There are many ways to learn about a composer. We can listen to his or her music, watch programs about them on TV, look them up on the internet. We can also read BOOKS about them, and I’ve found one I think you’re going to like, a picture book, about the American composer, Marvin Hamlisch. First, I want to tell you a bit about him.
Marvin Hamlisch was born in New York City in 1944. He was an amazingly talented man, who started attending the famous arts school, Juilliard, when he was SEVEN! After he grew up, he wrote many, many songs, and he won many, many, MANY awards, including Emmys (for television music), Grammys (music), Oscars (movie music), and Tonys (theatre music). Very few people have won all four of those awards.
When I was nine, his first song to become a hit was on the radio. I can still sing most of “Sunshine, Lollipops and Rainbows!” By the time he died, a year ago — on August 6, 2012 — he had written 8 scores for theatre musicals, over 40 movie scores, (a score is all the music for that production), as well as conducting orchestras, performing in concerts and on television, on and on. You can read more about him at his official website, marvinhamlisch.us
The book I want to tell you about is the story of how he started out in music.
Author: Marvin Hamlisch
Illustrator: Jim Madsen
Publisher: New York: Dial Books for Young Readers, 2012
Genre: Picture book, narrative non-fiction
Audience Age: 5 to 12 (even though it’s a picture book, it has a great story that lots of kids will enjoy and relate to)
Themes and topics: Music, creativity, determination, biography, Marvin Hamlisch, composing music, hearing music everywhere, opportunities, self-discipline
Opening Sentences: Marvin was born to play music. He felt more comfortable on a piano bench than anywhere else. The piano was his best friend.
Synopsis: When Marvin Hamlisch was a little boy, he loved to play the piano more than anything else. He heard music everywhere, not just on the radio, but also in the rain, in the noises on the street, in the sounds of a baseball game. He was a very special boy, because he could then make the music he heard in his mind come alive through his fingers on the piano.
His parents knew he was talented, so they told him to practice hard, because he was going to have an audition to go to Juilliard, a famous school for musicians, dancers and other performers. He didn’t like practicing songs that someone else had written long ago, he liked to play his own music. And he was scared to play in front of other people. Somehow he had to find a way to be able to make his own music, while learning as much as he could. What do you suppose he did? To find out for sure, you’ll have to read the book!
Why I like this book: I like to know that even someone who became a famous musician like Marvin Hamlisch was nervous about performing – and hated to practice the piano! He’d even hide when he was supposed to practice, although he loved playing when it wasn’t practicing. It’s fun to learn special stories about famous people when they were kids, and find out they’re just like the rest of us in so many ways.
I also like the thought of hearing music in everything. Something I especially like about this book is that there’s a song at the end of it, called “The Music in My Mind.” The music was written by Marvin Hamlisch, and a man called Rupert Holmes wrote the words, which express how Mr. Hamlisch felt about music being in everything all around us. Part of it says:
The music in my mind belongs to me,
Ev’ry note I hear rings true.
And soon the world will find these sounds
And songs to be worth singing…
The best part of all is that there’s a CD of this song in an envelope on the inside back cover of the book, so that you can learn the song and sing along with the kids on the CD. That makes this book even more special!
On Marvin Hamlisch’s website, there’s a link to a video where he talks about what writing this book meant to him. I think you’ll enjoy it, and you’ll hear him play a little bit of the song.