||The Muse's News
Issue 1.6 - September 1998
In This Issue:
ISSN 1480-6975. Copyright 1998 - Jodi Krangle. For more info about placing ads, send an inquiry.
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Well, here we are again. This issue includes the usual elements - an interview with an extremely talented songwriter, a book review, a feature article that I'm very glad to be able to include and lots more. The theme here is musical theatre and I hope I managed to do it justice. If you have an idea for another themed issue, please do feel free to let me know! <firstname.lastname@example.org>
I'm very pleased to announce the first winner of our book give- away, CORY W. CLINES, a Music Education student at the Eastman School of Music in Rochester, New York. Cory is the lucky winner of Harriet Schock's new book, BECOMING REMARKABLE, which also includes a CD of some of her songs so that it's easy to tell she knows what she's talking about. It's quite a treat. The book itself won't actually be released to the public until September but I was lucky enough to receive a copy for review as you'll see by reading further. The next book for give-away will be Pat Pattison'sWRITING BETTER LYRICS so stay tuned - and thank you very much for subscribing to this newsletter.
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Songwriting Book Review: by Jodi Krangle
(Can also be viewed in JAPANESE at BigFishMusic)
BECOMING REMARKABLE: For Songwriters & Those Who Love Songs
(Also included is "Rosebud" - her newly released CD) by Harriet Schock Since this book has yet to be released in stores, to request a copy, e-mail Harriet at: <email@example.com>
Ok. I'm going to say the obvious. You knew I was going to say it and here goes. This book is TRULY remarkable. That out of the way, let me tell you why.
Harriet approaches the art of songwriting with such open honesty that one can't help but be affected by her strength of conviction. There is more to this book than a simple "how-to". It's also a guide to keeping your spiritual connection with your art. Some of her articles moved me to tears.
The structure of the book is pretty simple, really. It's split up into three sections - "Integrity", "Clarity" & "Technology". "Integrity" deals with what I mentioned above - the emotional and spiritual connection to the act of songwriting. Why we do it, what moves us to continue doing so. "Clarity" deals with the content of those songs and what can help to make them unique. The "Technology" section is the "how-to" part of the book. Each section contains numerous articles that Harriet has written throughout her long journey as a songwriter, singer and performer. The result is a poignant mix of emotional outpouring and sincerity that is sure to inspire.
Her music has the same sort of honest poignancy and a CD of her songs is also included with the book - a demonstration of her techniques and her beliefs in action.
I would recommend BECOMING REMARKABLE most highly to those who are so bogged down in the business of their songwriting that they've forgotten WHY they actually do what they do. This book will most definitely help them remember. And maybe, when that magic is back, the songs can flow just that much more easily.
Harriet Schock's BECOMING REMARKABLE was our book give-away for this month and I would like to thank all of you for taking part by subscribing to The Muse's News. The next book to be reviewed and given away in the October issue will be Pat Pattison's WRITING BETTER LYRICS - a VERY worthy addition to any songwriter's library.
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Musical Notes: Songwriting Contests & Market Information
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Songwriter In Profile: David Reiser
How did you get into musical theatre and who were your early influences? Can you point to one particular instance that got you started or was it just sort of something that snuck up on you?
I started writing music at a very young age. When I was a teen I wanted to be a pop singer/writer but found my style of writing didn't fit the pop mold. Musical theatre seemed to suit my creative bent the best so I decided to go into that direction. But it took until I was in my early 30s before I actually got started. I had an idea to do a musical based upon the legend of Robin Hood and a couple of my students (I taught high school vocal music for many years before taking early retirement in 1994) said they'd like to work on it with me. Over the summer we wrote it (I did the music and lyrics; the three of us worked on the libretto). It turned out quite well and my junior-senior choir and I put it on the next March. It was successful and, a few years later, I decided to write something for the Bicentennial--I selected Betsy Ross as my subject. This time, though, I decided to get a professional playwright to do the script and asked the principal if he could find some funds to hire a playwright who lived in the area. He said okay and I was on my way. The man was the late, great Jack Sharkey, one of the most prolific playwrights in the USA--before he died he published nearly 100 plays, including 15 musicals we co-wrote. I've written over 40 musicals with a number of playwrights and 21 are published by Samuel French, Pioneer Drama and Baker's Plays. The published plays are in continuous production throughout the US and Canada and, occasionally, abroad. (A recent royalty statement showed one production in Austrialia.) I've also had a few small productions in New York City and Chicago.
