The Selkie Boy,
Philadelphia Orchestra
Performs to Family Audiences

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Tina Davidson's The Selkie Boy for narrator and orchestra was featured as the main work in The Philadelphia Orchestra's first annual Education Week. The program, entitled "Dialogue of the Wind and the Sea," took over 15,000 Philadelphia students on a musical exploration of the ocean. Conductor-in-residence Luis Biava conducted the six performances, which were visually interpreted by the Mum Puppettheater. In a pre-concert "Adventure" Ms Davidson and visual artist Peggy Gyulai worked with 200 children, leading them in a delightful one-hour session. The children drew pictures, wrote their own graphically-rendered musical scores of the ocean, and performed them under Davidson's guidance.

The Selkie Boy was commissioned and premiered by the Greater Twin Cities Youth Symphonies in 1991 for full orchestra. The chamber orchestra version was commissioned by St. Paul Symphony Orchestra in 2000. The text for this work is based on an old Scottish folk-tale about selkies, or seals. The story tells about a little boy named Willie, who is found on the beach of the Orkney Islands and is adopted by a large family. Somehow he never feels as if he fits in, and longs for the sea and the selkies. Through the help of a little girl, he learns that the selkies are magical folk - changelings, who can shed their skins and walk on the earth. If, however, they lose their skins, they cannot go back to their seal life. By returning to the ocean and weeping seven tears into the water, Willie is able to speak to the selkies and finds out his true identity.

While written for children, The Selkie Boy is ideal for all audiences in its warm account of self-realization and acceptance. Willie's journey is the journey that we all take on the path to finding our true selves. Through the skillful weaving of text and sound, Davidson conveys an intimate and evocative piece. Beautifully orchestrated with delicate sound effects, lovely melodies, and jazzy rhythms, the piece ends in a warm, emotional climax.

The Selkie Boy is 18 minutes long and is available both for full orchestra and narration, and for chamber orchestra and narration. The work can be linked with puppet, dance, or theater performance groups (such as the Mum Puppettheater) and comes complete with lesson plans for school and community outreach.

"The concert was full with beautiful music waves." - Angela, age 11

"The Selkie Boy was best of all." - Ryan C., age 9

"I liked the drums. The sound was real loud but then when they showed where there was a boy who lost his skin then later he found his skin, the sound was very soft." - Frank, Age 9

Sample Classroom Lesson Plans:

  • Be a composer: write music through graphic notation
  • Read selected childrens literature about Scottish myths
  • Create art projects and crafts, including instruments that sound like the sea

If you are interested in any of the following programs, please contact

Tina Davidson at

Billy and Zelda

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Billy and Zelda is a passionate, melodic opera, which explores the rich life of relationships between children and their parents; it tells the story of two children lost in death and found by love. Under the "blue moon, over the curve of the horizon" the opera opens to two households, on that rare occasion when two full moons appear in one month. In one house, the Neighbor, pregnant and full of these new stirrings comes to visit Clara, an older woman burdened by ghosts of the past. Next door, the narrator comes to clean her dead uncle's house, only to find that a child ghost is haunting the place. As both women open themselves up to the stories of Billy and Zelda, they learn about themselves and their own lives.

"Like an engrossing thriller, Tina Davidson's chamber opera 'Billy and Zelda' explores the mystery surrounding two deaths. Premiered by OperaDelaware, the work enthralled the audience. This intimate piece, set to lyrics and script by the composer's sisters Eva and Lale Davidson, transfixed the audience seated on the stage of the Grand Opera House." (Opera News)

Davidson's complex and rich work uses elements of both opera and theater, intertwining contrasting stories about Billy, a young man killed in war, and Zelda, a little girl who has died of pneumonia. The story of Billy is told all in song, with a cast of five singers, while the story of Zelda is acted by the Neighbor, accompanied by a solo cello that represents the spirit of the lost child.

"More reflective than dramatic, Davidson's work unlocks family secrets as a Narrator and Neighbor pry loose long-suppressed memories. In Zelda, a young woman discovers that her family's deserted farmhouse is haunted by the ghost of a little girl. Accompanied by improvised cello, the narrator slowly unravels the mystery of Zelda's death and, in the climactic scene, becomes the child whose tragic death seals her family's silence. In the more complex portrayal of Billy's death, a pregnant Neighbor inadvertently brings to light the grief that still haunts the young man's mother. Accompanied by string quartet and marimba, the characters move back and forth from the present to the past as the tensions between the boy's parents and his experiences in war are exploited. At the end, the two stories merge in a lullaby of transfiguring beauty." (Opera News)

Davidson does not flinch from revealing the power and the intensity of what is perhaps our greatest love affair - that with our children. It is a love that endures through time as if it were yesterday, and that knows no safety from loss. Her lyrical music brings these stories to a subtle and climactic conclusion.

"These quiet pieces draw subtly shaded music from Davidson, whose score is filled with gracious melodies, tinged with tender sadness. Zelda's haunting death narrative is punctuated by abrasive musical effects improvised by the cellist. Billy unfolds in a series of poems, sung in aria and ensemble. Only a few spoken exchanges - there are no recitatives - interrupt the lyrical progress of the piece. Billy reaches a musical climax in the parents' grief-stricken outbursts that find resolution in the lullaby for ensemble voices, whose lines float serenely over the strings."(Opera News)

Billy and Zelda was commissioned by OperaDelaware as part of Tina Davidson's three-year Meet the Composer residency. The work, scored for five principal singers, actresses and a chorus of three men, cello, string quartet and percussion, was premiered on December 11-13, 1998 at the Grand Opera House in Wilmington, Delaware.

