Piano Solo - Advanced - Digital Download
Composed by Joseph Dillon Ford. 21st Century, Impressionistic, Neo-Classical, Children's Music, Comedy. Score. 21 pages. Published by David Warin Solomons (S0.433055).
Item Number: S0.433055
Christopher’s Closet was composed in late July and the first three weeks of August 2007 for Latvian-born Canadian virtuoso Valentin Bogolubov, two-time recipient of the Delian Society’s Orpheus Award. Bogolubov, who had premiered Ford’s Three Chromicons in Quebec earlier the same year, had made plans to perform a special program featuring Debussy’s Children’s Corner and La boîte à joujoux, and invited Ford to take part in this new project.
Ford’s suggestion that some music about more modern toys might be an interesting addition to the program was well received, and so he set out to create a series of colorful, contrasting movements in a contemporary but accessible tonal idiom that he hoped would appeal to children of all ages. As work advanced, a story began to take shape in his mind that resulted in a piano suite with optional narration and choreographic dramatization (see the complete text below).
For most of his adult life, Ford, like all Americans, had been witness to a series of scandals and controversies implicating the White House and several highly influential American presidents. By the turn of the century, the high office held by the Commander in Chief had been gravely tarnished by the likes of Watergate, the Iran-Contra Affair, the Monica Lewinsky Affair, and the Iraq War. Deeply disillusioned by the political and moral failings of men who posed as defenders of the right and champions of peace, Ford was no less troubled by the fact that
presidents and other world leaders were setting an extremely poor example that would have dangerous repercussions for generations to come. It is with this background in mind that he composed Christopher’s Closet, which is as much an entertainment for the young as it is an admonition for their elders to play a positive and responsible role in the psychological development of children in order to stem the rising tide of global violence.
The suite opens with a decidedly ironic and unsettling version of “Hail to the Chief,” a tune that now serves as the official anthem of the President of the United States but which was originally penned around 1810 by British theatrical songwriter James Sanderson as a setting of several lines from Sir Walter Scott’s poem, Lady of the Lake, beginning with the words, “Hail to the Chief who in triumph advances!” Albert Gamse later supplied the melody with a new text—“Hail to the Chief we have chosen for the nation,” but the music is almost always heard today in purely instrumental arrangements. Here Ford exploits jolting dissonances, abrupt register changes, and other paradoxical effects to underscore the not-so-noble and enlightened character of Christopher’s superhero action figure, “Chief.”
“Trolls” is a multimetric waltz parody evoking the quirky stubby-limbed fuzzy-headed dolls created by Danish designer Thomas Dam that became wildly popular in the mid twentieth century. Still loved and collected the world over, “Trolls” (also known as “Dam Things”) here seem to symbolize the eccentrically independent, free-spirited, pacifistic “flower children” of the 1960s—qualities equally evident in the charming dance Ford composed for them.
“Chocolate Bunny” is a delightful tribute to the popular musical styles of such serious early twentieth-century composers as George Gershwin and Scott Joplin. Conspicuously less dissonant and “sweeter” in sound than the previous two movements, the bunny’s imaginary hopping motion is vividly suggested by leaping melodies and accompaniments and syncopated rhythms.
“Darwin the Dauntless Diplodocus,” subtitled “A Mesozoic Mazurka,” intentionally adopts an old-fashioned dance form and style reminiscent of the romantic early nineteenth century, when the disciplines of paleontology and musicology were both rapidly coming into their own. That much said, Chopin never conceived a mazurka quite like this one, with its extensive use of parallel fourths and fifths, a curiously Spanish-sounding digression, and even a fleeting hint of picturesque Debussyian orientalism. For his enormous size, Darwin is a remarkably frisky dinosaur, given to gamesome antics and sudden surprises.
“Robots,” far and away the most technically demanding movement in the set, qualifies as an étude in parallel seconds of the sort that appear only intermittently in the fiendishly difficult “Scarbo” movement of Ravel’s Gaspard de la nuit. But the persistent use of this dissonant harmonic interval, which requires the use of the thumb striking two white keys in alternation with the second and third (or third and fourth) fingers, is a particularly effective means of depicting the grinding force and mechanized menace of these ominous “toys” placed under the command of Christopher’s belligerent superhero action figure and alter ego, “Chief.”
