The famous French children's book Histoire de Babar, a fantasy about a young elephant who ventures away from his usual surroundings and is rescued by an old lady in the city, was written and illustrated by Jean de Brunhoff in 1930 and is still in print and popular. The composer Francis Poulenc completed his accompanied version of it, for piano and narrator, in 1945. In 1940, apparently the composer had been on holiday with children in the house who'd put their story book on the music stand, saying ‘‘Play it for us!’’ Poulenc then improvised at the piano, and that's how the composition originated.
This week, at the Freiman Hall (Perez Hall) at the University of Ottawa, I witnessed a performance of this by a dedicated and multi-talented young pianist, Damien Luce, from France, who also did the narration, while an impromptu illustrator, Federico Mozzi, an all too modest young man from Argentina, simultaneously drew appropriate pictures on his tablet, which then appeared on a screen for the audience to enjoy. The name of this 'Music and Beyond' event was Draw Me Some Music. "Stories, music and drawing are blended live," as the programme notes put it.
The remainder of the concert "became interactive", with the three children from the audience encouraged to come up and sit on the stage floor, next to the piano, drawing what they felt like drawing in pencil, on the sheets of paper provided. As they were doing this, the pianist gave us some more French music for children, extracts from the Mother Goose Suite by Ravel and from Debussy's Children's Corner.
A charming idea altogether. It was a shame that not more people were there.