Adventures of the Black Dot
Adventures of the Black Dot
Saint Paul, MN
Adventures of the Black Dot heralds the next wave of imaginative music for children—a decisive step beyond Peter and the Wolf. It’s that rare bird: a exuberant collaboration by top-notch artists that engages and unobtrusively instructs young audiences while displaying the daring and excitement of the best new work for adults.
Not just a vehicle for promoting access to creativity, Black Dot is about creativity. The story follows the nocturnal exploits of the pupil from a young girl’s eye—a dot with an urge to travel. Slipping away from the sleeping girl, the Dot comes upon an enchanted island populated by “clans” of strange-seeming dots (a.k.a. musical notes). At the work’s high point, the courageous Dot, filled with enthusiasm for her new friends’ art, leaps onto the wires (staves) strung above the island and starts making music—appallingly at first, but with glee and without apology. It is the kind of moment that can change a young life, proclaiming as it does that making music, rather than being reserved for a select few, is everybody’s birthright.
Most kids today are taught to consume culture, not to create it. They are virtuosos of passivity—sitting for hours in front of a small or large screen and being entertained. Black Dot, by contrast, is about activity—about seizing the moment, getting up and taking action, making and remaking one’s identity, and having fun doing it.
Grammy-winning producer Steve Barnett and engineer Preston Smith have vividly captured the theatricality and sparkle of Janika Vandervelde’s score in this debut recording. On Innova’s CD, the piece is presented twice: first with narration, then without. The un-narrated version allows the musicians to be heard more clearly, and will be valuable to teachers using the piece in their classrooms. It also invites young listeners to narrate the piece themselves, either from memory or from the companion children’s book by Judy McGuire (published by Sleeping Sea Press, Minneapolis, in 2003).
“Boisterous and at times arrestingly beautiful … McGuire shares Vandervelde’s zest and originality and adds her own unmistakable pinch of mischief .… Our three kids loved the show …. Our 10- and 7-year-olds gave it thumbs up for ‘cool music’ and ‘weird story’. The plot eluded our 4-year-old … but even without his grasping the story line, the music pulled him like a magnet.”
“From its first notes to its last double bar, Vandervelde’s score makes for great listening. It’s an economical and often surprising exploration of a unique assortment of voices, instruments, and sundry noisemakers, and the result is refreshing, compelling, and original …. Kari Margolis dreamed up the power-packed stage direction, and Tony Brown created the video treatments that sensitively enhance the story without getting in the way. The show ingeniously integrates … all these interpretive elements …. ‘Black Dot’ is a stunning triumph …. It brought music to life, imparting key musical concepts along the way, but almost parenthetically, as if by happy accident.”
- Gwen Freed, Star Tribune
“An eye-opening experience … It’s far too limiting to call this a children’s work …. This is music as sophisticated as it is entertaining. Children and adults were wide-eyed …. [Vandervelde] is successful because she does not condescend., and [she] responds to the wit of McGuire’s text with a magical score …. This was a kid-friendly event from the word go …. ‘Black Dot’ deserves to be heard again, and often.”
- William Randall Beard, St. Paul Pioneer Press
“Known as a passionate experimenter and ingenious explorer of new sonorities, a composer whose style reflects a freely inquisitive artistic personality, Janika Vandervelde is the author of more than 75 works, including orchestral compositions, chamber works, choral music, and two operas, Hildegard (1989) and Seven Sevens. While Vandervelde has been defined as an eclectic composer, it would perhaps be more accurate to say that her work in many ways reflects the protean spirit of late twentieth-century and early twenty-first-century culture. As musicologist Susan McClary noted in her discussion, in Feminine Endings (1991), of Genesis II, Vandervelde's ability to weave an asymmetrical musical tapestry of pitches and rhythmic structures reminds the listener of a crystal which changes as it turns, suggesting the paradoxical idea of timeless order in a flux.
“Vandervelde's Genesis cycle, inspired by a feminist interpretation of the idea of the life cycle, exemplifies her effort to apply minimalist techniques to an extended musical narrative. In her later works, Vandervelde adopts a more comprehensive approach, sometimes characterized as postmodern, which includes traces of various musical styles. For example, in her Ancient Echoes across the Stara Planina, Vandervelde effectively incorporates Bulgarian folk music into a finely articulated, sophisticated musical idiom. Vandervelde further expands her musical language in her opera Seven Sevens, which includes electronic elements.
“A graduate of the University of Minnesota, where she earned a doctorate in composition in 1985, Vandervelde, who is also active as pianist and conductor, has held a variety of teaching positions in Minnesota, including the post of music director at Wesley United Methodist Church in Minneapolis. In 1999, Vandervelde was appointed composer-in-residence, for a three-year period, for four important Minnesota-based cultural organizations. A dedicated musician, Vandervelde advocates a multidisciplinary conception of art, exemplified by a recent work based on women's narratives. In addition, she believes that a composer's job includes bringing music to the community.”
- Zoran Minderovic, All Music Guide