Sunday, May 28, 2006

After all, the man did write "A Simple Song."

It warmed the cockles of my show-queen heart (and made my holiday weekend) when a gift arrived in the mail from Elizabeth: an advance (and autographed) copy of I Could Have Sung All Night: My Story, by Marni Nixon with Stephen Cole (Billboard Books, September). Nixon most famously dubbed the leading ladies of the movies "The King and I," "My Fair Lady," and "West Side Story," the last of which also had her dubbing Rita Moreno's voice in the "Tonight" quintet, because Rita's dubber was out sick!

But along with this not-as-lucrative-as-you-might-think specialty, Nixon also maintained a steady career in opera and art music. It was in this context that she first worked with Leonard Bernstein:

Two weeks after the Glenn Gould concert, I was back in Carnegie Hall with Bernstein, singing in one of his fabled "Young People's Concerts." Lenny had the innovative and wonderful notion (to which I wholly subscribe) that if we exposed children to the best that music had to offer it would enrich their lives.

Forget about "Mozart for your baby" getting the kids into Harvard. Just "enrich their lives." I wonder if we will ever again learn to treat reading for children with the same simplicity.

16 comments:

Anonymous said...

We won't treat children that way until we believe it ourselves. Americans read the way they eat. Consuming massive amounts of junk while obsessively worrying about what they SHOULD be eating and cheerfully exchanging the pleasure of this activity in penance for actually having the pleasure of it. Americans, when it comes to pleasure, are a convoluted mess. Americans should all move to Italy and work less, stop doing things that are good for them, stop trying to live to be fit into their nineties, stop worrying about what they should be and enjoy their lives more. And then maybe their children would too.

Anonymous said...

Fitting the whole of America into Italy would not be hard, although I am sure you thought this the great difficulty. They are a very obliging country as anyone knows who has asked for their spaghetti carbonara made without eggs. And if the Pope were asked nicely to move over and make a few extra pillows available, I'm sure we would be all set; elbow room would be at a premium but as anyone knows who has ridden the NY subway, one adjusts.

Elizabeth said...

Well! I'm in a more patriotic mood, having watched last night's Memorial Day concert in Washington, DC. Dianne Weist recited a tremendously moving piece by a mother who lost her son, a National Guardsman, in Iraq. While not a supporter of the war, I was glad to see the guardsmen honored for the first time at this concert.

But to respond to the point Roger, intriguingly, raised. How many of us have had a parent ask us to recommend a "harder" book for his or her child, or heard a parent lament "he never reads" about a son who reads magazines, sports columns, blogs, and graphic novels, just because he isn't reading the books a parent thinks "count." I myself was teased for reading my favorites over and over which my Dad, who read for pleasure all the time, could never understand. I guess he read novels to find out what happened, or nonfiction to learn, because that's what he enjoyed. I more liked being part of people's families or lives. (Of course, if my parents had been able to look into the future and realized that all that reading and rereading in childhood would lead to my future career, they would have left me alone. Because, to the point of this blog entry, they would have thought it served a purpopse!)

I had an interesting discussion with a colleague about this. I pride myself in editing and publishing "Kid friendly" books--things that kids themselves find accessible and enjoyable--not books adults think are handsome or well-written or on an interesting topic. He pointed out that every editor and publisher thinks of him or herself that way--no one thinks they do dull, unfriendly, or "good for children" books. But maybe some of the books I don't think have child-appeal are really good art, that could enrich a child's life. I just don't like them because personally I would find them boring. And to tell the truth, I remember being taken to a young person's concert at Symphony Hall in Boston and being a little bored, but so what? What's the matter with exposing me to something a little boring? Maybe our lives are enriched when we stretch a little, whether or not it's fun.

Anonymous said...

That's very American, Elizabeth. Oh, those Calvinists. What have they wrought.

Stella said...

