The Musical Chessboard Project


Composed by Brent Morden | Commissioned by Don MacKay, Ph.D. | Watch Here

Sergei Prokofiev: Chess Player, Pianist and Composer of Peter and the Wolf

Magical Moves lures us into a Queen's Gambit world that treasures creativity, intellectual achievement, and the beautiful minds that produce awe-inspiring and memorable moves in chess and music. Children of all ages under 100 can enjoy it.

The Musical Chessboard Project has historical roots in Sergei Prokofiev’s Peter and the Wolf, an educational piece of musical theatre intended for children age five and older. First performed in 1936, Peter and the Wolf has been recorded for radio, movies, television and the web in hundreds of adaptations and styles, including rock, punk, Dixieland, and classical jazz. Many people around the world grew to love classical music after encountering Peter and the Wolf at a young age, including project creators Don MacKay and Brent Morden.

Magical Moves teaches somewhat older children to recognize musical themes played by "new" musical instruments not used in Peter and the Wolf. The audience then connects these themes with the magical moves of chess-piece "characters" in a story that imparts "new" life lessons, directions, and ideals unrelated to Prokofiev's 1936 fairy tale story.

The musical instruments are the violin, cello, trombone, saxophone, trumpet and piccolo. The chess-piece characters are the kings, queens, knights, bishops, rooks and pawns that participated in a real-life chess battle that took place in Baerum, Norway. They are fighting for the 2019 World Championship in Chess960, the new type of chess that Bobby Fischer invented to foster creativity rather than memorization.

The Magical Moves story dramatizes the moves and interprets the thoughts and emotions of the two players in the final game of that Chess960 World Tournament: Wesley So, a modest, charming and courageous Filipino-American, and World Champion Magnus Carlsen, gracious Norwegian host of the tournament and highest ranked player in the history of chess. Only God was said to rank higher in 2019.

The carefully chosen Magical Moves musicians (ages 11-18) will perform in a virtual orchestra for the joy of performing and the knowledge that their music will endure for all time in digital form. You will see their musical moves on the right split-screen of your computer, with a chessboard on the left split-screen where the magical moves will unfold.

In an introductory warm-up session before the gme, narrator, conductor and composer Brent Morden will describe how the chess-piece characters move. He will introduce each one together with its musical theme and instrument; for example, "Blitzy the Bishop, played by the saxophone." Each piece will then move to four different board locations, to acquint you with its identity, behavior and musical motif.

Grandmasters Magnus Carlsen (Norway, on the left)

and Wesley So (USA, on the right)

With everyone able to recognize the motifs of all six pieces, a hush will fall as the midgame board position in the final match of the tournament is displayed, followed by the last 14 moves of the game. You will recognize the musical motifs of the chess-piece characters as they move, with subtle variations depending on the status, effect and creator of each move; e.g., a defensive, offensive or threatening move by Black (Magnus Carlsen). You may also detect another micro-motif as the audio heartrate monitor that Wesley So wore throughout the tournament accelerates to an electrifying crescendo toward the end of the game.

With the battle lost and won, the full orchestra celebrates the players and the game in a grand finale: a victory march hailing the first official Chess960 Champion of the World: Wesley So. The narrator then summarizes what happened and what we learned about music, chess and life, concluding with the take-home message: Be brave. The beautiful mind of an underdog can produce magical moves that win in chess and life.

Our Team

The magical individuals behind the Musical Chessboard Project

Brent Morden

Composer, Writer, Narrator, Editor

Ivan Danylets

Pianist, Audio & Video Editor

Don MacKay, Ph.D.

Writer, Commissioner, Creator

TBA - Could be you!

If you'd like to get involved, contact us for more info.