Posted on June 7, 2006 at 7:55 pm
I’m back from my French Woods reunion, where I learned the somewhat astonishing fact that in twenty years, none of us got fat, none of us went bald, and none of us lost our voices. Also, we all seem to have hooked up with pretty hip people and had absolutely adorable children. There must have been something in the water up there. It was really cool and really weird to be in a room with fifteen people I was in a room with in 1985. I felt simultaneously ancient and very young. Anyway, the point is I’m back to answer more questions.
Chris Jenkins, balls made of brass, asks:
Hey JRB. This is really a request from a friend who doesn’t have access to the internet. She is singing ‘Christmas Lullaby’ at a wedding – not very fitting is it. She is having trouble finding an accompanist and the couple isn’t willing to pay for one. So I was wondering if there was just a backing track available to be sent to me because I cannot find one on any of the karaoke CDs. It would be very much appreciated. I know you are a good man, JRB. Help us out.
Sorry, I’m apparently not such a good man: no karaoke track for that one. Truth be told, I find the whole karaoke thing really weird, but I guess I should get over it. Is an accompanist really that expensive? That song is at least playable…
Shannen Crane asks:
The piano piece at the beginning of “Still Hurting”, the middle of “The Next Ten Minutes” and in “I Could Never Rescue You”, is absolutely brilliant. I get chills every time I hear it. Did you write that or is it an old piece? It sounds very classical. Is there any way to get music for it? I actually want to use it as my song when I eventually get married (which may be a bad thing considering how Jamie and Cathy ended up).
What’s weird is that someone else asked me for this music recently and I said, “Well, it’s right there in the vocal selections,” and she said, “Where?” and I went and looked and realized, for the very first time, that that music didn’t make it into the book. And I had really intended for it to be there! So here it is, print it out and enjoy it.
When you write, do you know in advance what chords and voicings to use, or do you experiment as you write?
Both. Sometimes the melody leads me some place so obvious that I just have to use that harmony, sometimes I’ve got a number of options, and sometimes I want to deliberately go someplace unexpected. Same with voicings, though those can be a lot more arbitrary in my scoring.
Brian Kennedy asks:
MTI offers “study guides” to their shows as an aide to their production staff and directors and what not. I see that there are no guides published for any of your 3 main shows. Is there a reason for this? Are you too busy? Not settled on what to set in stone, or just wanting to see how others view your music?
This is a lame answer, but: my shows don’t have study guides because MTI never asked. If they wanted a study guide, I’d happily put one together. (Well, I’d actually make Alfred deal with the one for “Parade.”)
Nicole from Australia asks:
I’m really not very religious, but I find myself gravitating towards writing about religion and spirituality. Can I ask how religious you are, and how you think it affects your work?
I’m not very religious, and I’m actually more and more of the mindset that organized religion has done far more harm than good in the world, but I do have specific spiritual beliefs that determine how I behave, how I respond to people, how I function in the universe. The rituals of organized religion have always seemed very theatrical to me, and I think I gravitated toward those rituals in my early work because they helped provide a clear context for songs that otherwise didn’t have a grounding, but perversely I feel that some of those songs have transcended their cynical (or at least arbitrary) origins and come to have a certain spiritual strength of their own. I wrote “Christmas Lullaby” because someone asked me to write a song for a Christmas concert and I thought it would be a good idea to get on that program, but when I hear that song now, it has a power and a directness that I don’t remember imposing on it and that doesn’t actually reflect me or my life at that time or even now. It’s as though I didn’t write it. That sounds completely bogus, I know, that whole “Oh, I just channeled it from the universe” or whatever, but I have to say that in the case of that song and a couple of others over the years, I don’t remember having much control over their creation, I was just open to what they needed to be at that moment. This all sounds highly metaphysical, you’re all going to think I’m crazy now.
Rick Rea writes:
1) Where can I learn about song structure? Do you reccomend any books or websites? As an aspiring composer/lyricist, I realize that structure will be one of the most important things to learn and I want to find all that I can on the subject.
2) It seems that most music programs in the country emphasize classical piano. While I absolutely love classical, my passion is to play jazz, funk, and rock. From schools that you’ve worked with (Eastman, USC, etc.) and schools that you know of, do you recommend any programs that would emphasize these styles?
1. While there are probably some textbooks that can guide you in the vagaries of structure, I really recommend a course of study with Professors Gershwin, Kern, Porter and Berlin. Get the standards under your fingers, you’ll see fairly quickly that there are a very few fairly simple templates upon which almost every song is drafted. My wife recommended picking up Robert Kimball’s books of the complete lyrics of Cole Porter, Irving Berlin, Ira Gershwin and Frank Loesser, and that sounds like very good advice.
2. I’m not really an expert, since my collegiate experience was brief and unhappy. Everyone would of course mention Berklee in Boston, and they certainly do have a very focussed and thorough program in contemporary pop music, but that’s by no means the only option. There are several schools that offer a jazz performance major, most of which will also give you experience in pop and rock styles; offhand I can think of Miami and Oberlin, but I think there are probably a great many. Let’s toss this to the readers: anybody got any suggestions for Rick?
Leisha Anderegg writes:
My daughter has done a lot of regional theatre in the Bay Area and is interested in auditioning for the upcoming LA production of “13.” We recently moved to L.A. and I am not familiar with how some of the theaters conduct auditions. How are auditions being handled for this production?
and Palmdalefun (really!) writes:
Was wondering if there will be auditions for your new show “13” coming up and if so, where will they be held?
I tell you what, when I know about auditions, I’ll post that information on this site. At the moment, I don’t know anything. Center Theater Group uses an in-house casting director, but they’re in the process of hiring a new person for that position at the moment, so I can’t offer you any information. I hope it’s soon because it’s a hard show to cast and we could use all the time we can get!
Dustin Mitchell writes:
Our school is performing your wonderful musical “Songs For A New World,” and I was wondering what is the theme behind the show. What was your real motivation to create such a masterpiece?
My real motivation was to write a show that wouldn’t cost a whole lot of money to produce! I just wanted to get a show on stage in New York! But that doesn’t help you out much, I guess. I’ve said this before, but I think “Songs for a New World” is about community; it’s about our collective need to join together and to overcome our million individual resistances to opening our hearts and souls to each other. That sounds kind of Pollyanna, but I do think that’s what I had to say with that show.
And finally, Steve Parker wants to know:
Is there any news on The Last Five Years in London? Is it still scheduled for July?
I deliberately picked this question for last, and I was going to have a whole lot of exciting news to share with you all about the London production of “The Last Five Years,” but in the last forty-eight hours, things got completely fucked up and now I don’t know what’s happening. So keep checking in; as soon as I know anything, I’ll post it here.