When I was younger, I read voraciously. I don't know if this is usual for the child-bookworm, but my mother was forced to ground me from reading for the whole summer before third grade. I hid a flashlight and a Babysitters' Club Book under my pillow, and I would hide novels in my classroom Language Arts book, or read ahead and get scolded for it.

I wonder, in the view of people such as yourselves who really do seem to know what you're talking about, what makes a "good" children's book in the eyes of parents? Is there a major difference between the literary value of the Babysitters' Club versus some of these new Sex and the City for Tweenies?

Elizabeth said...

Usually when someone says "very American" around me it's because I'm England and showing enthusiasm for something, or I see it in a European magazine, referring to the perceived American quality of excess (too much make up, or flaunting wealth, for example). If our culture consisted of just my interests, there would be a lot more reality TV, no sitcoms except The Office, the theater would be absolutely booming with prosperity and ballet and opera would be dead. It's the passion of others that keep those arts alive, and so what? My point was, in case you missed it, maybe it doesn't hurt us to have our horizons broadened a bit from time to time, not that we need it for our own good. And how can we pick and choose only what we *think* should broaden us or our children, anyway? It's sort of like traveling with children--my friends' children spend a couple of days with me in New York and maybe in the midst of visiting FAO Schwartz and American Girl we stop in to look at the shape of the Guggenheim or the Medieval galleries in the Met, but they inevitably tell their parents about the steam that rises from the ground, the number of limos they counted or the cable car (Roosevelt Island tram) that goes outside my window.

Anonymous said...

Oh God, there's nothing the English think is a dirtier word than American. I apologise. I bet you don't even wear white shoes and gym shorts and I bet you eschew large restaurant portions and never talk too loudly or too much. We're all going to end up having to see some steam rising from the ground (or the ears of English people called American) and some opera and some comic books. I'm just saying I hope we can enjoy it all and people who are worried about what they should enjoy, generally don't. But maybe not. Maybe they too are just shining in their own little Calvinist light.

shahairyzad said...

"Americans, when it comes to pleasure, are a convoluted mess."

As opposed to the Japanese, who submit to a rigid social structure, but get drunk regularly and pay good money for schoolgirl underwear machines? Or the Saudis, who won't touch a drop of liquor or look at a woman on their own soil, but order up a glass of Scotch and ogle the flight attendants as soon as the plane leaves the ground? Or your well-balanced, know-how-to-enjoy-life Italians,who feel that a quick pinch here or a fondle there is just good clean fun?

Substitute "humans" for "Americans." Then I'll be in complete agreement with you.

Anonymous said...

Well, this seems to be just the men you have an issue with. What are the women doing to displease you?

Roger Sutton said...

I'm . . . confused. What does Europe have to do with anything? Or does asking that make me just another self-centered American? I don't think Americans have any particular corner on living or not living the la dolce vita. I'm just happy that some people who found pleasure in classical music (like Bernstein and Marni Nixon) chose to share that--as a pleasure--with young people. I think we do that with books and children as well but sometimes let the apparatus of educationalism get in the way.

I think what Elizabeth says about exposure to boredom is interesting (I also attended those Symphony Hall concerts) and I think it's a good lesson for everyone, even Italians. If you follow your Italian opera, you'll know what happens to girls who devote their lives to a whirlwind of pleasure!

Anonymous said...

Yes, and if you follow Italian Operas you'll know on a more visceral level what happens to boys who devote themselves to boredom.

Anonymous said...

Besides, Roger, hush. You're just going to get shahairyzad all worked up again.

Anonymous said...

and besides, roger, what is your point? that she would have been saved from a fate worse than death if someone had only nailed her feet to a theatre seat every sunday between one and three? Well, perhaps, if they'd nailed them closely enough together...

Anonymous said...

Roger, is there any chance we can get you to leak the Boston Globe-Horn Book winners on your blog?

Roger Sutton said...

The BGHB Awards will be chosen this weekend, and I should be able to tell you the winners next week. I'm afraid that I have no inside information to share.

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