Inspired by actual events, Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki tells the story of Shorty, a Japanese-American boy, who was forced to live in an internment camp during World War II.
Struggling to endure the harsh conditions within the barbed wire fences, Shorty and his dad decide to build a baseball field to create a refuge for themselves and their confined community. Surrounded by barbed-wire fences and guards in towers, a baseball league forms and Shorty finds that he is playing ball not only to win, but to gain dignity and self-respect.
Making the Soundscape
The soundscape for Baseball Saved Us offers young readers and their grown-ups an opportunity to deeply empathize with the story’s characters and understand the struggle, sadness, hope, and joy Shorty experiences throughout his experience in the internment camp and after he returns home.
We sat down with Novel Effect soundscape designers Ian Silver and Matthew Boerner to learn more about their process for creating the interactive music, sound effects, and character voices that make up this emotional and engaging soundscape.
Baseball Saved Us by Ken Mochizuki illustrated by Dom Lee and published by Lee & Low Books
Ian Silver started composing the music for Baseball Saved Us by looking at the text of the book. For him, the story drove home that being an American “is more of cerebral idea and an emotional ideal than a location,” which is an idea he wanted to support with his musical composition.
“It felt to me as if there were two distinct phases to the story,” Silver explained. “There is first, the wrongful imprisonment, and the second, the triumph of the main character, which in this case was also the triumph of the American spirit.” Those two very different themes in the story inspired the creation of the two opposing phrases of music heard in the soundscape.
I made sure the melodies were leaping, they were jumping and reaching beyond the fences that surrounded them.
Accompanying the protagonist as he faces his reality in the harsh internment camp, Silver focused the music in the first phase on that emotional journey, saying, “I made sure the melodies were leaping, they were jumping and reaching beyond the fences that surrounded them.”
Boerner added, “Ian uses a reverberant acoustic guitar and open string harmonies to describe the desolation of the camp. In the very first musical cue of the story, there are the long pauses between the guitar phrases, which sets the scene well, but it also allows the reader huge freedom of pacing.”
“For the second phase, the triumphant spirit,” continued Silver, “I went with early Americana orchestral music, heavily inspired by Aaron Copland.” For those of you with musical vocabularies, your ear might recognize what Boerner describes as “an underlying 8th note propulsion in the strings to capture the excitement and nerves in the narrator’s head, while the woodwinds weave in and out of the melody.” We asked him to break that down for the rest of us: Listen as the woodwinds play the melody, with a recognizable part you could get stuck in your head while the strings play quick, repeated notes to create a sense of excitement and nervousness
This is the story of every immigrant who has settled in America, now and then. I wanted to draw attention to their heroism… In the face of adversity, fear, and discrimination they persisted and innovated.
The composer wanted to “conjure images of families setting off on an adventure into the unknown, hoping for something better. This is the story of every immigrant who has settled in America, now and then. I wanted to draw attention to their heroism. At the height of each victory was the sense of sameness and the sense of belonging. In the face of adversity, fear, and discrimination they persisted and innovated.”