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A Literary & Poetry Column
By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Carolyn Howard-Johnson Lauds Partnership of Literature and Music

Combining music with literature is certainly nothing new. Opera. Broadway. Off Broadway. The child who hums himself to sleep reciting Little Boy Blue or Little Miss Muffett.

Seldom however is the literature part of a partnership like this nonfiction. Or if, like the Sound of Music, it is, someone has done a very good job of structuring the true tale into a fictional art form. And seldom is its purpose to educate as strong as to entertain. And even more rarely is a combination of this sort something that appeals to both children and adults.

While tooling around Book Expo America in New York (yes, I wore very comfortable shoes!),I found some CDs that I simply had to have -- a whole set, really. Naturally, I offered to review them and that's when I realized they deserved much more than a review. In fact, I am incapable of giving them the exposure they deserve, unless I took the company on as a PR client.

That company is Classical Genius, an iSummaries, LLC Company. They have put out a series of CDs, beautifully designed. They are "The Narrated Life Histories of the Great Composers" -- twenty-four of them. They cover individual composers like Chopin and Brahms, and larger moments in musical history like Italian Opera. No matter how the times, composers or musical genre is grouped, the narration of each (against the background of great music, of course) is woven in a way that the listener gets a real sense of the time, the influences, the compatriots and the contemporaries of the composer or the period.

Written for children, really, this structure makes them suitable for adults, possibly even adults who know the history of classical music relatively well. The narrative, beautifully recited by William Sergeant, is full of anecdote and of poetry. This narrative, then, against the music, with interludes to let the sound take hold of one's soul.

I wanted to listen to each of the twenty-four before I wrote this review but I keep going back to the ones I've heard before. Each time I learn something new, hear something new. Number nineteen, "The Americans," tells the amazing and spirited stories of John Philip Sousa and George Gerswin with Aaron Copland and Samuel Barber woven in for good measure. The music includes rousing marches, classical jazz and when one is done, one has a sense for the fabric of American music, perhaps even the warp and woof of America itself.

The young will hear things they never knew, older generations will find moments to reminisce. Tin Pan Alley, Victor Records, how Gershwin influenced Bernstein and Hollywood.

This collection, scrupulously researched and written by the Indian University Jacobs School of Music scholar, Marcia Dangerfield, is the result of "more than a half a decade of dedication." They may be purchased as a complete set, in "Era Sets" of six, or individually. This is the gift of a lifetime for a child, one he or she will never grow out of, one that will put her on the path to a true understanding and appreciation of music. And the smart parent who wraps a full set up for their child as a holiday gift? They will find that it is a gift of involvement, one that comes from heart for all time. Possibly even more memorable than a Red Schwinn.

Purchasing information:
Toll Free Phone: 1 866 986 6887

Tips and Tidbits

Each month in this box, Carolyn lists a writing or promotion tidbit that will help authors and a tip to help readers find a treasure among long-neglected books or a sapphire among the newly-published.

Writers' Tidbit: Authors' Coalition offers an assortment of free e-books from members and others who are interested in helping writers. Find them on the free e-books page and check the other things the organization is doing to support authors -- members and nonmembers alike.

Readers' Tip: Do yourself a favor and introduce yourself to rereading. It's easy. Pick a book you read and loved when you were younger and read it again. Before you do, you might want to see what others got out of such an exercise. Farrar Straus Giroux just released Rereadings, edited by Anne Fadiman. My review of that book is available on

2007 Past Columns

Carolyn Names Books to Noble Fame

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