children of his own, Kapilow is well aware of youngsters' short attention spans. "The concerts are highly interactive," he says. "Each one is a conversation between me and the audience, and there is lots of clapping and tapping. It doesn't feel at all like a traditional concert where kids sit there with their hands on their laps."
Kapilow created Green Eggs and Hamadeus after his oldest son was born. He suddenly realized, he says, "that there was a tremendous lack of music that was written for kids." The first part of the program is the second part of the title, as Kapilow will explain at the concert. Hamadeus refers to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's famous Eine kleine Nachtmusik ("A Little Night Music"), which Kapilow will deconstruct simply and straightforwardly for young concertgoers. He will then move on to the Green Eggs portion of the performance, which is based on the classic Dr. Seuss tale. In it, a character named Sam tries to persuade a grown-up to eat green eggs and ham (a nice twist, since it is usually adults who wheedle kids into trying new things). As Kapilow explains, he thought that one of the lines sounded like a train, so he used the old standard "I've Been Working on the Railroad," harmonized it with a bit of intriguing spiky dissonance, and used that as a basis for the composition.
Peter and the Wolf is a perennial children's classical music favorite. But in the second Family Musik concert on February 5, Kapilow will give Prokofiev's masterpiece quite a different twist. The story features a boy who wanders into the forest despite his grandfather's warning that it harbors dangerous animals. As in the traditional version, each character will be represented by a different instrument (Peter by the violins, the bird by flutes, the wolf by French horns, and so on). But rather than have a narrator, Kapilow has decided to strip all the words from the piece and let music and dance tell the story. He will introduce the work to the audience and show them how music can change. "What would it sound like if it were a cloudy day rather than a sunny one?" he will ask, then he'll transpose the theme to a minor key. Four dancers from the Pickle Shoes Company will show audience members the basics of their choreography for the piece‹for instance, how to make birds fly‹and then invite a few children onstage to demonstrate. "The goal is to show the kids how, given this music and these characters, you make them come alive," Kapilow says.
For the third concert on March 5, Kapilow returns to Dr. Seuss. The first half will be devoted to Gertrude McFuzz, a little bird who thinks life would be perfect if she had two tail feathers instead of one, just like her rival. Gertrude does get her wish. But then she gets carried away and sprouts so many feathers that she can't move. She ends up a wiser bird with just one tail feather. "I'll ask the audience, 'What do you think you could have that would make you happier?'" says Kapilow. "I'll ask the parents too, 'What is your tail feather?' And then I'll ask if there's anything they have ever gotten that they thought would make them happy and whether it actually did. It's a lovely moral for kids and adults."
The second half of the March concert, Stefan Wolpe's Lazy Andy Ant, also has a moral lesson: Heroes aren't always who you expect them to be. "No one's down and out for good, and it's great for kids to hear that," Kapilow says. "I love children's books and programs that appeal‹to kids and adults‹on multiple levels."
Green Eggs and Hamadeus has already been performed at Lincoln Center‹at the 2003 Mostly Mozart festival‹but neither Kapilow nor Moss are worried that it's too familiar. "Two years is almost a whole generation in terms of kids going to family concerts," Kapilow points out. As for Moss, she was thrilled at the audience enthusiasm for the Mostly Mozart performance and feels it shows that the time has come for more family programming at Lincoln Center. "The whole point is teaching audiences how to listen and to realize that there's an entire universe in a single phrase," she says. "And no one can do that like Rob Kapilow."
Susan Jackson writes frequently about the arts and is a contributing editor at Time Out New York Kids.