A piece of Canton history, and an amazing new piece for Canton


Callum’s preview of A Very Canton Christmas, featuring A Secret Gift

I really look forward to writing the blog, but when I start, I usually feel really overwhelmed because there’s so much I want to talk about. I usually have so much I want to write about that I don’t know where to start, and I’m afraid that after I write about one thing, I might forget something else. This is definitely one of those times, and you will see why.

My dad and I went to two rehearsals for the Canton Symphony’s Christmas concert and Young People’s concerts. The first rehearsal on Tuesday night was really cool because I got to hear the new piece written by Eric Benjamin called “A Secret Gift” for the first time. Mr. Benjamin wrote the piece based on a book called “A Secret Gift,” by Ted Gup. The orchestra wasn’t there that night, so a pianist played all the orchestra parts. One thing that’s unique about this piece is that it also has a narrator, a chorus, and actors or speakers. All the actors were there on Tuesday night, and my dad and I know some of them, like Mr. Kenney, who is the Director of Education at McKinley Museum. I think he does a great job. There was a time when he gave a tour, that I went on, to the basement of the McKinley Monument. It was really cool and sort of creepy. Another is Mr. Orin, who is really cool, and he is also known, at least to me, for his funny and awesome handshakes. In this piece, he does an advertisement for a Hoover vacuum called the “Hoover Deluxe.” It’s really funny, and he does a great job. And then Mr. Workman, who is also the Stage Manager, also does a great job talking about Hoover’s new and improved advertising for 1933. Rachel Waddell, who is the assistant conductor of the Canton Symphony and the conductor of the Canton Youth Symphony, is conducting this piece in the concerts and in the rehearsal. In this rehearsal, they didn’t have Ted Gup (the author of the book) there to narrate, so instead they had Mr. Benjamin, the composer, be the narrator for this rehearsal.

I like how in the beginning of the piece, they do a very brief part of “A Christmas Carol.” Mr. Kenney played Scrooge’s nephew. The study guide (here) said that Mr. Kenney plays Fezziwig, but my dad and I thought in the rehearsal that he was Scrooge’s nephew. I have always loved it, in a Christmas Carol, when Scrooge says “BAH HUMBUG!” The actor did a great “bah humbug” in the rehearsal, and if anybody knows a good bah humbug, it’s me. Because in first grade, I used to say it so much that my teacher banned the words “bah humbug” from our classroom, so that they could never be used again. Another phrase she banned was “It’sa me, Mario!” because I used to say it so much, since Mario video games were my favorite. I’ve also always loved “A Christmas Carol,” and my favorite version is with Patrick Stewart. A couple other favorites are the Muppet version and the one with Jim Carrey.

There is a part in this piece where a woman from the chorus sings a song that my mom used to sing to me a lot when I was a baby. It’s a lullaby called “All the Pretty Little Horses.” The study guide talks about it, too. Mrs. Boyer, the orchestra’s Director of Education and Community Engagement, always does an amazing job with the study guides. I really liked reading this one. You should really check it out: A Secret Gift Study Guide  Mr. Benjamin also uses the Christmas carol “God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen” a lot in this piece. That reminds me of a part in my favorite Christmas Carol with Patrick Stewart. Scrooge (Patrick Stewart) goes into a church near the end, and everybody is singing that song. He starts singing a little bit, and then he starts to like it. So then he sings with the rest of the people with a big smile on his face. I really love that part in that movie. Here’s that part on YouTube: Patrick Stewart in A Christmas Carol

The study guide also gives the prices of some stuff in 1933, which is when the story behind “A Secret Gift” took place. Here are a few. A heater was $7.75. A vacuum cleaner was $30. A washer was $67.50. A new Chevy sedan was $600 to $1,000. One gallon of gas was $0.15. 10 bars of soap were $0.32. One quart of regular milk was $0.25. A loaf of bread was $0.05. A shirt was $0.65. Shoes were $3.50. Socks were $.50. A sweater was $1.00. 3 light bulbs were $0.25. A fridge was $99.50. A stove was $7.95, and so on. So $1.00 was worth a lot more back then, and for somebody with no money, getting $5.00 was pretty nice. But now, if you get five bucks, most of it would be spent on a gallon of gas. (If only gas was still $0.15 now, that would be nice.)

