Magazine article Newsweek

The Kids in the Hall: A Composer Who Writes for Small Ears - and Hands

Magazine article Newsweek

The Kids in the Hall: A Composer Who Writes for Small Ears - and Hands

Article excerpt

A composer who writes for small ears--and hands

WHEN ELLEN TAAFFE ZWILICH was 5 years old, she begged her parents for piano lessons. Since their little girl spent so much time improvising at the keyboard, they agreed. "But then I kept saying, 'This music isn't as good as the music I make up'," Zwilich remembers with a slightly horrified laugh. "I didn't last long."

Preschool arrogance, maybe, but she was probably right. Most music for children is torturous. Now Zwilich, who grew up to be a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer, has done something about it. With the blessing of Charles Schulz, who is such a fan he has mentioned her twice in his comic strips, she has written "Peanuts Gallery," a lively, six-part character study for piano and orchestra. (Linus's signature music, for instance, is a gorgeous lullaby; Lucy gets a tantrum in the strings.) After last month's world premiere at Carnegie Hall, the 5-year-olds cheered, and so did the adults. "Peanuts Gallery" may be intended for children, but it's rhythmically diverse and emotionally engaging. (Zwilich left a message for kids in the sheet music for the two-piano version: "Delete lowest right hand note if hands are small.")

Zwilich's music has always been accessible, often wildly extroverted, as in her popular orchestral piece "Celebration," or palpably introverted, as in her poignant clarinet quintet. "It seems to me that the greatest joys and the greatest sadnesses in life need artistic expression," says Zwilich, who was widowed several years ago. …

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