Written words music to her ears


"A dream come true" is how Rheda Becker describes being invited by the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to narrate "Peter and the Wolf" more than 25 years ago.

The longtime narrator of the BSO's children's concerts recalls that even as a little girl, "I had an enormous love of music," and "Peter and the Wolf" was a favorite. "I thought, 'I would love to be the person who told the story.' "

She's now been telling that story - along with musical settings of "The Story of Babar," "Green Eggs and Ham" and "Tubby the Tuba" - to two generations of young concertgoers and their parents at the popular concert series.

"It's special to tell stories with music," she says, "especially if you are someone who loves concert music as much as I do. Best of all is watching the audience enter into this enchanting world of music and stories."

Becker, a Baltimore resident, has always loved a good story. As a child, her earliest favorites included such classics as "The Ugly Duckling," "Jack and the Beanstalk," "The Story of Ferdinand" by Munro Leaf and Dr. Seuss' "Horton Hatches the Egg."

While she appreciates the pleasures of reading and listening, "I always loved the role of the storyteller. The narrator of the book was always interesting to me."

As a young reader, Becker says she fell in love with books such as "Black Beauty," "The Yearling," "Bambi," "Johnny Tremain," "My Antonia," "My Friend Flicka," "Heidi," "Little Women" and "Tom Sawyer."

She also liked series books such as Nancy Drew, and mythology and nonfiction such as Carl Sandburg's "Abe Lincoln Grows Up," and biographies of George Washington Carver, Benjamin Franklin, Paul Revere and Madame Curie.

Becker's childhood reading wasn't limited to stories, however. When her parents got the World Book Encyclopedia, she spent hour after hour reading that. "Everything was in it. Stories, information, biographies," she says.

She says she especially loved reading about other countries, and still does. "As I got older, reading allowed me to travel by reading about faraway places" - material that has served her well as she travels with the BSO on its overseas tours, such as to Singapore in 1998.

At home, Becker remains an ardent advocate of books and reading. She read aloud to her two now-grown sons when they were young, and reads to her three grandchildren.

She recently gave her granddaughter "Little House on the Prairie," her elder grandson, "A Wrinkle in Time" and "Johnny Tremain" and her younger grandson a copy of the Jules Feiffer picture book "Bark, George."

While her busy schedule includes helping to develop programs for the BSO's education concerts and serving on the BSO's music and education committees, Becker finds time for her reading. She has belonged to a book club for more than 10 years, reading classics and contemporary novels. Most recently, she read "Plainsong," by Kent Haruf. In mid-May, her reading material was a paperback edition of "Yevtushenko's Reader" in advance of Russian poet Yevgeny Yevtushenko's recent appearance with the BSO, during which he read his poems used by composer Dmitri Shostakovich in the choral symphony based on "Babi Yar."

"One of my habits is carrying a book, a newspaper or magazine with me all of the time," Becker said. "If I have an unexpected wait, I don't become frustrated. Time passes quickly."

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