We were invited to post this guest blog (10/9/13) on the genesis of our Askelad commissioning/book/CD project by Ingebretsen’s Nordic Marketplace in Minneapolis. They are one of the fine vendors who carry our musical retelling of the classic Norwegian folktale, Askelad and the Seven Silver Ducks, composed and illustrated by Margi Griebling-Haigh. We were happy to oblige, and thought we’d share the story on our OboeBass! blog as well.
Every book and piece of music has a story behind how it came about. The music, book and story behind the creation of the Askelad and the Seven Silver Ducks book/CD is especially fun and personal to us. We’d like to share the story with you as a dialogue, similar to how we perform the piece live and on the recording.
Carrie: So who are we? We are OboeBass! The Vecchione/Erdahl Duo, [takes deep breath] “the-world’s-only-professional-oboe-bass-duo.” I’m Carrie Vecchione and play oboe and English horn. My husband, Rolf Erdahl, plays double bass. We wear many musical hats as performers and teachers, but have focused on pursuing this career as “the-world’s-only-professional-oboe-bass-duo” since 2006. We think the oboe and bass are two great sounds that sound great together! They have complimentary timbres and ranges. The oboist has the extra versatility of being able to switch between playing oboe and English horn, it’s mellow, lower cousin; the bass provides a wide variety of sounds from plucking and bowing, to harmonics and other special effects. Whenever we play, people tell us “I would have never thought of pairing the two instruments, but it’s such a good combination of sounds!”
Rolf: One of our biggest challenges from the start was that too few composers had ever thought of pairing the two instruments. When we married, we naturally wanted to perform together, but we could only find three published oboe/bass duos. We committed ourselves to an ongoing “commission mission” that has generated some wonderful pieces. So far we and our composer friends have built up repertoire of over thirty pieces. Our 2006 debut CD “It Takes Two . . .” on the Centaur label, featured all original works for oboe/bass duo, most composed expressly for us. We’re always on the lookout for new pieces and composers. When I heard The Story of Babar the Little Elephant for oboe/English horn, bass, piano, and narrator performed by oboist/composer Margi Griebling-Haigh, her bassist husband, Scott Haigh, and friends, I couldn’t wait to rush home and tell Carrie about the piece. We loved it, added it to our repertoire, and started looking for ideas and opportunities to commission an oboe/bass duo from her.
Carrie: Though Rolf and I are still the only ones pursuing a career as “the-world’s-only-professional-oboe-bass-duo,” there are several other oboe/bass husband/wife combinations out there that occasionally make beautiful music together. Margi is a very talented oboist and composer, married to Scott Haigh, First Assistant Principal Bass of the Cleveland Orchestra. We saw from the Babar piece that Margi really knows and writes very well for both instruments, so we approached her about writing a duo piece for us. We told her we liked music with ethnic and literary influences. She came up with the Norwegian folktale Askelad and the Seven Silver Ducks as a story that could lend itself to a fun musical treatment. She thought this story worked especially well for oboe/bass duo, because she could typecast the oboe as the ducks and the bass as the troll! She also had us check with Rolf’s Norwegian cousins to make sure the old Norwegian expletives she chose were mild enough for mixed-age audiences. The Norwegians were thrilled we were doing an Askelad story, because, in their words, “Norwegians always love an underdog!”
Rolf: Together with Margi, we applied for a Jerome Composers Commissioning Project grant from the American Composers Forum, and were thrilled to be awarded this very competitive and prestigious grant to commission an Askelad piece from Margi to be premiered by us. Her description of the proposed piece from the grant application provides a good summary of her Nordic melodrama:
I intend to compose an exciting chamber music piece for Carrie Vecchione and Rolf Erdahl,
based on the Norwegian folk tale “Askelad and the Seven Silver Ducks.” The piece
would feature the three instruments available to these two players, who would also
be called upon to take turns telling and/or acting the story. The characters in the
tale, a poor but opportunistic farm boy named Askelad, the ubiquitous troll and his
horrid daughter, and various objects of burglary such as a magic quilt, a magic harp,
and those seven silver ducks, will provide plenty of colorful, silly, scary
entertainment. It should be challenging and yet idiomatic, with memorable thematic
and rhythmic materials, and should be appropriate to all kinds of audiences.
Carrie: We premiered Askelad at the International Double Reed Society convention in Provo, Utah, July 24, 2008. Margie couldn’t make it to that performance, but drove down from Cleveland to hear us perform it in recital at the University of West Virginia. Here’s a photo from that performance with Margi and the two of us in full Askelad regalia:
Rolf: When we first got the finished score from Margi, there was a charming Askelad illustration on the cover. When we learned it was Margi’s artwork, we told her we thought it would make a great kid’s book! Margi said she’d think about it. From early in the commissioning process we learned when Margi says she’ll think about something, it really means she’s going to make it happen! Margi requested we send her some photos of ourselves with a variety of facial expression and costume props that she would incorporate into her art work. Here’s a sample transformation:
Carrie: We’ve had a lot of fun performing this piece, and just last year we recorded it at MPR studios and printed Margi’s amazing illustrated book to go with it. We also recorded and released her Story of Babar the Little Elephant, collaborating with pianist Bill Eddins and narrator Steve Staruch. All the people and talents and opportunities that combined to bring these projects to fruition have made for an exciting journey!
Both of us: Uffda! We hope we get the chance to perform for you soon!
[We would like to assure our readers that, to date, no actual ducks or trolls have been harmed in the course of our presentations or in the production of this book and recording.]