February 16, 2012

Give gifts from the heart

Posted in Between Us column, Books, Relationships at 1:37 am by dinaheng

Okay. Valentine’s Day is over. But the need to celebrate love is not.

From the moment we’re born, love is what keeps us alive. The love of parents, surrogate parents, and extended family validate our existence long before we start thinking about soul mates and partners for life.

It’s ironic that we had to invent a holiday to remind us to do something nice for those we love. A lot of people bought flowers and chocolate for Valentine’s Day presents, but sharing your heart can be done in so many ways… and should be done every day.

If you’re lucky enough to have living parents, why not call them more often and tell them how much you love them? Unlike a birthday call, you could tell them more about what’s going on in your life, and share the ways in which they’ve taught you the meaning of love.

If you have little ones (or anyone for that matter) who love to read, pick up “Plant A Kiss” written by Amy Krouse Rosenthal and illustrated by Peter H. Reynolds ($14.99, HarperCollins). This delightful picture book tells the tale of a little girl who plants a kiss, and watches it grow.

Wherever your significant other is, make your love known. I was sitting in a restaurant waiting for a table one day when I noticed the woman next to me. She was reading a novel, and suddenly burst out with a giggle. When I asked what she was reading, she smiled and said, “A note from my husband. Every now and then, he sneaks a little ‘I love you” reminder in a book I’m reading.”

Ah… be still my heart. Those are the gestures that say “You’re my Valentine” every day.

So often, those of us who are single bemoan the fact that we don’t have a love to call our own. That’s when we need to remember that love doesn’t come from having a ring on our finger, any more than success means living in a bigger house or driving a more expensive car.

The world may form opinions based on what we look like, but having love in our lives depends on how we feel about ourselves inside. And nothing makes the heart grow in its capacity to receive love than giving it to others.

So show the people you love a little extra appreciation more than just now and then… and don’t forget to give a special someone — YOU — a little pampering as well.

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February 8, 2012

‘Never Land Pirates’ captures kids’ imaginations

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Television at 6:52 pm by dinaheng

Pre-schoolers may not know that they’re learning valuable lessons, but they sure love to rock with “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.”

The animated Disney Junior series will feature its first prime-time special on Monday, Feb. 13 at 7 p.m. Eastern, followed by its second second premiere on Monday, Feb. 20 at 8:30 a.m., featuring the adventures of Jake and his pals Izzy and Cubby on Pirate Island as they outwit the ever-greedy Mr. Smee, Captain Hook and his crew while hunting for treasure.

“Originally, Nancy Kanter (senior vice president, original programming and general manager of Disney Junior Worldwide), wanted to do a show with Disney heritage characters, Captain Hook and Mr. Smee,” explains Mark Seidenberg, producer and story editor for “Jake and the Never Land Pirates.” “Rob (LaDuca) and I were involved with developing the group of kids off Never Land, who became Jake, Izzy, Cubby, and Skully the Lookout Parrot.”

In the series, Peter Pan has gone off to explore the world beyond Never Land, putting his trusted crew in charge during his absence.

Rob LaDuca, executive producer of the show, says Never Land’s magical setting of tunnels and mermaid lagoons is a great place for finding treasures and battling Captain Hook for them, while teaching youngsters some important lessons.

“There’s action, adventure and involvement,” LaDuca says. “One theme, for example, is teamwork. We show how the kids work together to solve pirate problems. We might ask the kids to help us jump like a frog while exploring social and living problems that kids at that age are facing.”

Seidenberg says the characters on the show face dilemmas that mirror issues kids will identify with in stories that try to help them deal with their fears.

“Cubby, the youngest of the pirates, is afraid of the dark,” Seidenberg says. “Jake feels less than confident because Hook has stolen his sword. We want the kids in our audience to emotionally bond with our kids on the screen. The audience we’re going for is ages two to seven, but we’ve heard that some teenagers even watch the show.”

Both men also hold the same roles of executive producer and producer/story editor on Disney’s “Mickey Mouse Clubhouse, another series for preschoolers on Disney Junior.

