Over the past 20 years, 64-year-old musician and songwriter Rick Scott has been writing longhand notes in his journal about the importance of fear in our lives.
Performing shows at public schools, Scott had often observed little boys wearing T-shirts with slogans like "No fear," and "Just do it!"
"It got me thinking about my own experience with fear. Years ago I played the title role in a Canadian tour of the musical Barnum, for which I had to walk a tightrope across the 30 foot stage, 12 feet up in the air, singing all the way."
Scott had never walked a tightrope. He knew that he would not only have to learn the skill but also to deal with his fear. Having no understudy meant if he fell – and he did! – then he just had to climb right back up and do it again.
"I discovered that bravado is not the answer. You have to leave a place for fear, and you have to get to know it."
Acknowledging and conquering fear is at the heart of The Great Gazzoon, Scott’s story of a music-loving boy who has to face the challenge of walking the wire between two mountains in order to safeguard his community. A musical audio novel, it consists of four CDs and a 40-page songbook with 50 original illustrations by Ottawa artist Linda Sanborn.
The characters in this delightful tale are ones with whom we can all engage. The young boy, Gazoon Wazoo, prefers singing to talking. It is his ancestral task to face the challenge of the tightrope, but instead he’s been playing his musical instrument, a "shnookimer", and making up songs with his special "ekko" and his poetry-writing friend, Princess Pindoolah. The young princess loves words just as much as Gazoon loves music, and she convinces her father, the King, to put her in charge of the alphabet so she can give away letters to honour good deeds. She and Gazoon form an unlikely alliance based on his putting her words to music.
Their magical adventure takes place in the mountain of Jabbi Cragg that clings like moss to the cliffs of Mount Lanadoon. The sidewalks are so narrow that everyone walks sideways. The cliffs are so steep that you can see ekkos as well as hear them. The story, which unfolds over four hours and 60 chapters, is a gripping one.
It was Valley Hennell, co-writer and producer of Scott’s seven award-winning children’s CDs, who imagined The Great Gazzoon as audio cinema and rewrote Rick’s original manuscript and produced the recording.
"Your story can’t be told without music," Princess Pindoolah tells Gazoon, and so said Hennell to Scott. Scott created the music, performed it on dulcimers that are plucked, strummed, hammered and bowed. He also plays trombone, strumstick, shakuhachi, flute, hang, thumb piano, thunder drum and dishwasher.
The performers range from seven to 75 years and include a variety of professional artists, a number of neighbours and three of Scott’s grandchildren. Scott played eight of the 22 characters.
"There was an element of chaos present through some of the recording sessions," Hennell laughs. "With the community all coming together, it was a bit like Christmas without the turkey!"
Illustrator Linda Sanborn brought an eclectic expertise to the task of portraying the unusual characters and setting. She holds a doctorate in old and middle English literature from the University of Ottawa and a diploma in editorial illustration from the Ontario College of Art. Sanborn has illustrated for various Canadian publications including Macleans, The Globe and Mail, and Owl and Chickadee. Recently retired from a 40 year stint teaching literature, art and art history at Heritage College in Gatineau, Que., Canada, Sanborn now lives in Ottawa where she breeds Swedish Vallhunds.
Turning her hand to The Great Gazzoon, Sanborn has created colorful portraits that bring the story’s whimsical creatures to life.
"It was a real challenge to draw an ekko, she admits. "The Wind and the shnooks were easy to envision, but we went back to the drawing board lots of times before we could agree on the ekko. It taught me that you just have to keep trying. If you give up, well, you’ll never see an ekko!"
Sticking with your dreams and pursuing a goal with courage and devotion, however challenging the journey, is a powerful message in The Great Gazzoon, which makes it a story to be enjoyed, not just by children, but by people of all ages. Fear is something we always have to deal with, especially as we age and, like Gazoon, we all need courage and endurance.
It’s not the first time Scott’s musical work has been inspired by his role as grandfather.
"When my second grandchild was born with Down Syndrome, it caused me to think of music in a different way. I wanted to raise awareness about the needs and joys of children with Down Syndrome, and I also wanted to raise funds for the Down Syndrome Research Foundation."
But this new work is a little different, he says, noting that as a grandfather of nine children, he finds himself worrying about the frightening world we live in.
"I wanted to talk openly with my grandchildren and with other children about fear – about how we can find ways to live with and learn from it – and about tradition. I hope it will leave children with the message that they came from somewhere and are going somewhere."
Clearly Rick Scott is a grandfather worth listening to.
THE GREAT GAZZOON is available for $35 from www.gazzoon.com, and stores including Kidsbooks in Vancouver, Kaboodles in Victoria and Books on Beechwood in Ottawa.
Carol Matthews is a Vancouver-born writer and consultant, and author of five books including The First Three Years of a Grandmother’s Life (Sandhill Book Marketing) and Questions For Ariadne: The Labyrinth and the End of Times (Outlaw Editions).
Editor’s note: This article first appeared in AHB Sept/Oct. 2012.