September 18, 2019
One-Dog Canoe: A Q&A with composer Daniel Nass
Over four decades, Kinder Konzerts have introduced thousands of children to classical music and given many their first experience at Orchestra Hall.
On September 28, 2019, FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra celebrated the 40th year of Kinder Konzerts with the world premiere of One-Dog Canoe, a new commissioned work by Minnesota composer Daniel Nass with the text of Mary Casanova’s beloved children’s book One-Dog Canoe read by narrator Katie Condon. As with all Kinder Konzerts, a chamber ensemble of Minnesota Orchestra musicians will perform the music, bringing their talent and rapport with audiences of all ages to the Orchestra Hall stage.
Composer Daniel Nass answered a few of our questions about this exciting project.
How did you get into composing, and what are some favorite past projects?
I dabbled in some (not so good) songwriting in my teen years in various garage bands, but didn’t truly try “composing” until I was a junior at St. Olaf College. I changed my major to composition and music theory the next semester. My favorite pieces I’ve written are works that, as One-Dog Canoe does, tell some sort of story, like my Hannah’s Grave (about a supposedly haunted area in central Minnesota) and Katla the Hag and Her Magic Britches (about an alleged witch who owned magic pants that allowed one to run as fast as the wind without getting tired).
Can you summarize the story of One-Dog Canoe?
One-Dog Canoe is the story of a little girl setting off on a trip with her dog in a little red canoe. As she paddles along, she meets a number of animal friends who also want to take a ride in the canoe. One by one, each animal she encounters asks if they can hop in with her and her dog, and eventually—spoiler alert—the canoe reaches maximum capacity, and the canoe capsizes, sending the girl, her dog, and all the animals spilling into the water. Once they bail out the canoe and dry off, the girl and her dog paddle off and wave goodbye as the Northern Lights appear in the evening sky.
Which parts of your musical experience helped prepare you for this project?
I feel that my experience in working with various forms of theater and dance helped a great deal. Composing can be a very solitary existence at times, and while that can be a huge plus once in a while, I thrive in areas of collaboration—whether it’s working with someone on an original project, or using something an artist has created as a jumping-off point for my own work.
Besides reading the book, how did you go about preparing and composing One-Dog Canoe?
Cliché as it may sound, a big part of my process was spending time alone in nature and simply “being.” Listening. Not necessarily listening for sounds of the animals that appear in the book, but sounds of nature in general. You’ll find in the piece that much of my music doesn’t always try to mimic the sound of a particular animal, but it will try to depict the way an animal moves, or the perceived mood of an animal. For example, there’s a bear who appears in the story, and I chose to depict that bear as happy, curious, and in my head, full of honey (in fact, the performance indication I use for the “bear section” is “lumbering, drunk on honey”).
What were the most challenging parts of this project?
The biggest challenge was knowing that I was writing music to be performed by some of the best musicians in the country, if not the world. It’s a ton of pressure! I wanted to create things that were both fun to play and fun for the audience (children, in particular) to hear, but that would also showcase the huge talent of these performers. I will say, it’s also been a huge challenge waiting for that first rehearsal, and finally hearing the sounds produced by live instruments rather than in my head.
Have you had a chance to connect with Mary Casanova, the author of One-Dog Canoe?
We’ve connected on social media, but haven’t had the chance to meet in person yet (though I look forward to meeting her at the premiere!). But I’ve definitely spent a significant amount of time digesting the book and its wonderful illustrations by Ard Hoyt.
What are some of your other recent and upcoming composing projects?
I have two other big projects happening at the moment. One, I’m collaborating with Sod House Theater and Black Label Movement on an outdoor/immersive experience called Swede Hollow Ghost Sonata, which explores the history of St. Paul’s Swede Hollow neighborhood. Two, I’m writing a new work for Boston’s Hub New Music titled Sauvons le mini-cheval (“Let us save the mini-horse”).
For more information on FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra Kinder Konzerts, visit https://friendsofminnesotaorchestra.org/overview.