‘Carnival of the Animals’ at St. Gregory’s

Matthew Odell, Adelaide Roberts and Marie Duane. (Photos Courtesy of Adelaide Roberts)

Matthew Odell, Adelaide Roberts and Marie Duane. (photos Courtesy of Adelaide Roberts)

Elephants are useful friends,
Equipped with handles at both ends.
They have a wrinkled moth-proof hide.
Their teeth are upside down, outside.
If you think the elephant preposterous,
You’ve probably never seen a rhinosterous.

Ogden Nash’s salute to the elephant is one verse of the narration he wrote to accompany Camille Saint-Saëns’ Carnival of the Animals, which will be performed, along with Francis Poulenc’s The Story of Babar the Little Elephant, on Sunday, September 27, at 3 p.m. at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church in Woodstock. The concert kicks off a new season of the Young Artists Music Series, a program that was started in 2005 to bring talented students from the Julliard School to St. Gregory’s, giving them the chance to perform in an unfamiliar but welcoming venue.


Two Julliard professors, Adelaide Roberts and Matthew Odell, will duet on a single piano, with narration read by Woodstocker and church member Marie Duane. There is no charge for admission, but donations are invited in order to fund the forthcoming student concerts. The first of this season’s young performers will be a baritone who is recruiting an ensemble of singers to perform scenes from operas in November. “He has sung at St. Gregory’s before,” said Roberts. “He keeps asking when he can come back.”

The exact date of the November performance has not yet been pinned down because students are still working out their schedules. “It’s not easy to set up dates,” said Duane. “The students have so many other commitments — exams, performances, auditions, competitions.”

It’s important for students to practice performing in different kinds of settings. “It’s one thing to learn something and perform for your teacher or in your living room,” said Roberts. “It’s very different to perform in front of people. Each performance is different, according to the venue and the audience. You have to adjust psychologically.”

After a winter break, monthly concerts will resume in February. For one presentation, Roberts has lined up a top-notch violinist who flies down from Canada each week to attend Julliard. Another concert will feature a young cellist, possibly accompanied by his sister on violin.

Julliard, located at Lincoln Center, is one of the top music schools in the country, admitting only the cream of the crop. Students aged eight through 18 have come to St. Gregory’s to perform. The series was started eight years ago, when St. Gregory’s former priest, Charles Dupree, told Duane he wanted to establish a concert program for young people. Duane had become friends with Roberts, her daughter’s piano teacher, decades before. The pianist and her late husband, Edgar Roberts, performed together internationally, four hands on either one or two pianos. Duane sometimes joined them, delivering spoken narration, at concerts around New York City. The September 27 concert will be repeated at Fordham University, the Julliard School, and the Church of St. Paul the Apostle in Manhattan.

The Carnival of Animals was written by the French Romantic composer Camille Saint-Saëns in 1886. He composed it for fun in the midst of writing his challenging Third Symphony but never permitted the piece to be published during his lifetime, for fear it would ruin his image as a serious composer. Each of the fourteen movements represents a different animal or group of animals: swans, kangaroos, tortoises, fossils, pianists, for example. The humorous poems were written by Ogden Nash in 1949 for a recording on which Noel Coward recited the verses. The Disney studio incorporated the piece’s finale into the animated film Fantasia 2000.

Poulenc’s The Story of Babar was inspired by Jean de Brunhoff’s 1931 children’s book about Babar the elephant. The composition was designed to play alongside a reading of the book.

The subject matter will appeal to children, while the classical music, performed by seasoned professionals, will suit the tastes of adult fans.


The Carnival of Animals and The Story of Babar will be performed on Sunday, September 27, at 3 p.m. at St. Gregory’s Episcopal Church, 2578 Route 212, just east of the village of Woodstock. Donations are gratefully accepted to help support the Young Artists Music Series at St. Gregory’s.