Posted on May 29, 2006 at 11:21 am
Who knew you all had so many questions? I’m going to try to get to a couple a day, just so I can whip through the backlog (there are about eighty questions sitting in my Ask JRB box, just mocking me and teasing me every day).
So, first up, Ryan DeFoe:
1. In the new songbook, why are certain arrangements slightly altered from what is heard on the albums? Specifically the stuff from your album and Lauren’s. There seem to be slight differences in the piano line (i.e., the downward lick on “voices that tell me to stand my ground,” etc.). And again in “Nothing in Common,” I know you cut certain chunks out of the piano solos, but if I remember there was more changed in that as well. The most different to me is “If I Told You Now.” I know it’s in a different key, so that sounds different, but I don’t know, maybe it is me, but the piano line seems radically different. So I just wondered why that was? The reason I ask, is because one of the things I love about playing your stuff is mastering all the little “licks” and intricacies.
2. On my “Parade” showcard, it states orchestrations by Sebesky AND Coughlin. I checked my other literature from the show and Coughlin is not listed as orchestrator and you are. I asked this question on a chat board and someone told me that in “The Art of the American Musical,” you said you were unhappy with certain musical components of “Parade.” So I guess the question is what happened to Coughlin and his orchestrations and what are the musical elements you were unhappy with?
Here are my answers:
1. The arrangements are different in the book largely because the recordings were made before I ever sat down to write the piano parts out. Therefore, when it came time to write down the parts for the book, some licks felt more natural than others, some ideas wanted to be more fully fleshed out, and to be frank, I made some lousy choices on the record that I liked having the opportunity to correct. Which is not to say that the piano parts in the book are always better, but they are at least more thought out. And sometimes it was more expedient to just write down “something” than to spend six hours transcribing what I had played at the session. “If I Told You Now” is actually one of the piano parts I’m most proud of in the book; not that the way I played it for Lauren’s album is bad, but when we did that session, I was just learning how to play it in her key and we had never performed it live at that point, so I think in the years since we made the record, I’ve discovered a lot about that song.
2. It’s not fair this many years down the line to discuss specifically what happened with Bruce Coughlin, who I respect enormously as a writer, especially since he isn’t likely to show up to defend himself. Though that could be a fun bloggy thing, maybe Bruce can write in with his version of what happened (please don’t use the phrase “egomaniacal nitwit”), then I can embellish it to make myself look better. Sometimes musicians just aren’t speaking exactly the same language, and that was the case on “Parade.” There is no more perfect orchestration for the musical theater than what Bruce did with “Floyd Collins,” and I will consider myself lucky if we get to work together again.
Now Robert Weiner asks:
Let me first say I am a huge fan of all your works, but especially “Parade.” I bought the CD when it first came out, sound unheard, and was blown away. I have since worn through 2 other copies. I finally had a chance to see it when The University of Michigan did a production of it a few years back, and was astounded yet again.
My question is this: I am part of a the theatrical creative team at a high school in Michigan, and I and our Musical Director (who happens to be the director of the top choir in the State) think that “Parade” would be a difficult, yet challenging and ultimately rewarding selection for our fall Musical. Many naysayers, including the Director, feel that the subject matter is too “dark” for a high school, that we would alienate our audience, and that the show wouldn’t sell. While this may be true for most high schools, we feel that the kids (who love you, btw) are mature enough and talented enough to perform your work (we put on a fantastic rendition of “Urinetown” this year), and we would have an orchestra that is top notch (directed by a former band director at the University of Michigan).
Has a High School ever performed Parade? Do you discourage High Schools from attempting such an “adult” piece of literature? And do you have any advice on how to market it (it’s no “Annie”! Thank God)?
Any response is highly appreciated.
Here’s what I think:
Certainly if your high school director felt comfortable with “Urinetown,” which may be the darkest piece of musical theater I’ve ever seen, he shouldn’t have a problem with “Parade.” I presume one of the other choices might be the school version of “Les Misérables,” for example, which is profoundly political and heavy, but your director probably wouldn’t have a problem with that.
So let’s put aside the question of whether it’s “appropriate,” since we’re looking at a musical that has, on many levels, a lot of very important things to teach students, none of which would be out of place in the most conservative history class.
Let’s move to whether it would alienate your audience – again, I ask: they had no problem with “Urinetown”? I know, I know, “Parade” isn’t a comedy (boy, do I know), but I don’t think it’s an offensive or alienating piece, unless you’re having Robert Wilson direct it in a German translation. It’s really a pretty straight-ahead conventional musical, it’s just about some tough things which it deals with fairly straightforwardly. I would understand the concern if you were in West Virginia or northern Florida, but in Michigan? I’d be surprised to hear that the parents and students were alienated or offended by “Parade.” I think your director is underestimating your audience. They really can deal with dark things, they watch “CSI” every week.
As for whether it’s “marketable,” well, there you’ve got me. No, it’s not. It was a flop musical about a lynching. Your weapon here is your students, who will be passionately, fiercely engaged in this piece and will want their friends and families to see what they’ve done. I’ve seen eight or nine productions of “Parade,” and the students are always, in every production, committed and connected to the material in a way that I don’t see in student productions of, say, “Grease” or “Over Here.” I think especially because the piece is not very well-known, the students think of it as their responsibility to expose their peers to it, to share it and explore it together, which they’ll do on their MySpace pages and while they’re Instant Messaging each other. I think they can build up excitement for the show far beyond what they can do for “Little Shop of Horrors.” I suppose that’s a risk, but the point of doing a show with students is to give those students a learning experience, and sometimes doing that entails risk. It’s not that big a risk, to be frank; I know your students will fight for the show. But if your director isn’t jazzed about it, everyone will pick up on that and that’s a bad thing. I can’t make that judgement call for you, but I encourage you to fight for it, not because I need the royalties (believe me, one high school in Michigan is not going to help with my house payment) but because I believe in the show and I’ve seen what it can do for students and for school drama programs.