“Writing for preschoolers entails a very different kind of thinking,” LaDuca says. “It’s interesting because you have to be more sensitive to younger kids’ issues, and you don’t want to show the obnoxious side of human nature. You want to focus on good deeds, and doing well in school.”

Characters are clearly portrayed as “good” and “bad” on the shows, but since younger children may frighten easily, meanness is softened, and “bad” characters are shown to make laughable decisions that fail.

“Emotional issues of wondering why people are mean, and trying to understand things at that age are important,” LaDuca says. “We stress teamwork on ‘Jake and the Never Land Pirates’ because they’re a crew. Music’s also very important to the show, so we try to pepper in little song ditties throughout.”

Seidenberg says the producers Googled ‘pirate rock’ and discovered the Portland rock musicians (Kevin Hendrickson and Loren Hoskins) who now perform as The Never Land Pirate Band, and the animated Sharky and Bones, Captain Hook’s crew, on the show.

“Mostly, we want the show to empower the littlest,” Seidenberg adds, “and to give them the message that you can overcome your fears.”

February 4, 2012

Composer’s work makes ‘Joyful Noise’

Posted in Between Us column, Entertainment, Movies at 12:44 am by dinaheng

Every song in the new Alcon Entertainment/Warner Bros. Pictures’ “Joyful Noise” stands on its own as a piece worth listening to, a feat due in no small part to five-time Grammy Award winner Mervyn Warren, the film’s composer and music producer.

Warren, an original member of the group Take 6, produced, co-wrote, or arranged most of the award-winning songs on that group’s platinum and gold albums. He’s since worked on numerous films, including scoring “The Wedding Planner,” and producing and arranging the platinum-selling soundtrack  to “The Preacher’s Wife.”

Warren, who met “Joyful Noise” writer/director Todd Graff while working on “The Preacher’s Wife, says Graff contacted him in 2009 about the inspirational comedy that centers around a church choir trying to win the National Joyful Noise Competition. The film stars Queen Latifah and Dolly Parton as two women struggling to take the choir in different directions, but it’s the music that steals the show.

“When Todd called me, he was planning a table read to sell the idea to investors,” Warren says. “He wanted the actors to actually sing at the reading, and I put together some arrangements for him. Most of those actors are not in the movie, but they performed it for the investors, who loved it and decided to do the movie right there.”

Several months later, after the script was refined, Warren began creating the final arrangements. When Dolly Parton joined the cast, she wrote several songs, and Warren wrote a piece before the cast went into the studio to record. Warren wrote the underscore for the film, then mixed the movie and soundtrack scores.

“Music is very important to any movie,” Warren says. “It magically causes scenes to gel and move along that might seem longer, otherwise. The music underneath supports the drama, and helps viewers shape the experience. It brings the emotion, along with the acting, to the screen.”

The evolution of gospel music from traditional spirituals to include rock, hip-hop and R&B is clearly reflected in Warren’s arrangements for “Joyful Noise,” which make you want to get up and dance.

“There’s a bright, happy sound to gospel,” Warren notes. “Gospel songs tend to be uplifting, even if someone’s singing about their problems. There’s an energy and a timbre of voices singing together.”

The popularity of TV competitions ranging from “American Idol” to “The Voice” seem to indicate that many of us yearn to be professional singers, no matter how, uh… awful we may sound. Warren laughingly agrees, and notes, “I think people should sing because it makes them feel good, even when they don’t sound good. It lifts the spirit, and it’s fun.”

Warren, who started playing piano at age five, says he knew then that music was his calling in life. He started writing songs at age 10. The first time he wrote for a television show — a cable network religious show no longer on air called “Breath of Life” — his parents were floored when he brought home a check for $500, at age 16.

“I feel very lucky that I found what I wanted to do at an early age,” Warren says. “It’s what I have to do, and I never allowed anyone to talk me out of it. Success requires a combination of talent and tenacity. A lot of people have one and not the other. Fortunately, I have both.

“My parents are college professors, and were concerned that I be able to make a living. So I have two degrees in music, and thought I’d use my  masters to teach until I got a break. But I never had to teach.”

Luckily for us, he made a “Joyful Noise” instead.