Serendipity got me to Illinois; my U of ND teachers' placement showed the job in Palatine and I interviewed, liked it, took it. But being here brought me together with Jack Sharkey which started my career. Incidentally, I loved working with teenagers--a wonderful, talented, energetic bunch. I only took early retirement so I could be more involved in some of my bigger productions. (I saw onc in NYC in which, because I was still teaching, I was unable to have any input. A total disaster. That was when I decided to take early retirement. It wasn't so I could have time to write; I always found time to write. Matter of fact I did some of my best work when I was the busiest at school. Oddly enough, I never did much writing during summer break when I had all that free time.
What was your most successful musical production and why do you think it was so successful? What elements made it really come together?
Economically speaking, my most succesful musical is THE PINCHPENNY PHANTOM OF THE OPERA which I wrote with Jack Sharkey and is published by Samuel French. It's been done a whole lot-- especially in Canada. (It's a satire on the big Euro-pop musical with a similar name...) It was mentioned in a TIME magazine article regarding all the various Phantom shows about five years ago. It's a fun show, both to do and to see. If you have any knowledge of opera it's REALLY fun.
From an artistic standpoint I think my musical, MOLINEAUX, is the most successful. Written with New York playwright, John Chodes, it's based upon a true story of an ex-slave from America who goes to London in 1809 to challenge the world heavyweight champion boxer, Tom Cribb. We had a very successful showcase in NYC a few years ago and lots of producers/theatre groups showed interest. No takers yet, however. I feel it's my best work thus far.
What was your least successful production and do you think you know why that would have been?
The musical I dislike to most is ZINGO. A writer doesn't start a project with the intention of making it bad, but sometimes things down't turn out the way I thought they would. This one turned out bad--and an editor made it worse! Fortunately, it's also one of my least successful shows so not too many people have seen it.
What elements do you think are most important for a successful musical theatre production?
A top-notch script--it will inspire top-notch songs. I've turned down lots of scripts which I've been asked to musicalize because they're mediocre. It takes an excellent book to turn on my creative juices; just like the old axiom you can't make a silk purse out of a sow's ear.
When I'm writing a musical I almost always think it's the best thing I've ever done. Otherwise I wouldn't have the energy to continue, because it's damned hard work. But sometimes things just don't work out the way I had hoped and I end up with less than I thought it would be. (That covers artistic success.)
Commercial success is largely a crap-shoot. Awhile ago I saw a most wonderful musical about Jackie Robinson (THE FIRST) at a regional theatre. It had been on Broadway a few years before and didn't last a month. Then you have mediocre shows like MISS SAIGON and SUNSET BOULEVARD (which rely mostly on stage effects rather than good drama and music) that draw audiences by the millions. Go figure. Publicity, promotion, being there at the right time, etc. etc. ad infinitum, all have something to do with it. I really don't think (at least in this day and age) that artistic merit enters into the picture too much. Maybe that Broadway is revitalizing things will turn around and people like me will have a shot.
What sorts of things inspired you to write? Listening to music? Reading a book? Watching the tv? Seeing another musical theatre production?
I'm not the kind of composer who can sit down at the piano and say, "Okay, I'm going to write a song." I need a REASON to write a song; that's why I like writing for the musical theatre--a good script is loaded with good song ideas. The script is what inspires me. Once I decide to "musicalize" a script I go through and figure out what would be better sung than said--and start writing. After I get the idea I consider the song at least half written.
Do you remember any one instance where something sparked an idea that turned into a full fledged production?
