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Classical 101

World premiere of Rocco Di Pietro's 'The Children's Journey'

Kathleen Supové playing a grand piano
publicity photo
Courtesy of the artist
Pianist and contemporary music specialist Kathleen Supové

How does a child navigate the hardships and heartaches of a world run by adults?

Columbus composer Rocco Di Pietro grapples with this and other questions about the dark side of childhood in his piano work The Children’s Journey. Acclaimed pianist and contemporary music specialist Kathleen Supové will perform the world premiere of The Children’s Journey in “NEXT DOOR” on the New Music at Short North Stage series. The concert is Tuesday, November 15 at 7 p.m. in the Green Room of the Garden Theater.

The free concert is supported by Johnstone Fund for New Music and will also feature works by Randall Woolf, Erin Rogers, Mari Kumura and Rahilia Hasanova.

Di Pietro’s inspiration for The Children’s Journey, which he composed for Supové, comes from his own childhood and from years working in prisons, serving as a social worker and teaching. In the titles of some of its movements, the work also evokes Robert Schumann’s piano works inspired by children, Album for the Young and Scenes from Childhood.

But unlike many musical works for or inspired by children, The Children’s Journey doesn’t sugarcoat the harsh realities of being a kid. Instead, Di Pietro’s work highlights the dangers that befall—and often wound—children in their family homes and in the world beyond.

“The idea of childhood is something very, very fragile,” Di Pietro said. “You’re dragged along by the adults, and you have to make the best of it.”

Black-and-white headshot of composer Rocco Di Pietro
Courtesy of Rocco Di Pietro
Composer Rocco Di Pietro

At its essence, The Children’s Journey is a commentary on the disparity between the ideal of childhood as an oasis of innocence and security, and the broken homes, cyberbullying and other crises many children today are forced to confront before they are emotionally equipped.

“In some ways, children seem so sheltered today. But on the other hand, there’s so much more terrible stuff that they could potentially be exposed to,” Supové said. “So in some ways kids seem very young, but in other ways, I think that they almost don’t get a childhood, they’re so pressured to do other things.”

Over the suite’s five movements, The Children’s Journey charts a child’s perilous trek from the playground to deep longing for a place of stability. The suite’s first movement, “The Playground,” evokes the spikes and barbs of what Di Pietro calls “a toxic playground” in a grotesque and dissonant musical mockery of a well-known nursery tune.

The child’s experience in a broken family brings its own dangers in the second movement, “Roaming among the Cuckoos.” Di Pietro gives voice to the child’s first experience of loss in the suite’s third movement, “First Loss, Inner Flight,” which evokes a movement on the same subject in Schumann’s Album for the Young.

“By the time (the child) gets to his first loss, he experiences inner flight,” Di Pietro said. “If it’s a traumatic first loss, the inner flight might be really extreme – the inner flight to music, possibly. The inner flight to art. Or the inner flight to drugs. It can go many ways.”

With all its perils and vicissitudes, the child’s journey amounts in his mind to “A Curious Story.” The accumulation of distressing experiences in a world adults control leads the child in the final movement, “Hospitality Dream (About Strange Lands and Peoples),” to long for a place of stability. In The Children’s Journey, that stability proves elusive.

“At last, the child arrives with his dream of hospitality among strange lands and peoples and is met with a rude, if not deadly, awakening,” Di Pietro said.

The Children’s Journey might sound dark – and it is. For what child hasn’t feared the literal and metaphorical darkness of a confusing and violent world? The suite is also scary, as a child’s journey through the world can be the harrowing stuff of children’s fairy tales from every age and culture.

But amid the darkness of the journey is also what remains of childhood innocence, which at any age brings its own special power.

“This journey,” Di Pietro says, “is about the never-ending capacity for hope.”

Pianist Kathleen Supové performs the world premiere of Rocco Di Pietro’s The Children’s Journey Tues., Nov. 15 at 7 p.m. in the Green Room of the Garden Theater on the New Music at Short North Stage series.

Jennifer Hambrick unites her extensive backgrounds in the arts and media and her deep roots in Columbus to bring inspiring music to central Ohio as Classical 101’s midday host. Jennifer performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the Civic Orchestra of Chicago before earning a Ph.D. in musicology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.