mary and nellie

Mary Casanova in her canoe on Lake Kabetogama with her dog, Nellie. The photo was taken by her husband, Charlie Casanova.

“One-Dog Canoe,” a children’s book inspired by a day on Rainy Lake, and written by Ranier resident Mary Casanova, will be brought to life by the Minnesota Orchestra Sept. 28.

“I’m sure I’ll be the kid with the biggest smile in the audience,” she said of the upcoming performance.

“It’ll be my first time hearing the music along with everybody else.”

Casanova’s story, set to music by Daniel Nass, is the centerpiece of a special open-to-the-public Kinder Konzert, celebrating the 40th anniversary of the award-winning concert series for preschoolers on at 9:30 a.m. Sept 28 at Orchestra Hall in Minneapolis.

Commissioned by FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra, this world premiere performance of “One-Dog Canoe” will be performed by a small ensemble of eight Minnesota Orchestra musicians and narrated by Katherine Condon.

“This is all based on a story that was inspired by canoeing on Rainy Lake,” Casanova said of her book.

She said she was canoeing with her friend when a dog swam up to their vessel, seemingly requesting a ride.

“So, my friend and I stopped our canoe and let it join us,” she said.

After a while of paddling with their four-legged passenger, they came around a bend and saw another dog sitting on a dock.

“I thought, if the dog could talk, he would say, ‘can I come too?’ I just said out loud and with my arms out, ‘No way, this is a one-dog canoe!’” Casanova explained, laughing.

She turned around to her friend, children’s book author, Phyllis Root, and said, “That sounds like a picture book title, doesn’t it?”

“Sure does,” Root replied.

Casanova hadn’t written any picture books at that time, and simply wrote down the story as something for herself, but eventually —32 drafts later— it became a published, highly successful book.

In the published story, a young canoeist who sets off paddling on a river takes on more and more animal passengers, until the inevitable happens and the canoe topples over.

Nass, the show’s composer, describes his piece as playful, “creating sonic postcards for each of the canoe’s friendly passengers as well as a sound representation of air, trees and water.”

Casanova and Nass, both of whom are Minnesota natives, will attend the premiere.

“I’m feeling extra, extra excited because our son Eric and his wife, will be there with our two-year-old granddaughter Olivia, so I’ll get to share front row seats with them,” Casanova said.

She will also bring her dog, Nellie, to the event and sign copies of her book.

The premiere will include a pre-concert, “Sound Factory” where children learn musical concepts and experience “playing” an instrument, as well as other activities for children relating to the story.

Children will then sit on-stage for their concert by a small ensemble of Minnesota Orchestra musicians who introduce instrument families and perform.

Launched by the FRIENDS of the Minnesota Orchestra in 1979, Kinder Konzerts are one-hour concerts specifically designed for children ages four and five.

Since 1984, FRIENDS has commissioned 18 new works from composers such as Libby Larsen, Janika Vandervelde, Stephen Paulus, Charles Lazarus and Steve Heitzeg, and is one of the few organizations across the country that raises funds to commission new music for four- and five-year-old children.

Casanova said she is grateful for the opportunity to share her story.

“It’s a really special event because “One Dog Canoe” has found so many fans and followers around our state, it has been turned into a play at Stages theater, a musical a few years ago, in Plymouth, Minn. — and now to have music uniquely composed for it, is such an honor,” she said.

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