We illustrators enter the field because we want to engage many different kinds of people with our art and communicate big ideas in innovative ways. Ours is a mass medium by design. Thatâ€™s why weâ€™ve seen so many illustrated works find their way into lush Hollywood screen adaptationsâ€”Brian Selznickâ€™s books, or the Marvel comics movies, for example.
Novel writing is a newish medium for me, though, and I didnâ€™t necessarily envision my book, What The Night Sings , being interpreted as more than an illustrated novel. I made the words. I made the pictures. I was satisfied. What else was there?
When I was finishing up the illustrations for What the Night Sings, I listened to the audio adaptation of The Handmaidâ€™s Tale, read by Claire Danes. The audiobook incorporated music in its chapter openers in an incredibly innovative way. Music that would have been banned in Gilead, the bookâ€™s dystopian new order, was interspersed with Offredâ€™s testimony as though the audiobook itself was a mix tapeâ€”a time capsule of her experienceâ€”opening the window for the â€śfutureâ€ť listener on what life was likeâ€¦before. The audiobook itself thus became integral to the story.
When I learned that What the Night Sings would be made into an audiobook, I wanted to take advantage of the format on its own terms. I saw an opportunity to bring out a part of the book that was important for the readerâ€™s engagement: the music that kept Gerta alive through the Holocaust. I had created a Spotify playlist to accompany the readerâ€™s experience, but I wanted to go further.
So I asked pianist John McArthur and violist Yumi Oshima to contribute music for the chapter openers. I was able to be in studio for their performances, and to give them specific direction from the charactersâ€™ points of view. John McArthur dug especially deep into the characters, bringing in several interpretive possibilities, even to simple piano pieces like Schumannâ€™s Kinderszenen. Yumi played some of Gertaâ€™s repertoire on a Baroque viola, which drove home the comparison of the viola to the human voice.
I was also able to be part of the audition process for the narrator of What the Night Sings. Whoever we chose would have to be a rare unicorn (and yes, we did use that word when searching): a young-sounding actor, with the ability to create different character voices, read in several languages (German, Polish, Yiddish, Hebrew, French), and sing Mahler and Bach competentlyâ€”but also with the raw quality of a young teen, one whose suffering came through in the singing. We found our mythical creature in Deb Grausman.
Multidisciplinary and collaborative art-making has always been part of my career as an illustrator, writer, and musician. (Heck, I even danced and actedâ€”badlyâ€”through my teens.) Projects like this are a dream come true, when not only can you see your vision come to life from a different angle, but do it with such enjoyable, talented people along the way.Listen to a clip from Vesper Stamper‘s debut audiobook, WHAT THE NIGHT SINGS: