Few parts of the job of a composer are as boring or tedious as music preparation, also known as copy work. And yet, when it comes to communicating your ideas to the other people who must execute them, no job is more important.
Copy work can be described as the visual presentation of music on the page. The people who do this work professionally are called copyists. In musical theatre, copyists are typically the LAST people to touch the sheet music. After the music has been composed, arranged, and orchestrated, the copyist will craft the individual charts that each musician will play from.
Unfortunately, it’s rare to be on a production where you can work with a copyist. Most of the time the task falls to the composer, the music director, or sometimes the musicians themselves.
The problems arise when these people have little to no experience in writing good charts. They may know how to write a vocal lead sheet, or a piano part, but what happens when they have to write a string part? A drum part? A GUITAR PART?? (Seriously you guys, guitar parts are the worst. Unless you play guitar yourself, give up. It’s a hopeless enterprise.)
What makes a song the “Best Original Song” for a motion picture? This year is particularly fascinating.
There appears to be a clear front runner in La La Land, nominated for the maximum two songs – “Audition” and “City of Stars.” Being a “movie musical” (yes, in quotations) the songs function in a very clear and direct way, allowing their effectiveness and relevance to the dramatic whole to be more objectively quantifiable. With two nominations, however, it runs the risk of cancelling itself out.
Furthermore, historically the academy has chosen songs by famous pop artists, which gives an edge to Justin Timberlake and Sting. Although THIS year, with the massive pop appeal of Hamilton, the prize could go to Lin-Manuel Miranda. So it’s really up in the air.
There is always going to be a large amount of subjectivity when evaluating a creative endeavor. Ideally, the law of averages works it out so that the opinions of an educated sample reflect the opinions of the educated majority.
Remember, though, that while the nominations are made by Academy members who are songwriters and composers, the winners are decided by the membership as a whole. (So beware Lin Manuel Miranda – the deciding vote may come down to a tone-deaf cinematographer.)
I’ve always thought that songs in motion pictures are a difficult thing to judge, and precisely because of that they are almost always a difficult award to predict. Add to that the bizarre and ever-changing rules which govern the nominations of songs, which results in years where only two songs (???) are even nominated.
I thought it might be interesting to go through the nominations and see how to evaluate them on the principles of the Academy.
I remember in college walking down the hallways of UCLA’s Schoenberg Hall and hearing the ethnomusicology majors practicing their bizarre semi-tones. These “notes in between the notes” left me fascinated and a little unsettled. I preferred my more easily digested 12-tone scales, based comfortably around middle-A being tuned to the frequency of 440hz.
But according to an interesting article in The Daily Beast, it turns out that’s a relatively recent standardization of Western music, and – according to musical conspiracy theories (yes, there really is such a thing) – was propagated by the Nazis in order to move people towards “greater aggression, psycho social agitation, and emotional distress predisposing people to physical illness.”
The Tony Awards always leave me inspired. I didn’t get to watch this years broadcast, but even just seeing the names of nominees and winners that are close to my heart fuels me to keep pushing ahead in this crazy business of show.
I’m especially inspired by the win of FUN HOME – a story we’ve never seen before on the musical stage – as it further widens the breadth of what stories a musical can tell. As it has for centuries, the theatre continues to have the power to give voice to all sorts of populations whose stories deserve to be told.
That’s why I’m so excited to premiere some brand new songs from JOE SHMOE SAVES THE WORLD as part of The Festival of New American Musical’s Musi-CAL series, celebrating new musicals written by SoCal writers.
Come have a bite to eat and support new musical theatre performed by my incredible cast featuring Jonah Hill (American Idiot, Hair at the Hollywood Bowl), Alex Wyse (Masters of Sex, Broadway’s Lysistrata Jones), Ashley Argota (The Fosters), and Nicole Farnoush, as well as Kat Hennessey, Chris Meissner, Lyle Mackston, and Holly Howell.
Or so says Tony-Award Broadway composer/lyricist William Finn. As Artistic Producer of the Barington Stage Company’s Musical Theatre Lab, Finn hosts an annual concert called “Songs by Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You Probably Don’t Know But Should,” and this year he has chosen a song composed by me with lyrics by Brian Pugach.
I first encountered Brian Pugach’s work at the Celebration Theatre in Los Angeles, who produced his show The Next Fairy Tale. We’ve since collaborated on two songs (his lyrics, my music) and have another on the way.
The song is called SAM TAKES PICTURES, and was performed this past weekend by Broadway actress Elizabeth Stanley.
Stay tuned for video of the concert, and recorded audio of the song.
I’ve long been a fan of Alison Fraser’s buzzy, unique sound ever since I heard her in The Secret Garden and Falsettos. I finally saw her onstage not too long ago in Gypsy and then School for Lies (a brilliant David Ives adaptation of Moliere at Classic Stage Company).
And now she’s going to The Tennessee Williams New Orleans Literary Festival to perform a one-woman show Only a Paper Moon: A Tennessee Williams Songbook.
As a big fan of Tennessee Williams as well, I SO wish I could see this.
My own experience at the Festival – premiering my one-act play WEÏRD, which won the festival a few years ago – was tremendous. New Orleans is a town with a beautifully unique personality, and being there is like being right in the middle of a Tennessee Williams play.
Written by Ryan Scott Oliver and Brett Ryback, Darling is a coming-of-age story about teenager Ursula Morgan, who leaves behind her upper-class family and finds herself in the seedy underground of Depression-era Boston — a world of sex, jazz and a mysterious drug called….fairy dust.
The piece, which was featured on the “Bound for Broadway” episode of NBC’s The Apprentice, was nominated for Weston’s prestigious national award by Director of Music at Pace New Musicals Robert Meffe who said of Darling: “The rock score is dark, edgy and contagious… The lyrics are intelligent, surprising and original…The book is a wildly different take on the Peter Pan story that will have audiences trying to uncover the allusions every night.”
The Weston Playhouse New Musical Award, the only one of its kind in the country, has become a highly sought-after prize. It supports new work by writers and composers of notable promise, chosen from a group of national nominations. Winners rehearse their work in Vermont under professional musical direction with a cast of exceptional actor/singers. After performing selections from Darling in concert on the Weston stage on March 2, Oliver, Ryback and their cast return to New York to perform at an invited concert and then to record a demo cd under the supervision of Kurt Deutsch of Sh-K-Boom Records.
The Vermont and New York concerts will be led under the musical direction of Chris Fenwick (Giant). The cast of rising Broadway talent includes Derek Klena (Dogfight) as Peter, Emily Walton (Peter and the Starcatcher) as Ursula, Julia Mattison (Godspell), Justin Keyes (How to Succeed…) and Max Chernin (NYMF’s Really Bad Things).