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Claude Debussy composed only in the company of his childhood porcelain frog

Claude Debussy's "Clair De Lune," featured in today's Google doodle, was composed like all of his pieces in the presence of his favorite childhood toy – a porcelain frog. 

By Guest blogger / August 22, 2013

The latest animated Google Doodle celebrates the 151st birthday of French composer Claude Debussy.

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Today’s Google doodle celebrates the work of classical composer Claude Debussy. However, it should be parents and film buffs marking this day since Hollywood embedded his piece "Clair De Lune" as the tone-setter for everything from "The Muppets" to "Ocean's Eleven" and Edward and Bella’s first "Twilight" lip-lock.

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Lisa Suhay, who has four sons at home in Norfolk, Va., is a children’s book author and founder of the Norfolk (Va.) Initiative for Chess Excellence (NICE) , a nonprofit organization serving at-risk youth via mentoring and teaching the game of chess for critical thinking and life strategies.

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I love Debussy not only for his music, but for his backstory. His music was a beauty that rose from a bad childhood, as did mine. Also, he wrote his pieces only in the presence of his favorite childhood toy – a porcelain frog.

Debussy, born in St. Germain-en-Laye, near Paris, France, had a traumatic childhood fraught with “instability, lack of money, rebellion, hunger, fear, delusion, shame [and] defeat,” of which he never spoke, according Marcel Dietschy's "A Portrait of Claude Debussy." His mother was a seamstress and his father ran a china shop. 

It was the frog that first drew me to Debussy. My father was a music buff and always told the composer’s story along with the music. My Canadian nanny at the time got me started collecting the little porcelain figures in the boxes of Red Rose Tea. Red Rose began to give away Wade miniature figurines 41 years ago, in 1967 when I was age two. I still collect them.

I was a New York City kid and the miniature menagerie was my idyllic imaginary countryside.

In those days our apartment rang with classical music, before my father’s alcoholism became the bull in our china shop. The combination of Debussy and delicate little animals you could fit in your pocket are among the few happy memories of my father.

Like Hollywood, I fell in love with the lilting piano piece that has become synonymous with sighs and wistful heartache, "Clair De Lune" (Moonlight). Debussy wrote it in tribute to the poem of the same name by Paul Verlaine, published 1869.

Moonlight

Your soul is a select landscape
Where charming masqueraders and bergamaskers go
Playing the lute and dancing and almost
Sad beneath their fantastic disguises.

All sing in a minor key
Of victorious love and the opportune life,
They do not seem to believe in their happiness
And their song mingles with the moonlight,

With the still moonlight, sad and beautiful,
That sets the birds dreaming in the trees
And the fountains sobbing in ecstasy,
The tall slender fountains among marble statues.

That’s an awfully long way from some of the film and TV scores where our kids have been introduced to the tune, according to IMDB, including: "The Muppet Show," "Phineas and Ferb," "The New Teen Titans," "Rise of the Planet of the Apes," "The X-Men Cartoon," and "The Simpsons".

I suppose you have to start young audiences somewhere and we could do far worse than The Muppets and Debussy.

The site Music-Teacher-Resources.com has the top classical cartoon clips of various composers to broaden kids’ musical horizons. 

Still, Debussy is the composer who translates best from the cartoon version of love to the real thing.

While I never did find an elusive Red Rose frog figurine, Debussy and his porcelain pal gave me music that makes my hearts leap.promotion_auto

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