Pianist Sarah Hagen is bringing a unique show to Quesnel next week that will combine classical music and the story of a beloved elephant.
Hagen, who is currently based on Prince Edward Island, is performing a classical music concert featuring the story of Babar the Elephant Wednesday, Oct. 16 as part of the Quesnel and District Community Arts Council (QDCAC)’s Children and Family Concert Series. Her show will feature artwork by local elementary school students.
Hagen says she probably started doing this Babar show about 10 years ago.
“There’s this fantastic piece of classical music by a man named Francis Poulenc and he set The Story of Babar — which was written by Jean de Brunhoff — [ to music]. He took pieces of the story and made little musical interludes, and it’s so beautiful,” said Hagen. “People often perform it just like that, with a narrator and the piano music, and it’s also very beautiful. But a few years ago… I thought ‘what if I worked with a classroom, and the kids also made a giant storybook to go along with this?’”
Hagen will visit the elementary students Tuesday, Oct. 15. Each child is given a sentence from the story, and then Hagen performs the work in the classroom, and as the students are listening to the performance, they draw a picture to go with their sentence, which could be something like “The wedding of Babar and Celeste.”
The images will be projected during Wednesday night’s performance.
“It’s beautiful every time,” said Hagen. “It blows me away. Twice it’s happened where whoever got that line, “the wedding of Babar and Celeste,” twice it’s happened the child has drawn a coffin. I realized they probably got mixed up between wedding and funeral. So funny. I don’t edit at all — whatever they draw, that’s what goes up there.”
Hagen says she likes working with Grade 5 students because that seems to be the age that this resonates.
“They understand what the project is, and they also have some skills to really put something up there,” she said.
During the concert, Hagen narrates the story, photos come up as the lines come in, and Hagen performs musical interludes.
“It’s so exciting for kids to have their work shown in that way,” said Hagen. “And also, it looks good. It’s not patronizing. It really looks good. That was important to me from the beginning.”
When she walks into a classroom to start this project in a new community, Hagen is always excited.
“I think I get wrapped up with them every time,” she said. “There’s some huge realization about creativity that happens. Mostly, it’s just fun. It’s fun to have music in the classroom and create something kind of quickly actually.
“It’s fun to have projects that happen in an afternoon and then go on stage the next night. Probably, my favourite part is at the end, I photograph everything and I go back to my hotel room and put it into the PowerPoint, and it’s so fun to really have time to look at the drawings and to notice what part of the story really resonated with the children. I find really interesting. There’s lots of animals in the story, and I’m always surprised by which animal they really fixate on. Also, it’s a story mostly about elephants, and elephants are hilarious. They’re not easy to draw; but it’s so fun. There’s often discussion about ‘how do you make it look like an elephant’ — I love that part too.”
When she comes to Quesnel, Hagen will also premiere a new story about two butterflies set to music by Robert Schumann.
“It’s a piece of music that I’ve played for 25 years maybe, and I had such a strong story in my mind, but there are no words to the music of course,” said Hagen. “I just wanted to bring that story to words because I think it will help, not just children, but I think it will help adults be able to be inside the music in a different way.”
Hagen will be working with two different classrooms in Quesnel for the Babar and butterflies stories.
“It’s just all so exciting to have those elements in one place, and also for the children’s artwork to be honoured in this way, I think that’s what really resonates for both the children and their parents and for anyone coming, I think anyone would come to this who didn’t even have a kid’s artwork in it, and they would really be drawn into it,” she said.
Hagen, who describes getting to share her love of classical music with people as “a dream come true,” has performed in concert halls and been heard on broadcasts throughout North America and Europe. As a First Prize winner in the 2013 Bradshaw and Buono International Piano Competition, she was awarded the opportunity to perform solo at New York City’s Carnegie Hall in May 2013. She was Ontario Contact’s 2017 Artist of the Year and the BC Touring Councils’ 2015 Artist of the Year.
“In my house, everyone had to learn how to swim and how to play piano — those were the rules,” said Hagen. “I think it was in me from the moment I was born. I just felt there was my place, and I didn’t think twice.”
“I love that it’s a different type of beauty,” she continued. “It’s a type of music that people listen to in silence, and I think that increasingly, there’s need for that, to be listening to music collectively, in one space together. I think it’s important, it resonates with people, particularly in turbulent times.”
Hagen performs Wednesday, Oct. 16 at 6 p.m. at the Chuck Mobley Theatre at Correlieu Secondary School. Tickets are $10 each or $40 for a family of five and $5 for each additional person. QDCAC Children’s and Family Concert Series season tickets will also be available for $32 for four shows.
Tickets are available at Bo-Peep, Circle “S” Western Wear, the Quesnel Visitor’s Centre, the Quesnel Arts and Recreation Centre and at the door.
There will be pizza before the show, starting at 5:30 p.m. for $2.
For more information about the QDCAC concerts, visit quesnelarts.com.
To learn more about Sarah Hagen, visit sarahhagen.com.