Every now and then, Catharine Cwanek of Fort Wayne will be listening to her daughter Torilinn practice her piano lesson and hear something that doesn’t sound quite right.
“I’ll say, ‘Is that what you’re supposed to be practicing?’ And she’ll say, ‘No. I just wrote that,’ ” the 38-year-old Cwanek says.
It turns out that Tori, as she likes to be called, with long blond hair and big blue eyes, hears music in her head. Sometimes, she says, she just has to get it out.
“Sometimes I sit down and say, ‘I want to write a song today.’ Sometimes I’ll be going over the keys, and I play something and say, ‘I like that,’ and I’ll keep playing around with it until I have a new song,” she explains.
So, at the unlikely age of 10, and with the help and encouragement of her mother and her piano teacher, Tori has become a composer. And, some of what she has written will have its premiere tonight during a local stage production of “The Little Princess.”
The Victorian-era children’s classic will be presented today through Sunday and March 1-3 at the Allen County Public Library auditorium by all for One productions.
The local professional theater company specializes in original, family-friendly theater from a Christian point of view.
Lauren Nichols of Fort Wayne, Tori’s piano teacher and all for One’s artistic director, adapted the Frances Hodgson Burnett tale, one of her favorite stories from childhood, for the stage last summer.
She was searching for music for the play – and thinking she might have to write her own, as she often does – when Tori came to a lesson and “played me a little piece” she had written.
“I thought it was so lovely,” Nichols, 50, says. “Although it’s simple, it has structure and a haunting quality to it that I thought would be great incidental music.”
And a collaboration was hatched. After a bit of tweaking that included adding a middle section to make the piece longer, it became “Sara’s Theme” for the play.
The music is played predominantly under a scene in which the play’s main character, Sara Crewe, and her beloved father, a wealthy English businessman in India who has left her in a London boarding school, are writing letters to each other.
When other people heard the music, they were enthralled and asked where it came from, says Lisa Ellis of Fort Wayne, guest director.
“I could not have picked a song that more fit Sara,” she says. “It’s crazy that this little girl could have written it.”
Two more pieces Tori composed, “Thinking of You” and an unnamed piece Nichols calls “Tension,” followed.
A fourth-grader who is homeschooled, Tori says that when she plays something she likes, she works hard at remembering it so she can play it for her teacher later. Recently, her mother also has begun filming her while she composes.
Nichols transcribes the music and then uses a computer program to turn it into regular sheet music. The two work together, Tori says, until her piece sounds “like what I heard in my head.”
For the play, Nichols also arranged the music for digital keyboards. “But every piece in the play will be heard exactly the way she wrote it,” Nichols says.
She and Tori’s mother say they don’t want to pressure the little girl into having to write all the time. But they confess to wondering what she might be able to do some day. She’s taken music lessons for about four years.
Besides music, Tori says she likes reading, camping, drawing, basketball and playing with her sister, Alli, who’s 7.
“I also like to write stories,” Tori says. “I’m always making things up in my head. It’s like reading something, but you don’t have the book in front of you, like it’s only happening in my mind,” she says.
She plans to attend the play on opening or closing night to hear how her music fits in.
As a CD of her teacher’s arrangement of “Sara’s Theme” plays during a recent piano lesson, Tori smiles.
“I got really excited the first time I heard that,” she says.