What happens when a pair of music professionals set out to create a CD to share with their kids? In the case of composer Luna Pearl Woolf and soprano Lisa Delan, they enlist author Cornelia Funke, actor Jeremy Irons, and Mirada Studios to help them turn their vision into a multimedia storybook and interactive iPad app. The result is Angel Heart, a CD in mini-hardcover packaging being released September 24 by Oxingale Records. An app is set to follow in early 2014.
On the recording, an original Funke story narrated by Irons is woven throughout a collection of songs, both traditional and new, and a score composed by Woolf. The central tale stars a girl who embarks on a nighttime quest with an angel who helps heal her broken heart.
Several years ago, Woolf and Delan, who had collaborated on previous music projects, discovered that “we had the same idea at the same time; we wanted to create a lullaby album for children and parents that crossed the boundaries between classical and other types of music,” Delan said. Unbeknownst to each other, both artists had pictured recording their music with cellist Matt Haimovitz (who is Woolf’s husband, and with whom they’d both worked) and his ensemble, Uccello, which consists of young cellists from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music. The two women joined forces on the project for Oxingale, the independent label founded by Haimovitz and Woolf.
“We spent about two years curating music before we agreed that the series of songs needed a story,” Delan said. “We needed a literal story, not just a metaphorical one, as a unifying factor.” Woolf concurs: “We always understood that even though we had songs that encompassed folklore and lullabies, we wanted to add something original.”
Delan, whose children were great admirers of Funke’s novels, thought the author’s writing would be a perfect fit for the music. She emailed the author via her Web site. “It was one of those crazy, magical projects,” Funke said. “They sent me some of the music and my first reaction was: ‘It’s about everything – love, death, being a mother, all the big things in the whole human experience. How can I connect those pieces?’ ”
On the other end of the correspondence, Woolf recalled, “The first note we got from Cornelia said ‘Hmmm.’ ” But Funke, an ardent classical music fan, was enchanted by what she had heard, as she explained to PW. “So many of the pieces were so visual, and hauntingly beautiful,” she said. “I thought, ‘You will never forgive yourself if you don’t do it.’ ”
Music, Words, and Images
In February 2011, Woolf and Delan met with Funke in the author’s garden writing house at her Los Angeles home. “She told us that classical music is a big part of her life,” Woolf said. “We told her about the textures we used and described the mood we were going for with the 16 songs we had chosen.”
By all accounts the three women effortlessly made a strong creative connection. Funke soon locked herself away in the writing house and immersed herself in the music. Three days later she had completed the story. “It came so easily, as if I had plucked an apple from a tree,” she said. “It’s also the very first story that I wrote in English, not in German first, so it has been a kind of baptism.”
Delan and Woolf were thrilled with the text. “The rhythm of the words was perfect,” said Woolf. “She is a musical person and she immediately grasped what I was trying to communicate.” The bulk of the music recording took place during various sessions throughout 2011, and Jeremy Irons, who came to the project via a casting agent connection, recorded his narration in summer 2012. “He was on our wish list,” Delan said, “because we thought the timbre of his voice would be just right.” Months of editing, mixing, and fine-tuning followed, with a final mix taking shape earlier this year.
Though they are pleased by how the songs work together with Funke’s words, similar to the way illustrations pair with the text of a picture book, Delan and Woolf also sought to bring a visual element to the project. They asked Funke if she would approach Mirada Studios, the team behind her MirrorWorld app, which was released in April.
According to Mirada CEO Javier Jimenez, the project was a good fit for the studio. “It’s a way to continue our mission of defining new ways to create digital storytelling and digital publishing,” he said. “And it’s tied to another aspect of our business, in that we do music videos. Angel Heart fits into that crossroads of music and technology.” Andy Merkin, producer for special projects and transmedia for Mirada, said that the app “is not a spectacle, but will play into a child’s imagination.” He believes the hook for kids is the ability to “experience storytelling and music creation in a new way, on a mobile device.”
A team of Mirada’s designers and illustrators created the digital artwork that appears in the app and the small hardcover CD book. Funke, who donated her story to the project, said she has queried her U.S. and German publishers but that there are currently no plans to create a traditional picture book version. She appreciates that “[book] publishers are in a difficult situation right now” when it comes to acquiring outside-the-box works for print. “It’s a difficult and uncommercial project,” she said of Angel Heart. “But to work with people who have such a passion for music was a wonderful experience for me.”
Woolf, Delan, and musicians from the recording will be joined by local children’s choirs to perform Angel Heart live on October 6 in Berkeley, Calif., at Cal Performance’s Hertz Hall, and on October 21 at Carnegie Hall’s Zankel Hall. These multimedia family concerts – replete with illustrations on screen, costuming, and lighting and stage design – provide a way to “make the music more accessible,” said Delan. And Woolf noted that through the CD and the live shows, “We’re trying to bring out things that make you feel good about music.” Plans are to work with other local children’s choirs as Angel Heart’s creators bring the tour to school programs as well.