Raised on a farm in Pleasant Garden, North Carolina, Anna Harwell Celenza spent her childhood in lots of open space, on horseback, and in the woods. Her interest in music manifested itself in the first grade, when she began taking piano lessons. Celenza switched to the cello a few years later, but with no music program at her small, local school, she and her mother went to Greensboro, where she was given private weekly lessons at the university.
"Playing cello was wonderful," said Celenza. "I loved the mellow sound and being part of a large orchestra was really thrilling." By the time she reached junior high school, she included drums in her repertoire so that she could play in the marching band, despite criticism from the band director that drums were not ladylike. "Playing the drums was a lot of fun," Celenza says, "but when I went to college I gave them up. The cello was my real love." A trained musicologist, Anna used her academic background for her first juvenile book, The Farewell Symphony, the story behind a Haydn symphony.
"When I was in grad school, I did a lot of babysitting," explains Celenza. "Parents would often ask me to teach their kids something about classical music—that's when I started telling stories like The Farewell Symphony." In her spare time, Celenza began teaching a music history course for local children, but soon found the children's literature shelves sorely lacking in books dealing with actual pieces of music. Most music books for children focus on a famous composer, whereas Celenza wanted to tell the story behind the music itself. Finally, she decided to write her own book to fill this gap, researching original sources in Central Europe and consulting Haydn experts.
Her research into musicology has taken her to various countries throughout Europe, including the Netherlands, Belgium, Denmark, and Germany. For a time, she worked as a translator in the last two countries, before becoming an assistant professor of musicology at Michigan State University in East Lansing. Though she has written many scholarly articles for journals and books, Celenza never forgot the joy she felt in telling her babysitting charges stories of great pieces of music and how they were composed.
Celenza is busy working on further titles about individual pieces of classical music geared for young children. "Teaching children is wonderful," Celenza noted in an interview. "Music really captures their imaginations, and they always have such intriguing questions." She believes that "listening to the music becomes easier when they can see the surroundings in which it was created."
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