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Marvin’s Magical Music

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The Man Who Knew His Way Around a Musical Note

Ronna Mandel reviews a new picture book written by the late Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Golden Globe and Tony-award winning composer Marvin Hamlisch.

Hamlisch, who passed away unexpectedly on August 6th, was a huge talent. I know because I had the great fortune to see him perform during his tenure as principal Pasadena Pops Orchestra conductor. Not only was he a consummate musician, but he was a highly entertaining figure with his self-deprecating humor and perfectly timed delivery.

When I received  Marvin Makes Music ($17.99, Dial, ages 6-8) written by Marvin Hamlisch and released posthumously earlier this month, I realized he left a most wonderful gift for young readers – his own story of how he felt and heard the music inside his head and all around. “In the park, other people watched the birds. Marvin listened to their songs.” If that isn’t the essence of Hamlisch, I don’t know what is?

Growing up in New York, Hamlisch was pushed by his musician father to practice his piano, though not in a mean way. Mr. Hamlisch Sr. came across as nurturing and proud. And while the young and extremely talented lad would have preferred playing more modern songs or his own compositions, his father urged him to train to the classic composers. Clearly Hamlisch’s parents knew they had a child prodigy in the family and it wasn’t long before his parents lined up an audition at Juilliard, the renowned Manhattan school for drama, dance and music.

The picture book, with fabulously expressive illustrations by Jim Madsen, centers around the day of the big audition and Hamlisch’s nervousness. His butterflies were compounded by an itchy suit his mother had purchased for the special occasion so he wore some comfy pajamas underneath!  That kind of personal recollection worked to make this story come alive for me. Plus knowing the fame that would follow for young Marvin (one of the youngest students to be accepted at Juilliard) also helped me want to read on.  A bonus for readers is the included CD recording of “The Music In My Mind,” an original song from Marvin Hamlisch and Rupert Holmes.

Parents, if you’ve got a child reluctant to practice piano, read them this story, play the CD and watch what happens!

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