performance starts at 33:20
Music by Sunny Knable
Based on a children’s book by Don Freeman
Premiered by the Davis High School Symphony Orchestra
With Angelo Moreno conducting
Saturday, February 12, 2022
With the Sacramento Contemporary Dance Theatre
Jacob Gutiérrez-Montoya directing
Narrated by Capitol Public Radio Host Jennifer Reason
poster designed by Gabe Villasenor
Fly High, Fly Low is based on the children’s book written by author Don Freeman. Winner of a Caldecott Honor, this heartwarming story about overcoming adversity and life’s challenges to find happiness, features Sid the pigeon who is very choosy about finding just the right home in the magnificent city of San Francisco. And find it he does, in the loop of a huge “B” in an electric sign high up on a skyscraper. Sid's view of San Francisco is without equal. So, Sid asks the lovely dove Midge to share his home. But one morning, while Midge is taking her turn sitting on two eggs, disaster strikes. A truck comes and workers take down the letters on the skyscraper one by one…
This performance will include a wonderfully entertaining narrator, Jennifer Reason, a Classical Host for Capitol Public Radio, along with live musical accompaniment by the award-winning and nationally recognized Davis High School Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Angelo Moreno, as well as dancers from the Sacramento Contemporary Dance Theatre Company Choreographed and directed by Jacob Gutiérrez-Montoya. It will also introduce students to all the different sounds and look of the many string, woodwind, brass, and percussion instruments represented in a symphony orchestra. At the end of the show, students will have the opportunity to see all these instruments up close and talk to the student musicians. This show is the perfect opportunity to inspire children to take up a musical instrument or continue to motivate them to progress as a student musician, as well as entertain audience members of all ages.
Interview with composer Sunny Knable:
1. What does this piece/story mean to you?
If you had to pick one story from your childhood, which one would be the most special to you? For me, it would be Don Freeman's Caldecott-winning children's book written in 1957, “Fly High, Fly Low”. Some audience members might remember the author's more famous story, “Pocket for Corduroy”, but this less well-known story about two pigeons in San Francisco has special significance to my family for multiple reasons. One reason is that, growing up in Sacramento, my family would frequently go to San Francisco on the weekends, walking the beaches, hearing the trolleys and exploring the unique sights and sounds of the iconic Californian city. The city was always a magical place for us, and this story represents it well even 60 years later. The second reason is that, by happenstance, the main characters, pigeons Midge and Sid, have the same name as my grandparents. Imagine if your grandparents' names were immortalized in a children's book. How cool is that?! The last reason is that since my grandparents' passing, Midge in 2006 and Sid in 2009, this book has taken on a deeper meaning. The story is about the love between the two, and that when Midge and their eggs suddenly go missing, Sid is willing to do anything to find her. He goes through one challenge after another and still doesn't find her but, in the end, it is the friendly hand of a stranger, Mr. Hi Lee, who leads him back to Midge and his newly hatched baby birds. When I read this story, I think of my own grandfather finding his wife of 50 years after being separated from her, flying high and flying low. It was a very emotional experience setting it to music, as you can imagine.
2. What is your hope that the kids in the audience feel and imagine?
I love setting stories to music because in a way, I feel that I am painting with the orchestra. From the first moments onwards, you will hear sounds of the sea, the seagulls, the fog of the Golden Gate, the flock of mocking pigeons, the flapping of wings, the chug of the wheels, the ring of the trolley's bell, and the noble themes of the good people of San Francisco who help. If I did my job well, the audience will feel wrapped up in the story from beginning to end, a story that I set to music in a kind of three-act opera: in Act I, we meet Midge and Sid as they fall in love and make a nest together in the letter 'B' of an electric sign; in Act II, their home is displaced and Sid frantically looks everywhere, finally getting knocked down on the ground from the bell of a trolley; in Act III, Mr. Hi Lee helps Sid find his love and return to Midge and his freshly hatched eggs. In the end, we as an audience are warmed by their love story, scared for Sid and then rejoice at their reunion.
3. In what ways does your music personify or portray the images and characters of the story.
The orchestra is such a great ensemble because it is capable of creating fantastic and fantastical sounds. Sometimes, I'm representing sounds literally, like when I use the Ocean Drum to create the sound of the waves or I have the Cellos play glissandi (sliding up and down) with harmonics (touching lightly on the strings) to create a seagull effect. Other times, I represent a person, place or object figuratively with a recurring musical theme, a technique frequently called a leitmotif. For example, you'll hear that every time we hear the words "San Francisco", a certain set of notes are played to represent it. Other times, I'm representing something by the instruments I choose. For example, when a human is noble, I use a solo trumpet. While the music doesn't return as it does with the leitmotif, the sound of the instrument is meant to evoke the nobility that we get from the character. Lastly, I am excited by the project because I'm trying a new technique turning words into music: every word that is in the story is represented in the melody. There are no "songs" in the traditional sense, but rather, it is as if the storyteller is singing the story to you from beginning to end. The narrator on stage has the choice to sing, say the words in rhythm or simply speak the story. It is my hope that the performers enjoy the process of learning and performing just as much as the audience enjoys hearing the story of "Fly High, Fly Low".