Something that sparked a full fledged production? One of my playwrights and I had produced a number of our children's musicals and, in these productions, we often cast a very talented gal for all sorts of character roles--even male roles when we were in a pinch. She is definitely not the leading lady type but would jokingly suggest types of shows we could write in which the leading role would suit her ("Arsenic and Old Lace- the Musical" etc.) Anyway, during one of our productions she said, "How about a gender reversal of A CHRISTMAS CAROL?} The playwright and I gave each other a "hey, that's not a bad idea" look. In a year we had a production of MRS. SCROOGE in Chicago with--you guessed it--the same gal in the lead role.
What do you see as the major differences between writing for theatre and writing for the radio or commercial CD releases? I mean, obviously, the song has to further the plot somehow - or explain parts of it - but is there more?
Having never written for the radio or commercial CD releases I can't comment on that part of the question but the song must further the plot or it has no business being there. That's why I prefer working with a completed play. When I select a portion of dialogue to change into a song, I know exactly what the playwright has in mind for that particular moment. And, for that reason, in my musicals the songs flow smoothly out of the dialogue and back into it.
This leads me to another question. Let's get into the "business" of how this sort of thing is done: Do you write the play yourself and add the music or do you usually write the songs for an already completed script?
I work with a several playwrights from California to New York and points in between. As a result, we work long distance--which has presented no problems. I like to take a completed script and, as I read through it, I note where a song might do a better job than the dialogue. I usually write the lyric first because it's the most important part of the song. It has to convey what you want the audience to know at that moment of the play. But when I want a special musical effect I'll write the melody first. After the song is completed I will, if necessary, write a line of dialogue as an intro to the song and, also if necessary, write another line to segue back into the dialogue. That's the sum of my playwrighting. (I've tried doing a script but I'm just no good at that sort of thing.) Plus, I think it's better to work with a playwright-- it's nice to have someone to bounce ideas off of and argue with. The latter keeps you honest.
What are the legalities of this? Is it usually a 50/50 venture? Should the play be "registered" somewhere (like a song would be "copyrighted" by BMI of ASCAP or SOCAN or what have you?) How does that work?
We work on a 50/50 basis regarding royalties and usually copyright the work together. ASCAP, BMI, etc., are organizations to collect performance royalties from songs played/performed on the radio, TV, etc. It's not necessary for me to belong to one of those unless one of my musicals really took off and there were professional recordings/performances done of the music. The copyright goes through the Library of Congress. The Dramatists Guild, an organization I belong to, has collaboration agreements which protect all the contributing parties during the writing process.
What about crossing the boundaries between countries? Do the royalty systems work differently between the US, Canada and Europe? Which do you find pays you the most (if you don't mind my asking. You don't have to answer that if you feel it's inappropriate but I thought the readers might be interested.)
The copyrights work on both sides of the border--most countries have agreements respecting each others' copyrights. Some countries, like China, for instance, don't recognize copyrights; therefore, millions are lost by writers through bootlegged CDs etc. A lot of bootlegging is going on right in the USA with the same result...lost royalties.
I actually get LESS money from my musicals that are produced in Canada; the reason is Canadians are charged the same royalty but the Canadian dollar, as you know, is lower. But I love my neighbors to the north so it doesn't bother me.
What do you look for in a good musical theatre experience, Dave? As a creator of such experiences, you must be a little more picky than most, hmm?
The more I write the pickier I get. That carries over into straight plays, movies, TV, books, short stories, etc. ad infinitum. What I look for is good drama/comedy with good music and lyrics that nicely fit in. How a show does when stripped of all the superficialities is my barometer of how good a show is; does it need a falling chandelier or a helicopter hovering overhead? Is it necessary to have a mansion that moves up, down, forward and back? How good would it be if reduced to a staged reading? (I had a staged reading in NYC of one of my musicals and the audience [and critic] was really moved. That's because it was good enough without scenery, costumes, lighting, etc.) The staging should complement the show, not drive it.
What advice would you give to others that would like to get more involved in writing musical theatre? What writers/composers would you suggest they might want to look/listen to?
