Friday, 22 September 2017

Today, the Musical, Part Six

Noodling with melodies and music-notation software. I have a ways to go with both.
In the meantime, back to Sunday in the Park With George. One of Stephen Sondheim's basic principles is that Form follows Content. (I hear you, Black Mountain poets: form is an extension of content.) This applies to his melodies. Instead of composing a tune and chord structure and verse/chorus structure and finding the words to fit, he would find the melody to fit the words, even if chorus/verse regularity is not available. The songs are about the character, not about the composer's clever ideas.
The same is true of rhyme. SS is a stickler for pure rhyme, but that doesn't mean abab, for example. He might go aba-cdcd- and then pick up that resolving b
That principle--Form follows Content--gives us songs in which a character develops, which allows an artist like Bernadette Peters to give everything to the moment she's playing. 

Tuesday, 19 September 2017

Today, the Musical, Part Five

I'm directing anyone who wonders why I have been swept away by musical theatre to find a clip of Bernadette Peters singing "Children and Art," from Sunday in the Park With George. Preferably the whole show, available on DVD, but if only one song, make it this one.
There is no turning back from work this good. 
I'm afraid to play the thing again for fear I'll vanish into a puddle of tears or forget who I am or something. 
At first, when asked to explain what moves me about musical theatre, I would babble about the necessary suspension of disbelief being so freeing, so open, so powerful. Something about "it must be the fact of music, which in some form every human being knows." 
"Children and Art" gets beyond all that. To see and hear Peters, playing a ninety-eight-year-old grandmother in a wheel chair, singing of what came before in the world and what will be left, as her grand-son kneels, holding her hand . . . in Peters' gorgeous soprano that has aged so well . . . and with her comic genius always at hand . . .
And I haven't mentioned Mandy Patinkin, the grand-son, who is superb, or the first act of the play, in which MP plays the painter Georges Seurat, and BP a figure in Seurat's famous A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte. 
Give this song a listen somehow. And while you're at it, catch a clip of Patinkin doing "The Day Off (Dog Song)" from the same show.

Wednesday, 13 September 2017

Today, the Musical, Part Four or So

The minute I turn from composing the piece to talking about the piece--say, for a grant application--the thing threatens to dry up. But today did bring an idea or two. 
1
I'd been thinking of how to move what I might call poems--really just a series of character sketches, not unlike many poems I've written--to what I might call songs. Working the former into the latter. Instead, maybe the song can move to where the poem is. If I have something that works as poem, find a way to sing it.
2
The play involves people who live in an apartment building, a setting that offers potential for both individual and group exploration. I'd been thinking that sooner or later, likely later in Act Two, a meeting of the Tenants' Committee would be a chance for the individuals to sing in duos, trios, etc., maybe even by way of resolution/climax, but don't quote me on that. Anyway, today |I realized that I'll need an earlier iteration of a group voice in some form. A scene writ smaller than the TC meeting, but building toward it.
3
The cast of characters, and their individual developments, must remain fluid at this point. So far, one of them is the live-in janitor who at one point takes the woman in the vestibule to an (imaginary) patio on the building roof. His doing so, and his singing up there, doesn't fit with the "silent one" tag I've stuck on this guy so far. But that's the kind of work I'll have to do with all these characters. Find out who they are, and let them be true to it.

Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Musical, the Idea

I meant to start sooner in telling you how things are going with the musical I'm writing. Since it occurred to me that as long as I get one useful idea per day, work is moving ahead (unlike, say, construction on Lorne street in Regina) I'm going to try daily entries on the idea of the day.
Today it was the old man and the old woman. I'd listed them with about a dozen others as characters who lived in a heritage apartment in a western prairie city. I came up with an idea for a song. 
He:      Old man.
She:     Old woman. Old man,
He:       Old woman,
is how it begins. This comes from reading Stephen Sondheim's commentary on Irving Berlin about keeping it simple. Hard to do.
Anyway, the man and woman get to a song called "Body Flaws," several verses leading to a refrain, as in,
He:     We've got a lot of parts to our bodies.
She:    We've put a lot of feet in our shoes.
He:     Not wearing shoes.
She:    You should try it
Both:   (with a jump) and diet!
He:     Ah, what the hell . . .
She:    We all hear the bell
Both:   that tolls for our body flaws.
Not sure how to stage it yet. But that's the kind of thing I've been after so far today. 
The man and woman decide to go swimming at an outdoor pool, an obvious golden-tan-mine of body looks and images.
It may turn out by the end of the song that all this has been some kind of dream/fantasy (a stock element in musicals of the past), and we see the two of them in their living room, reading. A tremolo sustains in the score but no other sound, light or action. To black.

