December 02, 2010
By Ann Gibbons
T'is the most magical night of the year and children all over the
world hold their breaths - waiting. Now, a magical new rendering of
"The Night Before Christmas," a book with CD, has been released by
imagine! a Peter Yarrow imprint in time for the holiday.
Yarrow, with Noel Paul Stookey and the late Mary Travers, formed the
legendary trio, Peter, Paul and Mary and was prominent in the
anti-war and civil rights movements of the 1960s and 1970s. The poem,
written in 1823 by Clement Clark Moore, newly set to music by
Stookey, is the last recording Travers made before she died in 2009.
It is dedicated to her: "In thanks for the gift of you in our lives.
Peter and Noel Paul."
The book comes with a musical and narrative CD, with three tracks
that include Moore's beloved poem, read by Mary and set to Stookey's
music, over a special score performed by Yarrow and Stookey. The CD
also includes the trio's classic holiday favorite, "A' Soalin."
In a recent phone interview, Yarrow, who was traveling, said he's a
frequent visitor to the area. Although music is central to his life,
he has ventured into several literature-musical adventures that have
turned out to be quite successful.
Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc., an independent publisher of
children's fiction and non-fiction, acquired Imagine Publishing of
New York, a publisher of unique and eclectic books for children and
adults, in July.
Imagine was founded in 2009 by the father/son team of Charles and
Jeremy Nurnberg. The co-founders will both join Charlesbridge,
effective immediately. Charles,a former CEO of Sterling Publishing,
is vice president and publisher of the Imagine imprint. Jeremy
Nurnberg, former vice president of trade and institutional sales at
Sterling, will serve Charlesbridge as vice president of sales. The
company has grown steadily in its 26 years.
Imagine's list includes the Peter Yarrow Books imprint in partnership
with Yarrow. Books in the imprint include The New York Times picture
book bestseller, "Over the Rainbow," with a CD performance by Judy
Collins, as well as "The Night Before Christmas."
Yarrow said he and Charles Nurnberg were not certain the pairing of
poetry and music would attract the audiences they hoped. His first
imagine! imprint, "Puff, the Magic Dragon," also recorded by the trio
in 1963, sold 1 million copies, he said.
"When 'Day is Done' also sold extremely well, we knew we were on the
right track," he said. In contrast, he pointed out that CDs today may
sell only about 15,000 copies.
Yarrow said he envisioned the union of book, lyrics, music and superb
illustration as a vehicle for performers whose work is no longer
heard on popular radio anymore. "We found that people can again hear
music that has been side-barred for many years," he said. "It's
possible to find a broad, receptive audience for this kind of music."
As joyful as the three performers working on the project was, it was
also exquisitely painful. "It was Mary's farewell," Yarrow recalled.
He said she read the poem in a wheelchair with oxygen at her home in
Connecticut where they had gathered.
"Yet," Yarrow said, "delight is in her voice as she read the poem
as if it's a special secret she's sharing with listeners. We were all
moved by her quiet courage." He laughed, recalling a Traverse trait.
"We did a second recording and it clearly was second-best. Mary
laughed and said, "You know me. 'One-take Mary,'" referring to her
practice in the studio when recording with the trio.
"Noel Paul and I were her two best friends. She never would let
anyone see her when she was ill she didn't want to be a burden. We
were so pleased and touched when we got to perform again with her
even though it was the last time," he said.
On the CD, Stookey performs solo with music he created for "The Night
Before Christmas." Travers then reads the poem with Stookey and
Yarrow singing softly alongside.
Yarrow said the pairing of literature and music is significant in two
ways. First, listeners are able to again hear music without violence,
the "F" word, and disrespect to women. Second, he hopes that children
will be nurtured on songs that will enable them to become caring human beings.
He said the jingle rock that passes as music on the airwaves "is
hardly created with the purpose of creating a more caring, living and
Raising a child is more than "don'ts" and educating them is more than
teaching to the test, Yarrow said. "A child needs social, emotional
and creative inspiration to grow into strong and giving people," he said.
Yarrow said it takes about 18 months to create a book, from concept
to publication. "It's a long process," he said.
"The Night Before Christmas" is Yarrow's fourth book. His previous
books with music: "Favorite Folk Songs," Sleepy Time Songs," and
"Songs for Little Ones," some performed with his daughter, Bethanie,
are collections of 12 songs in each book.
The books are free to librarians to download at
www.operationrespect.org, an organization that aims to end teasing,
bullying and injuries to children.
Yarrow has a new book, Peter, Paul and Mary's, "I'm in Love with a
Big Blue Frog," about segregation and discrimination, as well as
"Take Me Out to the Ball Game," with singer-songwriter Carly Simon,
coming out in 2011.
"Yarrow said he does not do "signings" of books; he does "singings."
He described such gatherings as a cross between performing songs for
children in concert and a peace march.
"I love doing them," Yarrow said, adding that he's done 150-200 in
the past several years. "For me, it's a requirement to walk the walk
in the things I believe in," he said.
"The Night Before Christmas" is in bookstores now.