by J.D. Goddard
CityMusic Cleveland: Daniel and Snakeman at Mary Queen of Peace (May 11)
On Wednesday morning May 11 at 10 am, CityMusic Cleveland presented the premiere of Daniel and Snakeman, as part of its educational outreach program. I attended the second of five performances, this one for an audience of 600+ elementary age children (grades 1-8) from local schools at Mary Queen of Peace Church in Old Brooklyn. The children were treated to a real live orchestra concert and a world premiere performance of a delightful, heart rending composition that is a lesson in humanity and equality. This wonderful CityMusic intergenerational presentation with text and music written by noted Cleveland composer Margaret Brouwer, was narrated by Scott Plate and conducted by Joshua Weilerstein. The children were also treated to a performance of Rossini’s Overture to The Barber of Seville, which City Music played with its usual brilliance and clarity.
The excitement and thrill of the event had the children fidgeting excitedly on the edge of the pews while straining to hear and see this extraordinary happening which had been made possible through several generous grants and donations and the persistent hard work of the CityMusic Board of Directors and volunteers.
As stated in the program notes: “Daniel and Snakeman is a musical tale in which the orchestra tells the story, helped along with a narrator…to celebrate Cleveland’s many ethnic groups, and to remind people that it is possible to live in peace with each other no matter where we come from, which language we speak or custom we bring with us…and it is about the value of different cultures, faiths and generations playing, working and making music together. The story is set in a future time. The villain in the story, Snakeman, is a hold-over from an earlier time and imprisons people in his fortress who do not keep to their own kind.”
The characters in the story were introduced and characterized with “leitmotifs” played by specific instruments in the orchestra, as the are in Brouwer’s model, Prokofiev’s Peter and The Wolf.
The trumpet, playing a heroic melody, portrays the young boy Daniel (“…who saves people with his strength and intelligence”). The clarinet, playing often jazzy high and low runs, portrays Wiggy (“a talking comical bat”). The trombone, playing many slippery glissandi and a pompous melody, portrays Snakeman (“a ponderous creature with the head of a human, long coiling body and tail of a snake, a bully and a bigot.”) The percussion —Tabla, Daf, and Tombak —with ad lib rhythms portray Malik the Drummer (“a boy from a Middle-Eastern Provincehood”). The violin and oboe portray Elizabeth (blonde and fair skinned) and Fadumo (black hair and brown skinned, “a twosome of dancing girls who communicate with music and their dancing.”) The bassoon, playing with a stern stoicism, portrays Jane (“an oldish, tall, stately woman, sad and serious but with mischievous smile”) The lower strings and percussion, playing with an amorphous and rather cacophonous cluster of sound, portrays Pod 333 (“a lopsided and crazily clanking robot”).
Daniel and Snakeman is quite a compositional undertaking, conceived and put to paper with a deep sincerity and poignant simplicity. Ms. Brouwer blatantly and courageously grasps hold of and exposes the often abhorrent subjects of man’s inhumanity to man and segregation versus integration, and proclaims love and acceptance for all humankind while spinning a vision of ultimate warmth and happiness for all.
A fairytale filled with good versus evil (bigotry), Daniel and Snakeman is told in a way that can be understood and respected by young and old. It is a true work of noble and kind innocence as expressed through Ms. Brouwer’s charismatic text and compositional ingenuity. She weaves a picturesque tapestry of sounds into our minds and emotions while giving distinction to her characters with lush harmonies, beautiful melodies, jazzy licks, occasional dissonant noises, varying tonal colors, intricate rhythmic pulsations and subtle but tricky metric shifts — all leading to a calm and rather subtle finale of peace. Congratulations to the instrumentalists who portrayed the various characters with imaginative style. And a special bow to trombonist Eric Star who stood while playing the “slippery glissandi” which portrayed Snakeman.
Conductor Wellerstein managed the score with efficient, minimalist beats while maintaining a clear understanding of the inherent drama of the music as it was tied to the text. Narrator Scott Plate struggled somewhat with the always troublesome nature of using a microphone in such a reverberant church setting and after several experimental attempts during the warm-up prior to the concert he finally struck what seemed to be a happy medium in balancing with the orchestra. A simple small nerf ball (wind screen) for the microphone would have eliminated his frequently exploding consonants and the hissing sibilants that permeated the narration. I am sure that each venue presents a challenge in trying to strike a pleasant aural balance between orchestra, narrator and audience, but a bit more acute diction and volume would have helped — especially with the sudden onslaught of 600+ excited children flowing into the pews.
But in the end, the children were happy campers and applauded with glee. They had just heard a real live orchestra play a concert just for them. And I am sure that many of them exited the concert remembering the devastating power of the“ZX-89 Magnitized Power Zoomer” and the use of the “double overhanded stopper knot” which Daniel ultimately used to free the subterranean, imprisoned “people of many cultures” and defeat Snakeman and his bigotry. A human and musical lesson was learned by all.