I think it’s time to regale Randy Sue Latimer and talk about how easy (and by, contrast, how difficult) it can be to write music for an existing lyric.
Randy and I first met somewhere in the neighborhood of 1983, when we were both having a go at an Illusion Theatre project (Bonnie Morris, Michael Robins) in Minneapolis. She was an actress, I was a VERY green theatrical composer working on an AIDS-education-touring project).
Anyway, we got to talking, and somehow, a few years later, our first collaboration took place in the form of a musical adaptation of SNOW WHITE AND THE SEVERAL DWARVES. This, at the behest of a theater I have since forgotten the name of, but the musical was directed by Liz McAllister and Linda Cooper (TWO, count ‘em, TWO directors!). Not really necessary to go into much detail about the show, if I didn’t love the work, I wouldn’t have put it up on the website. Going forward, the only sticking point was the word “dwarves”, but we figure if Disney can still use the word, so can we.
The next few shows came rather rapid-fire: 3 BILLY GOATS GRUFF this one made a few inroads nationally), MOTHER GOOSE ROCKS (a wall-to-wall light opera, Randy Newman meets Jerry Lee Lewis…this one for live musicians only. I later realized that Michael Bissonnette was the frummer/percussionist, someone I worked with whenever I got a chance to play in Laura MacKenzie’s “Laura and the Lads”), NUTCRACKER! (commissioned by Stages Theater of Hopkins, a nester type of play-within-a-play-within a…listen to “She’s Tearing Her Hair Out!”) Hans Christian Andersen’s marvelous fairy tale THE NIGHTINGALE (Glibert and Sullivan meet Harry Nilsson), MIND WORKS (from Misty Snow’s book, “, Take Time To Play Checkers…Butch Thompson plays terrific clarinet on “Enjoy Us While You Have Us”, a song on the “No Picnic” CD, soon to come on the M4YA YouTube channel)., and THE RELUCTANT DRAGON (originally commissioned and remounted by Stages Theater of Hopkins).
So, as to process, I usually get a lyric from a playwright in varying levels of completion and am asked to create a song. (Once I received a lyric from a playwright which consisted of an entire page of prose, double spaced. He said, “This is my lyric.” I said, “No, it isn’t.”), because…lyrics are not prose are not poems are not ‘streams of consciousness’. A good lyric needs FOCUS, needs to ‘scan’ (basically, to contain the same number of syllables in like lines of like sections so one can actually commit to a melody), exhibit proper scansion (syllabic stress matches musical stress) and at least ‘come close’ on parallel structure (sentences of like lines of like sections that ‘behave’ the same). Randy is positively instinctual about that. She knows how to write a lyric. I could have written a hundred shows with her and enjoyed every second. The first collaboration was my mail and telephone while I was living in Nashville (I spent 10 years in Nashville in 1991). The 2nd electronic collaboration was by email while I was (for some insane reason) running a Bed and Breakfast in Taylors Falls, MN (think John Cleese in (Fawlty Towers”). I approached Randy last year about writing “TRUMP: THE MUSICAL” when the idea of a Trump presidency was still laughable. The joke is on us…(I was having lunch with Heather Dorsey of ARTISTRY; she had directed The Reluctant Dragon for Carondelet in the summer of 2014).
Randy brought out the best of what I have come to call my specialty, ‘commission writer’. A hired gun, so to speak, but I’m so grateful to Randy and all the other playwrights that I’ve worked with because I get to write in so many different styles, and most of the time I actually pull it off. (my favorite example was of writing a musical about the Miztec Indians of the Oaxaca region of Mexico with Rhiana Yazzie. Three of the tribal leaders came to a rehearsal to approve the music, and after we had performed the show, turned to me and simply nodded. Wow. More on that later…)
And so: value in the work is what it’s all about. Whether or not our effort makes millions, it is still so dang enjoyable, the work is solid, the creative minds are focused, and we LOVE WHAT WE DO! I hope you love what you do as well. And given the events of the last ten days, whatever side you’re on, remember we’re all on the same side. Let’s get together and move the ball down the field.
PS: Here’s our recently published still video of Puss In Boots, a song called Somebody’s Gotta Do Something”, performed by Members of the Rose Ensemble and Prudence Johnson. And as a little eye candy (since we didn’t have a lot of Randy sue photos), here’s that lovely illustration by Gregory Bitz, titled “The Music God”. A cat, of course, but it seemed to fit the bill.