Saturday, October 27, 2007

Five Announcements

1. LAUREN KENNEDY's album Lauren Kennedy: Here and Nowis available! You can order the album today exclusively from PSClassics, but the official release is November 6th, at which point it will be available everywhere. Look for track #5, "My Lifelong Love," which is mine. I have several friends with songs on the album, too, so it's guaranteed to be a fun and interesting listen. Watch for it on iTunes in a few weeks, too.

2. I just got word that the goal for the published songbook for This Ordinary Thursday: The Songs of Georgia Stitt will be available mid-December, but they're already taking pre-orders at Amazon. Very exciting!

3. Thanks to conductor Judith Clurman, I've got another choral piece coming out for publication! This piece is called "De Profundis" and was premiered by International Orange Chorale in San Francisco under the direction of Jeremy Faust. After that, Judy Clurman conducted it with a choir at Girton College at Cambridge in England, and now it's to be published in her series with Hal Leonard. YAY! Watch for more details here. Unlike my other choral pieces, this one is a cappella SATB, but like some of the other choral pieces, the text is again by one of my favorite poets, Christina Rossetti.

4. Finally, I'm excited to announce that for the rest of the year I'm going to be working as the Assistant Music Director of a new NBC TV show called CLASH OF THE CHOIRS. It will air as a special holiday program for four nights the week before Christmas, and it will feature five celebrities and their choirs in a fantastically competitive but good-spirited "sing-off."

5. Coming up in the weeks ahead, I'm performing a few songs at Cal Poly Pomona University with Susan Egan on November 8th (info here), I'm doing a master class at the Orange County High School of the Arts (OCHSA) on November 9th, and I'm doing a FREE concert at Santa Monica College on November 17th. Check my website for more details on all these appearances!

If you didn't read last week's blog, take a look. I'd love your input. Thanks!

Sunday, October 21, 2007

To Bring or Not To Bring?

In a session of THE GYM this week, a question came up that I found I couldn't adequately answer for my students, so I thought I'd open it up to you people to see if I could gather a consensus of opinion.

Often times when I'm working one on one with an actor, I'll point out if a piano accompaniment is particularly challenging, and I'll explain why it might be difficult for an audition pianist to sight-read it. If the song is really well-known, like say Stephen Schwartz's "Meadowlark" (tricky with seven zillion page turns) or Andrew Lippa's "Life of the Party" (requires the pianist to have a great sense of time), I'll say that it's probably not a big deal because the pianist is bound to know it. But if it's a new, just released piece (like Adam Guettel's "The Beauty Is") or an original piece (perhaps something the actor did in a reading which has not yet been released for public consumption) or a strange arrangement or a chord chart or even a not-fully-notated transposition, I'll suggest to the actor that he might consider taking his own accompanist to the audition.

When I lived in New York and I was playing auditions all the time, it was not uncommon in the course of an eight-hour day for me to move aside for another accompanist at least once or twice. Sometimes I rolled my eyes when an actor would bring her own pianist for a song I'd already played three times that day, but I understood that removing one element of surprise from the audition process probably made the actor feel more comfortable and more in charge of her own audition. And that was fine. And, actually, I didn't mind the break. And sometimes, the pianist didn't even have music and you just knew the two of them had been doing this one particular song this one particular way for seventeen years, and you were grateful that the actor wasn't standing there trying to explain to you how it went when nothing was accurately written down, anyway. I never once had a casting director scoff at an actor's choice to bring her own accompanist. They scoffed at everything else, but you know what I mean.

In my class in LA this week, however, several of the actors agreed that they had been told that bringing their own pianist to an audition made them seem rude and presumptuous. More than one had been told by a coach that under no circumstances should they bring their own accompanist, and they even seemed to feel that doing so might sabotage their audition. The assumption, I think, was that once they left the room everyone would be annoyed that they had brought their own pianist, as it somehow disrespected the already-hired pianist and perhaps even the other people who were in the room.

So my question is this -- what do you think? Actors? Musical directors? Casting directors? Has the audition climate changed since the days when I was playing auditions? Or, maybe, is the NYC audition code of propriety different from the one in LA? I'm very curious to hear what's up.

