The Composer Is Dead (Book & CD) ハードカバー – 2009/3/1
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There's dreadful news from the symphony hall—the composer is dead!
If you have ever heard an orchestra play, then you know that musicians are most certainly guilty of something. Where exactly were the violins on the night in question? Did anyone see the harp? Is the trumpet protesting a bit too boisterously?
In this perplexing murder mystery, everyone seems to have a motive, everyone has an alibi, and nearly everyone is a musical instrument. But the composer is still dead.
Perhaps you can solve the crime yourself. Join the Inspector as he interrogates all the unusual suspects. Then listen to the accompanying audio recording featuring Lemony Snicket and the music of Nathaniel Stookey performed by the San Francisco Symphony. Hear for yourself exactly what took place on that fateful, well-orchestrated evening.
Lemony Snicket had an unusual education which may or may not explain his ability to evade capture. He is the author of the 13 volumes in A Series of Unfortunate Events, several picture books including The Dark, and the books collectively titled All The Wrong Questions.
Carson Ellis is the illustrator of a number of books for children, including the Wildwood Chronicles, and is the author and illustrator of the picture books Du Iz Tak?, a Caldecott Honor winner, and Home. Carson lives just outside Portland, Oregon, with her family.
From the mind of Lemony Snicket (late of "A Series of Unfortunate Events" fame) with music by Nathaniel Stookey, this tale opens on the unfortunate death of the titular composer (and with a silly joke at which I freely admit I may have chuckled a bit too much, but such is the lot of a music major). A dashing and "intelligent" detective is summoned, who vows to ferret out the despicable criminal from the sections of the orchestra.
As much fun as it was to read, it was equally pleasurable, if not more so, to hear the story realized with Stookey's music. Each passage of the composition is highly idiomatic. Classical music buffs are also likely to catch homages to various works in the modern repertory. Daniel Handler (our narrator and author) also adds some delightful touches in the CD that are simply not present in the book. The song of the French horns, for example, is side-splittingly funny.
The only "complaint" I have, if you can even call it a complaint, is that Snicket departs from his "ASoUE" illustrator, Brett Helquist. Carson Ellis does a fine job with this book, but after writing in excess of 13 books with the same illustrator, a Pavlovian response is all but inevitable.
Summary: Both adults and children will find something of value in this book. A good book for one's personal library.
The book, on the other hand, is a dud. The text is just a copy of the narration from the performance, which is much too wordy for a picture book, and the humor falls flat on the page. I like the illustrations, but I hoped they'd contribute to the introduction to the orchestra by showing all of the instruments. Instead, the instruments appear in silhouette (since they are suspects in the story) and some of them only appear in a shot of the entire orchestra.
I bought this for daughter for her sixth birthday, and her reaction, unexpectedly, was sheer terror. She literally shook with fear at the suspenseful-sounding music and couldn't understand the figurative concept of the "dead" composer. I thought that she must just be too young for the book, I'll put it away for her for a couple of years from now, but she later found it and freaked out again and demanded that I get rid of it. i gave it to a coworker with an eight- and four-year-old, warned her about my daughter's reaction, and she played it for her four-year-old. . . who absolutely loved it. Go figure. I think it is a fantastic book, but not the right fit for all kids.
Now, there is quite a bit of discussion about who did it - was it the brass or the strings? Snicket brings us along through a description of each type of instrument, with appropriate background accompaniment. Now, if this had been played in music class perhaps I would have retained something. My daughter delighted in picking up the distinct sounds of each instrument. There are clearly going to be allusions that the youngsters will miss, but that is what gives this "book" universal and long-lasting appeal.
Occasionally Snicket strays from the script, which can be a bit confusing as you turn the pages - especially for younger readers. However, as there is no page turn cue, this is not a book for young readers to listen to and follow along without a more experience reader. That said, the book itself does not need to be present - it is still rich without it. And, in fact, the CD also contains an instrument only portion.
The illustrations were a bit of a disappointment at first - the colors a bit washed out, a overabundance of browns, a lot of white space. However, after a few reads, I realized that in doing such the pictures do not detract but yet complement both the words and the CD. So... for what it is worth, I think they are appropriate to the experience, even if alone they are not completely impressive.
Without revealing the conclusion, at the end of the tale, Snicket reveals the names of famous composers, which brings us back into the educational arena. I cannot say enough about this "book". Plus, consider it an audio book, a paper book, AND a music lesson all in one.
Bottom line: I have about 10 people (kids to adults) lined up who will be receiving this book from me as gifts. It is THAT good. This should be adopted as music curricula in all schools.