I think a person who wants to write for the musical stage should listen to as many diverse composers as possible--really get a feel for the theatre by experiencing Gilbert & Sullivan, Romberg, Kern, Gershwin, Porter, Berlin, Rogers & Hart & Hammerstein, Bernstein, Lerner & Loewe, Sondheim. See how the masters wove their songs through the dialogue, enhancing the moment. See how they crafted their songs--the great rhymes, rhythms and melodies.
I haven't done much in the creative vein lately; I've been doing more work on promotion. It takes lots of work getting your material looked at and--hopefully--produced. The creative process is only the initial step and, in most cases, the easiest part of being a composer/playwright. You have to work hard unless you're content to let your creativity lie in your desk drawer.
What's in store for the future, Dave? What sorts of things are you working on now? Where do you think you're headed in your songwriting?
What's in the future? I don't know--I hope it's a major production somewhere. I keep thinking one is just around the corner but I haven't quite snared it yet. But if a writer didn't think one of his works was going to make it big he'd never have the courage to start working on his first one, let alone (as in my case) his forty-second. Or is it the forty-third??? As the years go by my four-syllable couplet describing the writer seems ever more true: create...and wait.
In 1970, David Reiser wrote his first musical, based upon the legend of Robin Hood, which he and his students produced the following year. Soon after that he teamed up with the late Jack Sharkey to write 19 musicals over a 15-year period. Reiser has written with Hollywood playwright Tim Kelly, Washington DC playwright Bernie Myers and New York playwright John Chodes. He has also written a series of children's musicals with former student, Don Leonard.
As of July 1998, David Reiser has written music and lyrics for 42 musicals, 21 of which have been published (six by PIONEER DRAMA SERVICE). His musicals are produced extensively throughout the United States and Canada and - occasionally - abroad.
His most recent productions include BEN on the Helen Hayes Stage of the National Theatre in Washington, D.C., BALLET RUSSES at the Kaufman Theatre, New York City, MOLINEAUX at Theatre Row Theatre, New York City and MRS. SCROOGE at the Athenaeum Theatre, Chicago.
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Muse's Clues - Web Site Review by Peter Dizozza
"Aisle Say" provides in depth coverage of all things theatrical, particularly musicals, since it is the brain child of David Spencer. David is a staff member for the BMI Lehman Engel Music Theatre Workshop and lyricist for the Alan Menkin musical, "Weird Romance." As you will learn from his bio page, he is also the author of the most popular "Alien Nation" paperback ever written. Although you may have to compete with his ego to appreciate his critiques, they're always worth the effort.
The information "Aisle Say" provides is essential to the history and development of musical theatre. Keeping current on such a leisure subject requires international travel and considerable time. That's why "Aisle Say" has critics posted throughout the civilized world as needed. (But will they visit Aachen, Germany to review Marc Berry and Michael Korth's new adaptation of Beggars Opera, entitled Blood Red Roses?)
All "Aisle Say" critics are matched in their high level of intelligence. Their content produces a best list of regional theatre throughout the nation, including New York. Also essential are their reviews of musical soundtracks. "Aisle Say" is information packed and one of the great secret musical theatre assets on the web.
When you visit you'll find that its adjunct, OOBR, has split to become its own magazine of off-off-Broadway reviews.
Peter Dizozza, a Cinema VII artist (http://idt.net/~dizozza), composed the music and performed in "Convertible" (Press release at http://www.nytheatre-wire.com/versalie.htm), a musical play which ran at La Mama ETC's maint Theatre during June, 1998 (reviewed by BuzzNYC at http://www.buzznyc.com/news/convertible.html). As a singer/songwriter he came out "Pro-Choice on Mental Health" at the Fort at Sidewalk in 1996. His latest mini-play is entitled "Copellius." E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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Illuminations: Music, Story & Songwriting for Young Audiences
By James Vincent Fusco
I love children's audiences. They're bright-eyed, smiling, fresh and open-minded. They have no preconceptions. They are not jaded. When they like you, they are with you - they join in, laugh, clap and cheer in an honest, unaffected, pure way. When they don't like you, they're gone quickly and you know it. They divert their attention elsewhere - to their shoes or gum under their seats - and they do it noisily.
