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Find more Say It with Music
Music has long played a part in audiobooks, cuing listeners to chapter beginnings and endings, signaling transitions, and underscoring moments of great emotion. In several recent audios, music has moved from a supporting role to an integral part of the production.
Gail Carson Levine’s Fairest (2006) is a story about music. The tale is set in Ayortha, where bursting into song is a common way for the characters to express emotion. The audiobook immerses listeners into this musical culture. Full Cast Audio produced the audio, and the company’s artistic staff includes musician Todd Hobin, an accomplished and versatile composer who has penned, produced, and played everything from high opera to down-home bluegrass on various Full Cast works. Hobin relished the challenge of Fairest. “This was a huge undertaking—there are more songs in Fairest than in any Broadway musical.” Early on, Hobin decided to cast singers who could act, rather than bringing in stand-ins to sing. Seventeen-year-old Sarah Naughton was cast in the lead as Aza, and she ably shouldered the burden as both a reader and singer.
Hobin fashioned an overall faux-Renaissance period setting featuring specific instrumentation that introduces opera to young listeners. And unlike most Full Cast productions, Fairest was recorded out of sequence. After Hobin wrote the music for each scene, he brought in the actors and recorded it with a piano backdrop. Then he orchestrated around their performances to create the final version. “It was a tremendous relief, when I got it done,” confesses Hobin. “We created a kingdom where it makes sense when someone starts singing—you believe it when you’re inside it.”
Full Cast productions usually take a couple of months to complete, but Fairest took six months and used up to 48 tracks rather than the usual 4. And Full Cast publisher Bruce Coville reassures that “the audiobook is about the words and not about the music—the music is always in the service of the words.”
Another title with an emphasis on music is Good Masters! Sweet Ladies! Voices from a Medieval Village(2007). Recorded Books executive Troy Juliar confides, “The music was so central to the story that we went outside our reluctance to use music in our productions.” Juliar had his eye on local Baltimore author (and librarian) Laura Amy Schlitz and negotiated a contract that gave Recorded Books first look at her newest work. After seeing the manuscript, he quickly snapped up the audio rights in a move that paid off handsomely when the book was awarded the 2008 Newbery Medal.
The interconnected monologues and dialogues concerning life in a medieval village made for a unique challenge. Schlitz intended that the monologues be performed by student actors, but the audio version warranted something different than a multivoiced recording. Music came to the rescue. “Music allowed us to tell listeners that one story was over and give them that moment of resonance when they could wrap up the story in their head, feel its emotional effect, and get ready for the next vignette,” explains executive producer Claudia Howard. She and her staff researched music of the period, and Howard stipulated that the music should convey to listeners a sense of strolling through a medieval town. She found her answer with the ensemble Carmina Burana and incorporated their music in a way that provided pacing, shape, and mood.
The monologue of Alice, the shepherdess, includes a loving lullaby to an ailing sheep that draws directly from a medieval hymn. “We researched the melody of the hymn and were able to find the original,” notes Howard. Alice’s song springs effortlessly from the monologue, and listeners feel her sorrow and hope, proving that music is indeed the language of emotion.
And if music is the language of emotion, then jazz is the language of freedom. Walter Dean Myers’ stunning picture book Jazz (2006) won innumerable awards for its hip, powerful poetry and energetic illustrations. The audio version gives the book a new dimension while staying true to the source material. As he did with Myers’ Blues Journey (2003), Live Oak Media publisher and producer Arnie Cardillo procured the rights to Jazz. Cardillo worked with composer Rob Mathes. “Rob was conversant with every historical period and musical style and set about to compose and arrange music for a group of jazz musicians with whom he had worked in the past,” recalls Cardillo. The musicians played Mathes’ score flawlessly. “Two incredible jazz vocalists worked separately and improvised the vocal tracks. James ‘D-Train’ Williams set the stage for most of the vocal performances, and then Vaneese Thomas came in later and added the right amount of sparkle and shine.”
Cardillo is quick to point out that it was Walter Dean Myers’ words and Christopher Myers’ illustrations that inspired Mathes and formed the structure upon which the instrumentalists and vocalists performed their magic. Cardillo and producer Rory Young edited and mixed the music and voice track, ensuring that every word in the book was included so that the audio remains “faithful to Walter’s intention of presenting a total jazz experience to his readers.” The audio received the 2008 Odyssey Award, given for excellence in audiobook production. This recognition proves that in the hands of artists, music provides not only an added dimension to a book but also a deeper connection to the words.
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