Episode 90: Music and Storytelling – Interview with Anna Harwell Celenza

by Gabriela Pereira
published in Podcast

Today, I have the pleasure of speaking with Anna Harwell Celenza, a music professor of Georgetown University where she teaches courses in music history, radio journalism and the music industry. She has written several scholarly books, is a writer/commentator for National Public Radio’s Performance Today, and her work has been featured on nationally syndicated radio and TV programs like BBC’s “Music Matters and C-Span’s “Book TV.”

But the section of Anna’s work that I’m most familiar with are her wonderful picture books: Once Upon a Masterpiece, where she tells the story behind a famous musical masterpiece, explains the meaning of the music.

In this episode Anna and I discuss:

  • Looking for the gap on the shelf, for what is not there.
  • The process of research and creating historical fiction that jumps off the page.
  • How shifting point of view can enhance the story you are trying to tell.
  • The impact of technology on music and publishing.
  • Why it’s important to have a self-powered, targeted platform.


Plus, Anna’s #1 tip for writers.


Once Upon a Masterpiece

This series of picture books brings to life the stories behind famous pieces of music. I started playing the violin when I was four years old, and I love that I can share my passion of music with my kids through these stories. My four-year-old son was riveted when I read him the Haydn’s Farewell Symphony and he loved listening to a recording of the symphony afterward and identifying different parts of the music. I also learned a couple of new things about these pieces myself, even though I have listened to and loved these musical masterpieces for years.

Haydn’s Farewell Symphony and Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition have been recently re-released in a new format and with great new online resources. Bach’s Goldberg Variations will be out later this year and is available for pre-order. If you decide to purchase these books, please consider doing so via the affiliate links above (where DIY MFA gets a small commission at no cost to you). Thank you for supporting DIY MFA!



About Anna Harwell Celenza

Anna Harwell Celenza is the Thomas E. Caestecker Professor of Music at Georgetown University and the author of several scholarly books, including Music as Cultural Mission: Explorations of Jesuit Practices in Italy and North America (2014) and Hans Christian Andersen and Music: The Nightingale Revealed (2005). Her work has also appeared in The Hopkins Review, Musical Quarterly, Nineteenth-Century Music, Notes, The Cambridge Companion to Liszt (2005), and Franz Liszt and His World (2006) and The Cambridge Companion to Duke Ellington (2014).

In addition to her scholarly work, she has authored a series of award-winning children’s books with Charlesbridge Publishing: The Farewell Symphony (2000), Pictures at an Exhibition (2003), The Heroic Symphony (2004), Bach’s Goldberg Variations (2005), Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue (2006), Duke Ellington’s Nutcracker Suite (2011), Vivaldi’s Four Seasons (2012), Saint-Saëns’s Danse macabre (2013) and a 14-part syndicated series on Louis Armstrong for the NC Press Foundation.

Her work has been featured on nationally syndicated radio and TV programs, including NPR’s “Todd Mundt Show”, BBC’s “Music Matters” and “Proms Broadcasts”, and C-Span’s “Book-TV.” Before coming to Georgetown she served as a writer and guest commentator for Michigan Public Radio and NPR’s “Performance Today.”

To learn more about Anna Harwell Celenza and her amazing books, visit her website or follow her on Twitter.

Link to Episode 90

(Right-click to download.)

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Until next week, keep writing and keep being awesome.


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