Then there was another rehearsal the next night, but this time with the chorus and orchestra and everyone else. I think it’s amazing that they had only one rehearsal with the orchestra and chorus before they played the Young People’s Concerts on Thursday morning, and then no other rehearsals after that. Ms. Waddell did an amazing job of rehearsing all the music in such a short time. I wish I could have gone to one of the concerts on Thursday morning, but unfortunately Lake didn’t go, so I couldn’t see it. I think Lake Middle School should really try to go see those. They would be a great inspiration for the band, choir, and especially their orchestra. There was a woman who was speaking in the piece, and then, when she said that they lost a baby boy, the music suddenly became minor. At one part, there was blues or jazz in the background, which was supposed to be music from a ballroom, during a dance marathon. A dance marathon was something people would do during the Great Depression to try to make money. They would dance so long that they would usually fall asleep. This whole book and piece is about the Great Depression, but it isn’t the only book Ted Gup wrote. One of the other books he wrote was about the CIA, which I hope to read someday. I had an awesome uncle who worked in the NSA. He was really, really cool. He played the trumpet and a bunch of brass instruments, and other instruments like a didgeridoo, a banjo, guitar, and keyboard. One time, he gave me a spy book with a decoder ring. Uncle Mark would always call me C-man. I loved him so much and I really miss him.

In the beginning of the second rehearsal, the feedback on the microphones was horrible. There were about 15 microphones there, because the people speaking had to be amplified for the audience to hear them. They fixed it though, so that was good. All the acting was really good, and I really enjoyed it. My dad and a few other people recorded some lines, too, and they are going to play those in the concert. Speaking of reading lines, Ted Gup did a great job of narrating. The study guide says he plays guitar, and that’s good because if he couldn’t read music, it would be pretty hard for him to know when to come in. Mr. Benjamin told me and my dad at the rehearsal that he is a composer, not a proofreader, and so he didn’t proofread the music well enough. So when the orchestra played it for the first time, he found some misprints, and it took a long time in rehearsal to fix them. So he seemed really frustrated with himself. He is a really nice man, and I got to interview him about writing this piece and being a composer. Here’s the video:


When the chorus sings, they have the words projected on the wall in the back of the stage and they also project pictures of the Great Depression in Canton and Massillon. I really like the acting and narrating in this piece. It makes the piece even more unique, in a good way of course. I really love this piece, it is very beautiful, and very emotional. There is also a really creepy verse that the chorus sings really slow, low and minor. The words are “The Great Depression has entered our souls like fog.” Mr. Benjamin did an amazing job writing this piece, and I can’t wait for everyone to hear it on Sunday. The Stage Director, Craig Joseph, also does a great job directing. I got to meet him at the rehearsal, and he’s really nice and even said he reads my blog. I was really surprised when he said that.

“A Secret Gift” is not the only piece they are going to play in the concert. On the first half, they are also going to perform some Vivaldi, some John Rutter, some John Williams (from Home Alone), and a sing-along. They also played a movement from Claude Baker’s piece, the one that was premiered last season, at the Young People’s Concerts, but they are not going to play it at the concert on Sunday. The John Rutter is very beautiful, and Britt Cooper, the chorus director, is conducting it. They’re playing part of Vivaldi’s Gloria, and it’s really beautiful. I can tell it’s Vivaldi because it has that Vivaldi sound that I don’t really know how to explain. They also played some music from Home Alone. We watched it a few nights ago, and it’s one of my favorites. I love the music, of course, because it’s by John Williams, who is an absolute genius.

“A Secret Gift” was a great book to write a piece of music about, and I think that Mr. Benjamin wrote a masterpiece. I hope every seat in Umstattd Hall is taken on Sunday, so as many people as possible can enjoy this concert.

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