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Music to Your Eyes

Award-winning children's books by M.B. Goffstein inspire the "Picture Book Symphony" by the Winfield Regional Symphony.

By Chris Shull, The Wichita Eagle


M.B. Goffstein does not like to talk about her work. The Caldecott award-winning artist prefers to let her children's books speak for themselves, to let the quiet poetry sink in, or to allow the soft washes of her watercolor illustrations beguile and captivate.

"Each one of my books is an ideal of some sort," Goffstein said by phone from her home in upstate New York. "When they are done, I don't think about them any more."

That doesn't mean, though, that Goffstein is not flattered when others find inspiration in her work. Conductor-composer Gary Gackstatter recently created a "Picture Book Symphony," whose 10 short movements are based on Goffstein's books "An Artist," "A Little Schubert" and others.

The "Picture Book Symphony" will be performed by Gackstatter and the Winfield Regional Symphony on Thursday at the Wichita Art Museum. Goffstein's words and pictures will accompany the music.

Goffstein, however, will not attend the premiere.

It's not that she's uninterested in Gackstatter's music. She received a synthesized realization of the symphony on the CD and liked it very much. It's just that all the attention the concert would bring is counterproductive to the way she works.

"It's very hard to recover from those things," Goffstein said. "You can get mixed up and you think, 'My God! I'm a genius!' And that's not how you work." Solitude is integral to Goffstein's creative routine. Isolation, it seems, keeps her honest and humble -- and allows her a keen perspective on the pitfalls of fame, even the modest kind that comes to authors. "You have two choices as an artist," Goffstein said. "You can make some art and get some renown and then be that person for the rest of your life. "But if you want to be an artist, you have to be a lowly worm -- really low. Because otherwise you wouldn't ever do hard things. You would have a reputation to sustain. "That is why I am not too keen on celebrating my own work."

Goffstein said she gave her permission for the "Picture Book Symphony" not to advance her own career, but because Gackstatter was so enthusiastic.

"Picture Book Symphony" is the latest in a string of adventuresome programs Gackstatter has devised for the Winfield Regional Symphony. Recent projects have included the world premiere of "Headfirst Into the Blue Fields of Grace," a piece for chamber ensemble and symphony by Philip Aaberg; performances with singer-songwriter John Gorka; a musical version of the best-selling book "Jacob the Baker"; and performances of "Carl Sandburg's Prairie," a symphony by cellist Paul Friesen performed with the Paul Winter Consort.