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The Cello of Mr. O

On Saturday, Jane Cutler’s children’s book, The Cello of Mr. O, will come alive. suddenlyListen (sL) is thrilled to put on this family-friendly show, geared towards kids of all ages, as well as contemplative grown-ups. For seven years, the idea has been incubating in the mind and soul of Norm Adams, Symphony NS’ principal cellist and sL’s Artistic Director. It started when his son (then in grade three) brought the book home from school. “I won’t forget it. I read it out to him and it just floored me,” says Adams. “It touches me personally on many levels because I’m a pacifist, I’m a cellist and I believe that music can really help people in so many different ways”. Saturday’s performances will demonstrate the collaborative nature of this project, from conception to delivery. Joining Adams are actor Karen Bassett, sonic/visual artist Lukas Pearse, director Theo Pitsiavas, composer Steven Naylor and educator Laura Kennedy. Adams shares how each creative component has come together to tell the powerfully moving story.

“It’s an amazing story about hardship, wartime and loss and how music can help us in times like that. It also highlights the bravery of the artist who puts himself at risk to feed the people in a musical way. Jane Cutler, the author, who I have been in touch with all these years, is very clear that it’s not set in any time or place, making it more universal. So it could take place in Europe during the Second World War or in Kosovo, Yugoslavia, Uzbekistan, Pakistan … any of these places that have conflict and how life is irrevocably changed by war. The one thing that stays the same is the music. So we’re not specific in our telling either. We’ve worked really hard to preserve the universality of the place and time. We and Jane Cutler recognize the fact that this could happen to any person at any time and it has happened to many people at many times. In the story, when the supply truck is blown up, the cellist goes out and plays. When the cello itself is blown up, the little girl asks, ‘Who will feed us now?’ I won’t give the rest away, but it’s really a fantastic story”.

“The music plays another role in our performance, which you can’t really recreate when you’re reading the story to your kids…The music that Mr. O, the cellist, plays is the music of Johann Sebastian Bach, which for cellists is music we play alone. [The original story refers to Mr. O playing Bach].Bach wrote six big suites of pieces for solo cello, so there was a huge amount of music that we could pick and choose from. So a lot of the music that I’m playing is Bach, which is really beautiful and moving, as well as universal and enduring. Playing that music with the story is pretty special. Naylor has adapted the Bach to fit into the right places. He has also composed atmospheric sounds and some transitions and connective tissue”.

“It’s been really fun working with this finished story and adapting it to figure out how it works musically and dramatically. There are times where some description can be eliminated from our text because Karen can show it. For example, she doesn’t have to say, ‘I picked up the bag’ because she can actually bend over and pick up a bag. She doesn’t have to explain everything she is doing because she can just do it and we understand. So there have been different ways that we have slightly adapted the story to make it more dramatic”.

“We’ve avoided the illustrations from the book only because they look a little like the Second World War and we wanted to try and avoid specifying a certain time. We want the story to tell itself and the images will create atmosphere and enhance the story as opposed to giving us ideas of how it turns out or what it looks like”.

"I’ve brought in the original teacher who brought me the story (my son’s grade three teacher), Laura Kennedy.  She is going to lead a discussion afterwards for the kids and the adults, digging a little deeper and answering some questions about some of the themes that are brought forward during the story. My idea is that it’s a really great show for schools, community theatres and other places for families and kids. It is so vital that we touch on these themes. The idea that everyone is touched or affected by war (it’s not just the battlefield) and how we can live with that or through that or despite that. That’s a nice message to get across to kids”.

Story by Michelle Brunet

The Cello of Mr. O
Saturday, October 27
2pm & 8pm
Bus Stop Theatre, 2203 Gottingen Street  Halifax, NS
$20 adults, $10 students, $5 under 13, $35 family (available at the door)

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