December 10, 2014 at 1:00pm

Faculty Collaboration

Photo courtesy of the Decaturian

Millikin University faculty members Dr. Stephen Frech, associate professor of English, Dr. Susan Cobb, adjunct professor of music, and Dr. Chung-Ha Kim, adjunct professor of music, have collaborated to release a CD of Camille Saint-Saëns' "Carnival of the Animals." The CD features piano performances by Dr. Susan Cobb and Dr. Chung-Ha Kim, as well as new poems written and read by Dr. Stephen Frech.

"Carnival of the Animals" is a comedic musical suite of 14 movements by French Romantic Composer Camille Saint-Saëns. Each movement represents a different animal or animals, such as a lion or elephant. The work follows a zoological program and progresses from the first movement.

The project initially started with the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra's (MDSO) Family Concert performance of "Carnival of the Animals" on April 6, 2013. As part of the performance, Dr. Frech collaborated with the MDSO and wrote new verses to accompany the music.

"Michael Luxner approached me about writing new poems for a performance of 'Carnival of the Animals' with the MDSO," said Dr. Frech. "We decided on an ensemble of poetic voices, echoing the varied musical voices in Saint-Saëns' composition. Recent Millikin graduates contributed some of the poems for that original performance. I enjoyed writing the poems so much that I decided to continue working, even after the MDSO concert, to complete the full parade of animals."

When asked about the process of accompanying poetry to the piano arrangements, Dr. Frech said he "spent many hours listening to a recording of the 'Carnival of the Animals' orchestral music. I wanted to hear the mood and character of the music without another writer's interpretation. The music feels truly varied in character – silly in some moments, ponderous in others."

Dr. Michael Luxner, music director and conductor of the MDSO said, "There is a long tradition of performing this piece with poetry, dating back to some now-classic light verses written in the 1940's. It's a timeless, charming, one-of-a-kind work of music."

The CD is now available at Millikin University's School of Music, Haines & Essick, Blue Connection, and the Steinway Gallery in Springfield, Ill. The CD is also available for download via CDBaby, Amazon MP3, and iTunes.

"When I first started learning my piano part, I was mainly focused on making sure that the virtuosic and brilliant passages were in place," said Dr. Kim. "But listening to the poems really prompted me to connect with each movement on a deeper level – I started listening for the humor and the tenderness that is present in each movement. Susan and I enjoyed our initial performance with the Millikin-Decatur Symphony Orchestra very much, so it was a wonderful experience to return to the music and create an opportunity to record a slightly different version."

To listen to samples or to purchase the album, visit

Dr. Frech added, "The poems were so much fun to write; I hope readers and listeners of the CD can sense that in the sound and sense of the poems. The fun of these animals parading together informs the rhythms and sounds of the poems; an ongoing curiosity wonders about them throughout the sequence. That combination of fun and wonder is for children and adults – these poems are intended for that wide audience."