"OperaDelaware brought this fascinating piece to the stage in a strong production by Ben Levit. The action unfolded succinctly on a stage divided into two contiguous playing spaces. Leland P. Kimball III's simple set - cutouts of a door and window with a glowing moon and bare-branched tree for Zelda, a dining area surrounded by stairs and ramp for Billy - provided a neat backdrop for the action."(Opera News)

In a unique collaboration, Davidson worked with her two sisters, poet Eva Davidson and writer Lale Davidson to create the libretto. Surrounded by Eva Davidson's delicate poetry about the intricacies of human relationships, and coupled with Lale Davidson's elegant prose, Davidson's music illuminates an inner dimension of family relationships.

In the end, Billy and Zelda is a passionate and rich passage of life through love, marriage, war, death and reconciliation. As the "day begins," we discover which promises are given, deaths are grieved, and love is finally reconciled.

Mural Arts,
Philadelphia's First
Music Wall

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Tina Davidson collaborated with muralist Barbara Smolen to create Philadelphia's first "Music Wall." Commissioned by the Mural Arts Program, Davidson helped create a mural that incorporated musical ideas and components in the mural painting. Situated in a working class section of Philadelphia, the mural depicts an abstract cityscape with a musical staff threading in and out of the windows. Davidson built three sets of tubular chimes out of copper plumbing tubing that hang from the windows of the houses.

Davidson also worked weekly at the local Hackett Elementary School, teaching third graders to create their own instruments and original compositions using graphic notation and write poetry that expressed their feelings about music. Using ideas from over 30 poems, Ms Davidson developed the text for a song called Music is the Sound. The Hackett Elementary School Choir performed the work at the mural's dedication ceremony. The music for the song was inscribed on the mural.

"The children here tend to grow up in this neighborhood. Now they can grow up seeing what they helped create." - Patricia Magee, Principal at Hackett Elementary School, praising the mural and the artists' interaction with the children.

"The mural is an abstract silhouette of the city. It is framed by copper wind chimes. The music from the children's song was painted across the mural. As the wind blew and the children sang, the chimes and a keyboard provided a musical background."

T H E   P H I L A D E L P H I A   I N Q U I R E R

Side by Side:
Students Performing
with Professionals

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During her last year as composer-in-residence at the Fleisher Art Memorial, Tina Davidson created a new work that brought young high school string players side-by-side with a professional string quartet. The project began when she started to work in two area high schools with more than 120 students, teaching them an extended Young Composer program. The students created over 150 instruments and composed over 200 new compositions, many of which were performed in public performances. Then, using ideas and melodies of some of her students, she created a work for triple string quartet called Paper, Glass, String & Wood. The work was performed by two high school string quartet and members of The Philadelphia Orchestra. The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about this work in a review:

"The idea was for the fledglings to play elbow-to-elbow with the pros, gaining experience in real music, and, as more than one optimist has put it, perhaps consider music as a career option. Such acts of altruism rarely succeed in their dual mission. They mostly achieve their social goal; it's the real-music part that gets lost in the process.

But that's where Paper, Glass, String & Wood is different. It is real music, with structure, mood, novelty and harmonic sophistication - with haunting melodies that grow out of complex, repetitive rhythms."

T H E  P H I L A D E L P H I A   I N Q U I R E R ,   2 0 0 1

Young Composers,
an Arts Education

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Young Composers is a multi-session residency which teaches school age children to write and perform music through improvisation, instrument building, graphic notation, and invented notation. Young Composers is a flexible program ideally suited for all grades. The workshop sessions are composed of multiple teaching sessions, plus a dress rehearsal and a performance.

Young Composers program was created by Tina Davidson to address a need for school age children to learn to compose and perform their own original music. The program found its genesis when Davidson worked with homeless women at a YWCA residential facility, helping them to write operas of their own lives over a two-year period. She was inspired to create this outreach educational program that would enable all people - young and old, musically trained or not - to benefit from the act of creating, performing, and enjoying music. She has taught more than thirty Young Composers residencies, teaching throughout the Philadelphia area, in New Jersey and Central Pennsylvania, both in public and private schools, as well as in community centers.

What Students Learn

  • To write music by applying basic musical concepts such as rhythm, timing, pitch, notation, and sound manipulation.
  • To approach a literacy non-traditionally, through the translation of sound and rhythm into symbol and musical notation.
  • To improve pattern recognition and refine awareness of form and structure.
  • To think creatively both as individuals and in collaboration, and to see themselves as self-creative.
  • To develop socialization and self-management skills including leadership, teamwork, patience, tolerance, diligence, and determination through conducting, group composition, and performance.
  • To thrive in an environment that encourages the use of multiple types of intelligence, especially for students who exhibit a talent for non-verbal thinking.

Unique Activities Include
  • Inventing their own instruments out of found materials (such as tin cans, wire, bottles and beads).
  • Creating their own musical notation symbols (including graphic and invented, as well as classical notation where applicable.)
  • Journaling - a record of personal reflections that translate a sensory experience into a literary context about their own creative journey of becoming a composer.
  • Rehearsing and performing their own compositions for the school community (scored for hand-made or traditional instruments).

"I found Young Composers to be intriguing and productive. Watching the program has informed me and changed my own teaching practices, even though music is not my field. I would recommend Young Composers as an excellent and unique opportunity for children to experience first-hand musical composition and a marvelous foray into the world of creativity and disciplined self-expression." - Linda White, teacher, McMichael School

"This was all my own; it was my music and my conducting -- it was all me, and I was really proud of that." - Brandi, age 14, McMichael School

"My daughter comes home every day now, and is making up her own tunes at the piano." - Parent, Indian Crest Junior High School