nonfiction nuggets…and now for something completely different…musically

What Charlie Heard, written and illustrated by Mordicai Gerstein

Charles Ives is said to be one of the most original, experimental, daring composers in American history; an unconventional musical inventor who was far ahead of his time.  In this amazing picture book, Mordicai Gerstein manages to capture the enthusiasm, the delight, the musical dreams and quirks of this senstive soul. 

Ives was born into a musical family.  His father was a highly original character himself, and was a music teacher, trumpet player and band leader.  Thus, Charlie was immersed in music and innovation right from the get-go.  In a stroke of his own genius, Gerstein not only tells us about the musical influences in Charlie’s life, but illustrates the sounds that surrounded him and captured his fancy.  So many sounds surround us, and Charlie was attuned to them all.  These sounds — of nature, of hymn-singing, of folk tunes and parades and town meetings and off-tune violins — all these sounds found their way into Charlie’s music.

The trouble was:  no one else appreciated what Charlie was writing.  Orchestras refused to play it.  No one heard any of those jumbles of sound.  Until, quite late in his life, the rest of the musical community caught up with what Charlie had been thinking and creating.  A few performances… a Pulitzer Prize… and finally a broadcast of Bernstein and the New York Philharmonic performing his Second Symphony, brought his musical ideas to the masses.  Amazingly, Ives kept his sense of humor, his kind generosity, his own musical agenda, through all these years, while at the same time supporting his family by energetic work in his own insurance company.  Wouldn’t you like to have met his man?!

Gerstein presents a very likeable portait of Ives in his narrative, as well as in his outstanding, colorful, watercolor pictures that ring and clang and twitter and boom with sound!  An afterword tells a bit more about the composer and offers some listening suggestions.  It is tricky to write a biography of a composer when his art is his sound, but Gerstein succeeds in doing this to an unusual degree.

Here’s an Amazon link:What Charlie Heard