Alice Cooper brings 'Peter and the Wolf' into the iPad era

Peter and the Wolf in HollywoodDeutsche Grammophon

December 22, 2015

I'm not the only one who remembers my first time hearing Peter and the Wolf. My music teacher cued up the CD player, a picture book on her knee. My classmates and I prepared our ears for our assignment: to identify the instruments that represented the animals Peter meets. This was in 2003 or so, just before computers became a household fixture and long before we dreamed of having an iPad or a smartphone. Just listening to the CD and watching the pages turn was plenty to spark our imaginations.

Alice Cooper's first Peter and the Wolf memory involves a vinyl record in the mid-1950s: "I first heard this back in Detroit, when I was six or seven years old. My mom put the record on and I was instantly transported to another world," the theatrical rock musician said in a news release.

Deutsche Grammophon and production company Giants Are Small recently released Peter and the Wolf in Hollywood as a digital album, an iPad application, and a CD.

In this new take on the 1936 children's classic, we meet Peter in present-day Los Angeles after he has moved there from Russia. In a new city full of paparazzi but empty of friends, Peter tries to capture a wolf that escaped from the city zoo in hopes that it will make the kids at school like him.

The score has been spliced and diced for the updated version. Before Sergei Prokofiev's music kicks in, we hear snippets from pieces by the likes of Wagner and Grieg. Then, the story takes hold.

The accompanying iPad app takes children through the tale with hand-drawn scenes and interactive games, but the Youth Orchestra of Germany's recording — made under the baton of Alexander Shelley — remains the focus.

"I love the fact that it's moved on," Cooper said in a statement released to press. He joins David Bowie and Sting on the growing list of rock musicians who have narrated Peter albums. "I'm just wondering 50 years from now where it'll go," he said. "Are they transporting him from Russia to Los Angeles in a machine? Is the wolf actually a projection?"

Not everyone is jazzed about the techy new take. Critic Jeff Simon writes that the composer "is probably whirling in his grave like a DC-10 propeller at what Alice Cooper and friends have done to Peter and the Wolf."

Alison Crutchley, on the other hand, maintains that the app could make this music more accessible for children. After testing it with her 7- and 10-year-old boys, she wrote, "they know a bit of classical...but I don't think they see it as different from Frozen, or Pharrell Williams, or the music for TV shows. And that may be the brilliant thing about apps like this: repeated plays will see the music going in, regardless. They were singing In the Hall Of The Mountain King at breakfast today; I'm expecting Prokofiev to find his way into their repertoire soon."

The way children are introduced to classical music will always be changing. How will my future kids encounter Peter? Chances are, it's out of my imagination's league — but most likely, it will be as natural to them as it was for Cooper to hear it on vinyl.

Hailey Colwell is a St.-Paul-bred writer and recent University of Minnesota graduate who is currently living in Paris. You can read about her experiences as a Minnesotan in Paris on her blog, Des Mots du Monde.