I've only been out of the NY market a short time, but when I was there, headshots were in black and white, the Variety Arts was still in business and nobody had yet heard of Max Crumm and Laura Osnes. So, you see, I could use your help.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Women I Want You To Know

I want to take a week off from writing about myself because there is so much else I'd rather be discussing. I've been thinking a lot lately about how I have so many female friends who are doing brave and innovative things, and I want to tell you about a few of them. So, this week, a diversion from the world of musical theater, but hopefully one you'll find extremely interesting.

1. Mary-Mitchell Campbell, ASTEP

Mary-Mitchell is pretty well-known in the Broadway community as a musical director and pianist. She's climbed that ladder with amazing speed, working with stunning talents and achieving pretty high status jobs at a very young age. (Among other things, she was the music supervisor of the Tony-Award winning production of COMPANY last season and won a Drama Desk Award for her orchestrations of the show.) But, gifted though she is, Mary-Mitchell's true work for the last two years has been nurturing her new charity, Artists Striving To End Povery, or ASTEP.

According to the language on their website, ASTEP "uses the arts as a tool to empower poverty-stricken youth with creativity, knowledge, and a strong sense of self-esteem, factors which help them break the cycle of poverty in their communities and their own lives." What I know personally is that Mary-Mitchell travels regularly to India, where she owns an orphanage, and she and her team of artist/volunteers teach the arts to young people who wouldn't otherwise be exposed to anything even remotely of the kind. The stories she has told me about the degrees of poverty she has encountered are simply staggering. ASTEP has fund-raising efforts in New York and also supports programs in Florida and South Africa. Click on their website here and see how you can help her in her extraordinary efforts.

2. Kourtney Harper, Guy Fox

Kourtney and I went to college together, but we have become better friends since we graduated than we ever were in school. In the time I knew her at Vanderbilt, I thought she was a fun gal from Georgia who was a gifted cartoonist. After graduation Kourtney won a travel fellowship which allowed her to traipse around the world studying cartoons and film animation, and at the end of that year she generated an illustated book documenting her travels. Kourtney married a Brit and now lives permanently in London, where she runs the Guy Fox History Project, an educational charity whose mission claims "to produce innovative projects which will promote education and London history."

As you all know, I was in London for most of September, and Kourtney filled me in on her latest project with her company: mapmaking. In addition to her history projects and public service work for kids, Kourtney has developed the London Children's Map, which is a completely accurate but child-friendly map of the city, complete with stickers that say things like "rode in a taxi" and "bought souvenirs" and "admired great artwork." In addition to the London map, Guy Fox has released maps for San Francisco and Washington D.C, and while I was there I looked at the proofs for the New York City map. (I'm told Paris is also in the works.) Click here to learn more about Guy Fox, and pick up a children's map for your favorite young traveler.

3. Julie Dingman Evans, Your Environmental Road Trip (YERT)

Julie and I met years ago doing a musical in South Carolina. She's a great actress and singer and we have managed to work together several times since. But this year, Julie is taking a year off from acting to take a year-long road trip across America with her husband Ben and their friend Mark on what they're calling an "eco-expedition." They say they are "exploring the landscape of America's unique approach to environmental sustainability." And they're documenting the whole thing on their very entertaining blog, which can be found at their website here. They've been on the road for just over three months, meeting people all over the country and learning about what Americans are doing to deal with environmental issues. They travel with a compost box in their hybrid car and they try to generate as little garbage as possible. And they'll be doing it for another nine months. Join in the learning adventure and watch what they're doing. And, in their honor, maybe we can all turn off a few incandescent lights.


* Wendy Melkonian and Katie Donovan and their breads: BREADWINNER

* Heather Hiett and her photos of surfers: H2 PHOTOGRAPHY

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Performing and Proofreading

Home. Home. Home. We're home. We're soooo tired, but we're home. Going on an adventure is great fun, and coming home is great relief. There's lots happening here at home, and I'm way behind in telling you about it.

If you read this in time, and you happen to be in NY tonight, and you happen to be looking for something to do in a few hours, I encourage you to go to Birdland to hear Sam Davis's evening of songs. Sam is a fantastic composer and he writes with lots of different lyricists. Two of the songs on my album ("Perfect Summer" and "Air") are the result of that collaboration. His evening is called "All Mixed Up: The Music of Sam Davis," and he's featuring performances by Anastasia Barzee, Matt Farnsworth, Santino Fontana, Megan Lawrence, Kelli O'Hara, Megan McGinnis, Matt McGrath, Karen Murphy, Dan Reichard, Benjamin Schrader, Patrick Sullivan, and Will Swenson. My friend Annette Jolles is directing, Sam himself will be at the piano, and the rest of the band is Sean McDaniel (drums), Brad Russell (bass), and my own pal from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS days, John Benthal (guitar). Concert is tonight, Oct 7th at 7 pm, and Birdland is 315 W. 45th Street (btw 8th and 9th). And if you do go, clap really loudly for my songs!

