Keith Torgan & Barbara Siesel
Once upon a time (that’s how stories start), there was a girl, Barbara Siesel, and a boy, Keith Torgan. They didn’t know each other yet and, as a matter of fact, they would have many adventures on their own before they would meet. At the age of six Barbara was given a recorder and told to play – she made such beautiful music that her mom and dad bought her a flute. Encouraged by her beloved parents, who had escaped the Nazis to make a new life in New York City, she was sent for further training to the National Music Camp at Interlochen, Michigan. By the time Barbara was in the sixth grade she had decided that she would become a great flutist (or flautist if you wish) and create a wonderful life by bringing her music to many people. Her parents, who believed that, in America, anything was possible, supported her in every way. In her final year of high school, as a member of the All-City Orchestra, Barbara performed with the New York Philharmonic at Avery Fisher Hall. The next year Barbara began her studies at the world famous Juilliard School where she would have the chance to learn from the best musicians and composers of her time. She even played in orchestras conducted by such musical legends as Aaron Copland and Leonard Bernstein.
Now the boy, Keith, loved to sing and dance – he’d stand on an ottoman in the family living room singing Broadway show tunes for an imaginary audience. The “Keith Torgan Show” usually culminated in his pièce de résistance, “There’s A Place for Us” from West Side Story, delivered supine, from the living room carpet with Keith’s hand held out to an imaginary Maria moments before he dramatically expired.
This was great preparation for Keith’s grown-up theatre studies at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and the Circle in the Square Theatre Workshop in New York. One day in acting class his teacher, aware that Keith played guitar, asked him to improvise music to motivate a scene a couple of other young actors were doing. The teacher was so impressed by Keith’s musical skills that he invited him to work as a composer at the much-acclaimed Williamstown Theatre Festival. The whims of fate and good luck found Keith, at a tender age, composing the score for a show starring Gwyneth Paltrow’s mom, Blythe Danner, and Academy Award nominee Frank Langella.
More fate and luck intervened when Keith discovered how much fun it was to perform for children. Keith founded Sneakers: The Music Company for Kids, and became part of the trio of “Morgan, Torgan and Teri” for whom he wrote all the songs for The Morgan, Torgan, and Teri Show and There’s Always a Dragon to Slay. After spending some 16 hours a day, 7 days a week, 50 weeks a year for six years with this trio, Keith felt it was time for a break – a break that lasted six years.
Meanwhile Barbara was playing her flute in the great concert halls of the world: Alice Tully Hall and Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, The Great Hall in St. Petersburg, Russia, and other principal halls in China, Taiwan, Japan, Korea, and Spain. Driven by a passion for new music, she created a festival for contemporary music called the Storm King Music Festival where new works by composers like Tan Dun and Pulitzer Prize winner Aaron Kernis were introduced to the public for the first time. Barbara also discovered that she possessed a natural gift for teaching music and soon accepted a position teaching at Colby College in Maine.
Our story returns to Keith Torgan who, you will recall, had taken a sabbatical from children's performances and was now selling Jeeps. Now you must remember that Keith was basically the same little boy we met earlier, singing from the carpet, and he soon developed a reputation as the Singing Car Poet. He wrote clever songs about all the cars he was selling and even more clever songs about his customers. However, car lot serenades did not assuage the sense of loneliness that began to fill Keith’s heart. One evening, on a computer dating site, he came upon a woman who’d traveled the world making music with her flute. He was so taken by her that he requested a meeting. It was love at first sight! Even though they knew they were perfect for each other, Keith was scared to share his songs with this seriously trained and accomplished musician. Barbara, in turn, was scared to listen to his songs! What a relief it was when she realized how good his songs were. Barbara was so enchanted by Keith’s work that she convinced him to “stop wasting his talent singing about Jeeps and get back in the game.”
This is how Green Golly came to life. Barbara Siesel recalls, "I knew nothing about performing for children except from my days with the Lincoln Center Institute. As I got to know Keith and heard his music, I was inspired and entertained, but more importantly, I was laughing all the time at his clever lyrics and delivery. It was so wonderful to bring happiness and laughter into my music and my life. For years I had been concerned that children were growing up without knowing how to listen to and understand classical music. I started to feel that, together, Keith and I could discover a way to reach those children and their parents."
Barbara and Keith met in January of 2004, and by November of that year their company, The Green Golly Project, was born, with a mission to present music, comedy, and story-theater to children and their families in venues of all sizes. Barbara goes on to say, "We take our big idea of introducing children to live performance and classical music and original song to any venue, large or small. With our mission firmly in place, we’ve vowed never to pass up an opportunity to enhance the lives of children. It’s been great – we perform over 200 programs a year in libraries, schools, theaters, museums, as well as large concert halls, and we’ve expanded into creating flutes, books, CDs, video and even film. We’re starting to reach more and more children, and I think they have fun and laugh a lot! It feels like we are doing something about the future of classical music from the grass roots to the concert hall.”
Just as in a good story, everything happens as it should. Barbara Siesel and Keith Torgan were married on June 11, 2005, and they are living happily ever after.
BOOKS BY KEITH TORGAN & BARBARA SIESEL