Tuesday, 8 August 2017

Wet

But it wasn't the other day.











I'd stopped in at Tangerine for a coffee. Bless their hearts, they still play satellite jazz, the only place that does. This was quarter to five, driest summer since 1887.

"Hot, the Musical," is how I might say it, given the weather and all these musicals I've been reading and listening to. I'm going for rhyme in pieces I'm writing. I'm aiming for song.

Hot, too, the jazz--contemporary, free-form, with a mix of classics. The musicians push the far edges, both in charge of and carried by the settings they create.

Today's sky, to name one, I was about to finish my americano and crash. For the fortieth day of the last forty-four, the shadows cut sharply wherever they fall.

Playing Sweeney Todd

Tonight I'm playing Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street, and reading Stephen Sondheim's lyrics. Act One is just over and I've leapt to my feet.
I can say I've always loved Broadway show tunes. I heard them at home as a boy. Dad had joined the Columbia Record Club, or one like it, and the Rogers and Hammerstein sang out from our mahogany living room in Herbert.
Musical theatre as an art form, however, didn't sink in until I got hooked on Mary Poppins at Globe Theatre two years ago, when I was retiring from Luther, launching Hillsdale Book, and writing A Round for Fifty Years: a History of Regina's Globe Theatre. Working on the book during the rehearsal period of the show, I became so inspired by the excellence of cast and crew that I built in a Mary Poppins diary into the book, making of point of finishing the first draft of the complete text on opening night.
Something like that happened again during the recent run of The Little Mermaid at Globe, for which I was hired to do a live audio commentary, delivered via mic and earphones to vision-impaired patrons. I felt as if I had a small stake in the delivery of the show. But more than that, I fell in love with the cast--the brilliance of their work as singers and dancers and actors, the genial hand of Stephanie Graham as Choreographer and Director.
Here's the kicker: I was deeply moved by these performances. As in, to tears. Such shows are products of the Disney musical theatre machine but high-end products, artfully composed, that sent me trembling into the night, wondering where I'd been.
So I've decided to write a musical. I might as well say it. It will take a long time. Lots of time to listen and study and write. 
Hence my viewing of Newsies (Broadway hit, 2011, also a Disney product) on film at the Cineplex last Saturday. Original Broadway cast. It was stunning. Think Brando, think Baryshnikov. And they could sing.
And kicker of kickers, tonight I played Act One of Sweeney Todd, with Len Cariou as the barber and Angela Lansbury as his co-conspirator. (Spoiler: he slits their throats upstairs, she serves them in pies downstairs.) Unfuckinbelievably good, this show. 
I'm trying to learn why all these shows--and a shout out to Kinky Boots, which I saw in Toronto in '15--move me so. I'm teaching myself. 

Monday, 24 April 2017

Day After

I wonder how a writing moment full of motion is like any in a game you're playing. Hockey or ball, I mean. Waiting for the fly ball to come down. Or a split second from crashing with boards, puck, and back-checker who may or may not be taking a run at you, at the same time. ("If it feels so good, it ain't ever going to lie," I heard just now in a song lyric on CBC, but that's not what I'm saying.) 
The word time doesn't quite apply to any of those moments. So why use it. Ok, deleted. 
Hitched as it is to the past, now has no meaning except more of it. 
I think that's what athletes love about play-offs. They get pure, the players do. Beyond language, my cue to end this entry. 
There's nothing I need add about the Maple Leafs. They're out.