“Can we sing Yellow?” the kids exclaim as they enter the music room for chorus. “Can we sing Orange?” “My favorite color is purple, but Black is my favorite song!” Colors generate excitement in kids. Most kids have a favorite color. A red ball, a black cat, a yellow flower…colors are among the first things a child learns.
Hailstones and Halibut Bones is a musical adaptation of the classic children’s book of color poems by Mary O’Neill. First published by Doubleday in 1961, Hailstones and Halibut Bones continues to be a popular book in schools around the world. Each of twelve poems explores a specific color, and a final poem is a general statement about colors. Composer Laurie MacGregor set the entire text in a song cycle for children’s chorus.
Hailstones and Halibut Bones was originally composed for elementary school children. The songs are for unison and four-part chorus. There are songs for the entire school, for each grade level, and for small groups, with many opportunities for solos. Middle school and high school students have also performed Hailstones and Halibut Bones.
Each song in Hailstones and Halibut Bones is a musical interpretation of a specific color and has its own instrumentation. Approximately 50 minutes in length, the overture and thirteen songs are scored for a professional ensemble of twelve jazz and classical musicians playing flute and piccolo, alto and tenor saxophones, trumpet, trombone, viola, classical guitar, electric guitar, harp, piano, string bass and electric bass, drums, and percussion. Most songs, however, may be performed with solo piano accompaniment or with piano, bass, drums, and percussion.
The songs teach children about different types of instruments and styles of music, including jazz, tango, blues, rap, and ballad. Examples are What Is Red?, a lively swing featuring the trumpet, What Is Pink?, a rap scored for concert harp and drums, What Is Orange?, a tango featuring the viola, castanets, and tambourine, and What Is Blue?, a song that revolves around a blues scale and features the flute.
Hailstones and Halibut Bones, composed for an entire student body, was created as a large-scale collaborative work, and designed to build community. The use of community resources is an integral part of the song cycle when performed with a live ensemble. Within a school community, Hailstones and Halibut Bones offers the potential for an integrated curriculum.
In an effort to make Hailstones and Halibut Bones more accessible to schools, the instrumental accompaniments of four songs are now available as MP3 and AIFF files and may be downloaded from this website.
Slideshow photos by Barbara Handelman, John Ragonese, Betsy James, and Nancy Gibson
Fabric mural created by New Hampshire kids, under the guidance of Ellen Haun
HAILSTONES AND HALIBUT BONES and What Is Yellow? by Mary O’Neill, copyright © 1961 by Mary Le Duc O’Neill
Used by permission of Random House Children’s Books, a division of Random House, Inc.
Music copyright © 1997 by Laurie MacGregor
What Is Yellow? performed by the children of the Bernice A. Ray School; Heidi Baxter, flute; Cameron Cross, electric guitar;
Jeanne Chambers, piano; David Westphalen, string bass; Eric von Ammon, drums; Laurie MacGregor, conductor