My Family Concert Theatre programs are a blend of drama and comedy, symphonic music and singalong. I've performed for audiences across North America for ten years and I've loved every second of every concert. The overall structure of each program is like a song but a different kind of setting. These are spoken texts with symphonic music, either an original story or adaptation of a classic like Moby Dick or The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.
I think of the essence of my work as something I call "illuminated story music" that enlightens the listener and creates an aural world to enter. In writing concert theatre, I've found the similarities and differences to traditional songwriting quite interesting. With a song, I usually begin with a lyric that forms the germ of the song. With concert theatre, I begin with the text that forms the essence of the piece, the central idea. I'll work with a lyric until I have a basic form, maybe verse-verse-bridge-chorus-verse-chorus-verse, and I do exactly the same thing with a concert theatre piece. Keeping in mind a song might be four minutes in length and my symphonic piece is fifty minutes long, I'll lay out the form this way: introduction-exposition-development-climax-recap-coda. Then I really concentrate on coming up with a quality musical idea with a song, if I have a strong melody I'll usually write the chorus first; a strong harmonic sequence and I'll try the verse or bridge first. Similarly in concert theatre, if I have a strong theme or motif I'll write the exposition first; stronger harmonic or rhythmic elements and I may choose to begin with the climax.
Although concert theatre texts are mostly spoken, they're still set to music by beat and rhythm, just like a song lyric. I count out the number of beats and mark exactly where the stressors lie, but the music won't lift and transform the line into something musical to be sung. It's more like a fireplace effect the music is the fire, the text lies prominently above it on the mantelpiece.
Finally, I try to balance each element musical text, symphonic music without text, unaccompanied dialogue, and one or two songs. I want a seamless blend of dramatic and comedic theatre, orchestral power, literate storytelling and song/singalong that's completely original and engaging.
The audience can be completely swept away by an illuminated story and made to listen creatively; I never forget the importance of bringing my audiences into the performance, embracing them. I do this by creating interactivity between the audience and the stage players, actors, conductor, and orchestra. In Moby Dick, for example, the audience is the crew of the Pequod and the show is directly participatory. The elements - the sea, the ship, the birds, the whale, the hunt - all have musical motifs representing them that the audience is challenged to listen for and identify. The excitement brought out by the natural drama and the demands made on the audience's imagination seem to bring about a musical learning and listening experience that's new, different, and best of all - fun.
Writer, composer, and conductor James Vincent Fusco has conducted his Family Concert Theatre programs with orchestras across the United States and Canada. He has written the book, music and lyrics for two musicals, a sophisticated comedy entitled Hearts, premiered in 1992, and a 1930's jazz and swing show, Cafe Society, first produced in 1996. Mr. Fusco also has recently completed three novels, At Revere Crossing, Paperback Writer, and The Visits to Summer. His first screenplay, Ory in the Otherworld, is under option. Currently, Mr. Fusco has several writing projects on the go, including putting the finishing touches on several new songs he'll be recording soon, developing a new screenplay, and negotiating to bring his jazz show Cafe Society into New York for the Christmas season.
If you'd like to learn more about James Vincent Fusco and his Family Concert Theatre programs, you can visit his website at http://www.computan.on.ca/~fusco/fct .
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" O N S I T E " F E A T U R E D A R T I C L E :
THEMALCONTENT OPTIMIST - by Tor Hyams of http://www.fierce.com/
** WARNING: This article contains some colourful language, so if you are offended by such things, read this only at your own risk. **
I chose this article to highlight for a couple of reasons. The first was that in my interview with David Reiser, he mentioned the concept of "create...and wait", and secondly because it is partially a work of fiction (you decide how much. ;)). If strong language doesn't offend you, I think you'll quite enjoy this juicy little tidbit.
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