Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Q&A with Caitlin DeLems




Caitlin DeLems is the author of the new children's picture book biography Pitch Perfect and Persistent! The Musical Debut of Amy Cheney Beach. DeLems lives in California.


Q: What inspired you to write a children's picture book biography about musician Amy Cheney Beach (1867-1944)?


A: As a former classroom teacher, I discovered the lack of children’s books on female composer/musicians, especially 19th century classical musicians. Of course, there were multiple books available on male composers. But I saw the number of women’s stories pleading to be told.


Over time, I started investigating. The more I researched, the more I unearthed dedicated, strong women who pursued a career in an art they cherished. Female composers, like Amy Cheney Beach, contributed to blazing a trail for unsung women.


Beach is a role model of perseverance for ALL children. I hope as children read Amy’s story and see her persistence in pursuing her dream of music—perhaps they will follow their own passions and never give up!


Q: What did Beach’s experiences say about the role of women in the world of music in late 19th/early 20th century America?

A: Many believed women did not have the intelligence to produce larger works like a symphony. Simple music, art songs, in the parlor – fine. For the most part, the 19th century male-dominated classical music world did not willingly step aside. Society held firmly to the conviction that a woman belonged at the piano in the parlor of her home, not on stage. Female composer/musicians had to battle every step of the way to be seen and heard.


Q: What do you think Alison Jay’s illustrations add to the story?


A: This book is a joint effort. The vibrant illustrations Alison Jay created compliment and give conviction to the text. From her enchanting and detailed art emerges young Amy’s passion and connection to music. Jay successfully captures Amy’s perseverance. Her spirit. It is a privilege to share this honor with the incredibly talented Alison Jay.


Q: What do you see as Beach's legacy today?


A: Amy Cheney Beach paved the way for other female composers. She broke tremendous barriers as a female virtuosic pianist/composer. Beach composed prolifically from an early age and continued throughout her lifetime.


Beach leaves behind the monumental Gaelic Symphony, op. 32—proof women can indeed compose a symphony! She will always be remembered as the first American woman to achieve success when Gaelic was premiered by a major U.S. orchestra—the Boston Symphony Orchestra (October 1893). In addition, Beach was one of the first American female classical composers to have her works recognized in Europe.


Q: What are you working on now?


A: I’m thrilled to be working on the final edits of my third picture book biography, coming out with Calkins Creek/Astra Books for Young Readers (date not yet announced). I am researching my next picture book biography subject and applying final revisions on two middle grade novels—historical fiction and magical realism.


Q: Anything else we should know?


A: Yes! How immensely appreciative I am to have this opportunity to share a bit about Pitch Perfect and Persistent! The Musical Debut of Amy Cheney Beach with your readers. In my wildest dreams, I have never imagined the magical moment (soon to arrive) when my first book will finally reach the hands of young readers! I am humbled by all who supported me on this writing journey, and ever-so-grateful to my editor, Carolyn Yoder, Calkins Creek, and Alison Jay, illustrator.


--Interview with Deborah Kalb

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