Fortunately for Christopher—and the family cat—Mother intervenes, resolved to make a clean sweep of her son’s closet, which has become an unsafe haven where he retreats to vent his frustrations and indulge in aggressive fantasies. And fortunately for them both, the Trolls, the Chocolate Bunny, and Darwin the Dinosaur have, all, either intentionally or by accident, avoided Chief’s dogged efforts to enlist them in his ruthless campaign of domestic conquest.
Christopher is an average boy who belongs to an average family living together in an average-size house in an average city.
On weekdays he goes to school, where he learns how to pass tests in reading, writing, and arithmetic so he won’t get left behind. But mostly he just gets bored.
On Sunday he goes to church, where he learns how to be good—or at least good enough not to get left behind. But mostly he just gets bored.
Saturday is Christopher's favorite day of the week because he’s free to play and doesn’t have to worry so much about passing tests or being good. Then he can spend as much time as he likes in the big bedroom closet where he keeps all his favorite toys. They’ve been waiting for him there all week and have become very restless, because without someone to play with them, toys get really bored, too!
From his uncle, who fought in the war and now has only one leg, Christopher got a very special gift on his last birthday—a talking military action figure named “Chief.”
“Some day you could command a whole army,” his uncle told Christopher with a grin.
“I want to be a real superhero just like him!” exclaimed Christopher.
From his aunt, Christopher inherited a collection of trolls. They aren’t very big and strong, so they don’t make very good action figures. They aren’t even very pretty, with their beady eyes, stubby limbs, and long fuzzy hair in strange colors. But they definitely have a mind of their own!
“Forward March!” Chief commanded them.
“No we won’t!” retorted the trolls. “We just want to dance.”
And so they did.
3. CHOCOLATE BUNNY
Christopher loves sweets, and keeps a box full of goodies in a secret place at the back of his closet where he’s sure Mother never looks. Inside the box is a large chocolate bunny left over from last Easter.
“A-ten-hut!” Chief ordered the bunny.
“I'm sorry, Sir, but I can't hear you,” the bunny replied, “because someone has just eaten my ears.”
And with that, the bunny consoled himself, grateful that he still had eyes, a nose, and a tail, then hopped merrily around the closet and back into the candy box.
4. DARWIN, THE DAUNTLESS DIPLODOCUS
Darwin the Diplodocus has no ears to nibble on and barely a thought in his tiny brain while he’s contentedly munching treetops or taking a little snooze. But he’s built like a mountain, shakes the ground like an earthquake, and makes a huge sound when he cracks his tail like a whip at the local watering hole.
“Suck in that gut and follow me!” growled Chief, who by now looked and sounded so angry that all the smaller dinosaurs scurried away.
But not Darwin. He didn't understand a word Chief had said, but cocked his head politely as if to say, “I beg your pardon?”
Now beside himself, Chief shouted to Christopher's twin robots, “Fire on the enemy!”
This time, Chief’s will was done, and the robots advanced boldly from the closet into the bedroom. Their mission? To take the entire house!
But storming recklessly out into the hall, they collided with Kitty, who was sleeping at the top of the stairs, and both robots came at once to a grinding halt.
“Mission accomplished!” proclaimed Chief in a tinny voice.
“Not quite!” interrupted Mother, as she apprehended Chief and confined him in her apron pocket. “I think it’s high time, Chris, that you and I cleaned out a certain very cluttered bedroom closet! But first,” she said with a forgiving smile, “let’s go find poor Kitty and see if she needs a little first aid.”
After he had spent some time in Mother’s custody, Chief finally admitted what a dreadful bully he had been and received a full pardon. In fact, he seemed to change so completely that the other toys elected him to be “Mr. President.”
Kitty, however, still remembers, and never sleeps on Saturdays except under the downstairs sofa!
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