based on texts from Harper Lee's To Kill A Mockingbird
- 2111 | 2110 | timp+2 | celesta | hrp | mezzo-soprano + narrator | strings
- mezzo-soprano and piano
|Track I.||Prologue | Ms. Caroline||8'15|
|Track III.||Aunt Alexandra||4'30|
. . . It may be a sin to kill a mockingbird, but it was downright criminal that anyone should have missed the big concert last weekend of the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra... [The] premiere of James Grant's "Scout," [that focuses on] the 10-year old narrator in Harper Lee's novel, "To Kill A Mockingbird," was nothing short of heavenly . . . [The] chamber orchestra performed the beautiful work based on heart-rending sections of the novel... Mezzo-soprano Martha Hart sang with perfection... Either Grant wrote the work for her voice, or she was the perfect choice . . . The orchestral accompaniment showed off Grant's textural skills and the ability to express tender moments of the story, under the adept leadership of conductor Matthew Hazelwood . . .
Mary Jane Doerr
June 20, 2007
In 72 communities across the nation, twelve American novels are being celebrated in a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts called The Big Read. The program’s aim is to inspire us all to revisit this trove of great American literature and reclaim what sadly is becoming a declining past-time in America: reading for pleasure.
The lion’s share of funding from the NEA has been directed to libraries and educational institutions to sponsor panel discussion, lecture series, and public readings. However, significant funding also has been awarded to arts organizations that have applied to the NEA with innovative approaches to this worthy celebration. The Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra is one of the privileged recipients of this funding, and I was honored when executive director Dale Hull and music director Matthew Hazelwood approached me to compose a new work for the GLCO based on Harper Lee’s Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, To Kill A Mockingbird.
In approaching the creation of an orchestral work based on To Kill A Mockingbird, I first made several crucial and fundamental decisions. This new piece, to distinguish itself as a celebration of the novel and not the highly-praised 1962 film, would highlight characters and scenes from the novel that did not make it into its adaptation for the screen. Another decision was to use both a narrator and a singer to tell young Scout’s story – plenty of territory could be covered, and the use of spoken narrative would be an effective way to set the stage for song. Still another decision was to limit the scope and focus of this new work to the character of Scout herself. Any attempt to cover the complex issues of racial prejudice and injustice that serve as the core to both the novel and the film would be doomed from the start; after all, I had a mere 20 minutes to fashion a coherent story; not two hours, as did the film, nor the several days it might take to read the novel!
All of the texts used in Scout are taken from the novel and only on occasion have been slightly adapted from Harper Lee’s original text to accommodate the flow of narration and song lyric.
The story of Scout unfolds in five episodes presented without pause:
I. Prologue – In the sweltering summer of 1932, Scout introduces us to the small Southern town where she lives, Maycomb, Alabama.
II. Miss Caroline – Scout’s first day of school is anything but fun as her young and inexperienced teacher, Miss Caroline Fisher, punishes her for knowing how to read already and admonishes her not to allow her father, Atticus, to teach her anymore.
III. Zeebo – Scout and her brother Jem attend a service at the church of their black housekeeper, Calpurnia, and they witness Zeebo, the music superintendent, leading the congregation in the hymn, “When They Ring The Golden Bells.” The congregation and the minister are well aware that Scout and Jem are the children of Atticus Finch, who is defending one of their male congregants against the false charge of raping a white woman.
IV. Aunt Alexandra – Atticus’s prim and proper sister comes to visit at the Finch home to care for Jem and Scout during the trial. Aunt Alexandra is hell-bent on a mission to feminize Scout, who is predictably resistant to the notion.
V. Atticus – We discover the way Scout has learned to read at such an early age: Ever since she can remember, she has crawled into Atticus’s lap every night as he reads the newspaper aloud to her, his fingers passing beneath every syllable and word he pronounces.
My heartfelt thanks to all who have been involved in bringing Scout to the concert stage: the NEA; Dale Hull, Matt Hazelwood, and the musicians of the Great Lakes Chamber Orchestra; mezzo-soprano Martha Hart; narrator Mary Badham; my very patient wife, Elizabeth Siegfried, who was a composition widow for 50 consecutive days; and Harper Lee, whose extraordinary and timeless novel continues to move us all so very deeply.