Next on the agenda, I've got a concert of my own coming up in Santa Monica on November 17th, featuring my good friend and long-time collaborator, Susan Egan, and my new collaborator and pal Kevin Earley. It'll be a bunch of my songs, including several that I've not performed in a REALLY long time and even a few that I'm sure you've never heard. The thing about this concert, part of the "Under the Radar" series, is that it's FREE, because we're kicking off the opening of a new theatre in Los Angeles. It's called the Madison Theater and it's attached to Santa Monica College. Click here to check out what's happening in this new and vibrant space, and better yet, call 310-434-3414 for more info about tickets to my concert. (As soon as there's a website for tickets, I'll post it.)

Upon my return home, the most exciting thing waiting for me in the pile of mail on the kitchen table was a stack of proofs for my new songbook, to be published by Hal Leonard in conjunction with Williamson Music. It's all the music for the songs on my album, "This Ordinary Thursday." You may be wondering how this all works, and I'll fill you in. I sent computer files of my songs to the good editors at Hal Leonard, and they've taken about two months to create and edit the scores for publication. At first I thought, "What's to edit? I've written everything down; it's exactly as I want it." But now that I've got the proofs I see some of the changes they've made. Editing is a really interesting thing. In some cases, they've changed the layout of the pages -- meaning the page turns might fall in different places, the lyrics might be less crammed into the space between two barlines, or the separation of two voices on two lines might be consolidated into two voices on one line. None of that affects the music, and often it actually solves some problems and makes the scores easier to read. In other cases, they've renamed some of the chords. Sometimes I say, "oh yeah, Ab (add2) is a better choice than Ab2," and sometimes I say, "No, I actually meant C Maj 9 instead of G/C." So the proofing is a chance to correct mistakes -- both theirs and mine -- before this thing goes to print. I think it would be pretty upsetting to go through this process and then have the final product have some glaring and obvious error that we all missed, so I'm gonna take some time and hope to get it right. But the aim is that the songbook will be out in the world by the end of the year. Of course I'll announce it and make a big deal when that finally happens, and then YOU will go buy it. Right? Right?

While we're talking about editing, I had another interesting editing story that I thought was worth sharing. Earlier this summer Lauren Kennedy recorded one of my songs for her new album which is to be released on November 4th. I wrote about it here in this blog at the time. We recorded the band and Lauren's vocals, and I always intended to add backing vocals later in the game. In my mind, the vocals were a part of the orchestration, a layer in the tapestry of sound, just as a bed of strings or a pair of guitars would have been. So about a month after we recorded the inital track, I hired four great singers and we went into a studio and added the backing vocals. As we began mixing the track, there emerged a great number of differing opinions (Lauren, me, record producer, recording engineer, etc.) about whether or not the vocals were working. It was an interesting dilemma. On an album designed to feature Lauren and a collection of songs you probably don't already know, how do you keep the other voices from grabbing your attention away from the STORY of the song? We tried mixing them down at a very low volume. That didn't work -- then you were straining to hear them and not listening to what Lauren was saying. Next we tried cutting them out except for the spaces in between the lyrics -- using them only when they wouldn't compete with the text of the song. That didn't work because it felt like a very stop-and-start arrangement. Finally we tried bringing them in only at the end, and then they just felt like they were appearing out of nowhere -- more confusing than helpful. The final decision, and it was unanimous among all of us, was that the song worked great as a solo and the addition of the backing vocals in any form was more distraction than illumination. So, we cut them. You may wonder why things get cut, and there ya go.

(Buried deep in my iTunes folder, of course, is the version with the complete BVs. Someday, when Lauren's album is a huge hit and everyone knows all the words to this song, I'll pop that baby up on my blog and you'll all go, "Ohhhhh.... I see." Until then, it's Lauren's and my little secret.)

All right. More later. Go to Sam's concert if you can. I'm off to throw a birthday party for my two-year-old. Go ahead, envy me.