Sunday, December 28, 2008

2008: The Year I Read The Bible

Everyone has year-end resolutions. In the past, mine have always been things like losing weight, going to the gym, being a better correspondent with my friends and family, and so on. Predictably, those resolutions usually last about two months and then I slip back into my old habits. It's the American way. I do tend to be good about my commitments, but they've gotta MEAN something. I managed to lose lots of weight right before my wedding because I bought my wedding dress a size too small and was bound and determined it would fit. (It did.) I stuck to my fitness goals the year I hired a personal trainer and had to show up for the appointments or pay anyway. And, of course, Facebook completely changed the way I keep in touch with my friends. The times they are a'changin'.

In 2008, however, I made a goal and stuck with it. I read The Bible. Cover to cover. The whole thing. It took me twelve months.

You may not know about me that I am a church-going kind of girl. I have been a member of Presbyterian churches in every city I've lived in since I first joined at age 13 in my hometown of Covington, Tennessee. It's really important for me to say upfront that my relationship to church is as much about family history and heritage and community and ritual as it is about religion. I take comfort in the regularity of church. I love church people. (Especially Presbyterians, but you know, I'm biased.) I love the smell of old church buildings and they way they sing the same hymns wherever you go. I love pipe organs and choirs. When September 11th happened and I lived in New York City, I went and sat in my church and cried, because I wasn't sure where else to go.

On New Year's Day a year ago, one of my friends gave me a copy of a book called The One Year Bible. I read a lot, anyway -- usually contemporary fiction and classics -- and the idea of reading The Bible was one of those things that had always been on my radar. I remember once in junior high I tried to do it and I barely made it out of Genesis. It was certainly on my "someday before I die..." list, but there were lots of other things I figured I'd tackle first. But this gift felt to me like a challenge, and the book was structured in a way that seemed do-able. Fifteen minutes a day for 365 days. I thought I'd give it a shot, and I sent a copy to my 87-year old grandmother to see if she might take the challenge on with me. She agreed. We started reading.

I approached reading The Bible as literature. I figured I'd just read it so that I could be a person who had read The Bible. I had no idea how revelatory it would be in terms of comprehending current world events, how emotional it would be to synthesize the stories I'd heard for more than thirty years, and how accomplished it would feel to finish something that took an entire year to do. Reading the Bible in public places elicited surprising responses. On a plane, a woman struck up a conversation with me that I'm sure she wouldn't have started had she not noticed what I was reading. In a darkened theater, during tech rehearsals, I got a few looks of disbelief. In the month of October, I got about three weeks behind, and I spent the rest of the year catching up. Because I was reading double-duty, I actually finished on December 22nd-- just in time for Christmas. You can imagine how my perception of the holiday was extremely different this year.

Here's the thing. I'm not here to proselytize. My husband is Jewish. Our extended and culturally mixed family has lots of variations in what we all believe, and it's all fine with me. Believe or don't believe as your life requires. But if you're curious about what's actually in that book, I highly recommend reading it this way. I know I've got more questions about it all than I did a year ago, and I wouldn't be surprised if this year has me reading some of it again. (In the midst of all that blood and gore and hellfire and damnation I probably missed some of the nuance in the Old Testament. Man, there was a lot of killing going on for a very, very, very long time.) But as I look back on the best and the worst that 2008 had to offer, I think maybe this was the greatest thing I accomplished.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Thanksgiving

It's mid-November and I am taking advantage of yet another cross-country plane ride to send out a little update. I'd like to make a crack about how my family is single handedly keeping the airline industry in the skies, but, you know, perhaps it's not the greatest time to be making jokes about the airline industry. Or for that matter, any industry. The show biz is not immune to the woes of our economy, either. Like all of you, I'm just happy to be working.

And, politics aside (YAY OBAMA!), I'm working. This flight right now brings me home from a short teaching tour of Ohio. (Ooh, the glamour!) This week I taught master classes at Bowling Green State University (thanks to professors Marc Sherrell, Michael Ellison, Marilyn Shrude and Geoff Stehenson) and Baldwin-Wallace Conservatory of Music (thanks to Vicki Bussert and Scott Plate). It was a fantastic whirlwind of colleges. I taught master classes in audition technique and understanding musical styles, I coached a group of students working on duets, I gave a talk about form and structure in the musical theater to a gathering of music composition majors, I led a Q & A about the realities of the musical theater business, and I sold exactly four CDs. Woo-hoo! Next week: master class at Cal State Fullerton just outside of LA, assuming the entire state does not burn to the ground.

Also coming up next week, I'm music directing a tribute to Stephen Schwartz at the Pantages Theater in Los Angeles starring Jason Alexander, Michael Arden, Susan Egan, Eden Espinosa, Tyrone Giordano, Jason Graae, Debbie Gravitte, Megan Hilty, Karen Morrow, Philos, Hila Plitmann, Eric Whitacre and me at the piano. Concert is Monday the 24th at 7:30 pm. (Tickets and information: 323-933-9244 ext. 54). In addition to having written WICKED and PIPPIN and GODSPELL (maybe the key to success is having one-word show titles?), Stephen is a generous supporter of new musicals and a mentor to numerous young writers. I wouldn't mind being him when I grow up.

Other than that, I'm writing, recording new demos, starting work on my second album, and beginning a very very brand new project with playwright Jamie Pachino (my new favorite writer).

As Thanksgiving approaches, I always get kind of sentimental and nostalgic. So indulge me one more moment as I thank you for continuing to be interested in the work that I do. Unlike more disciplined artists I am certain that if you were not paying attention I would not be creating music, so thank you very much for giving me a reason to write.

**************

And if you're still reading -- here are some GIFT IDEAS for the holiday season:

Breadwinner
Two of my sorority sisters from Vanderbilt started this yummy bread company based in Atlanta. They ship loaves of delicious bread anywhere in the world. Send some to your mom.

Tickety Tock
New children's book to be released in December written by my husband, Jason Robert Brown and illustrated by Mary GrandPré (of the HARRY POTTER books!). If you are familiar with his musical "The Last Five Years," you will recognize the story of Schmuel, the tailor from Klimovich, which was the foundation for this story. Ages 4-8.

• Donate to your favorite charity. Mine is ASTEP (Artists Striving to End Poverty).

The Widget

Friday, October 24, 2008

Finding Inspiration in England

Really, I mean no disrespect.  But after two months of working on this crazy TV schedule, I needed a break.

"America's Got Talent" wrapped on a Wednesday.  (YAY and CONGRATS to winner Neal E. Boyd, whose life has now spun into hyperdrive.)  On Thursday morning, my daughter and I flew to New York.  On Saturday it was her birthday (Happy Birthday Molly!) and we threw her a little party.  On Sunday, my husband's Broadway show opened.  (More on that below, but oh wow oh wow you really have got to go see it if you can.)  It was a big week.

Three days later I got on a plane and flew to London.  My UK agent Alastair picked me up at the airport and we were off and running.  Or, rather, off and driving.  We got in the car and drove to Oxford College, where we met a friend for lunch.  After lunch, we kept driving north.  I slept.  We talked and laughed and listened to bad 80s music.  And then, we arrived in Manchester, just in time for tea.  You know the Brits.  You can't miss tea time.

On our agenda that first evening was a production of WEST SIDE STORY at the gorgeous new performing arts center in Manchester, The Lowry.  I was struggling to stay awake for some of the first act.  (It was jetlag, really, not the quality of the show!)  But the thing that kept pulling me back to attention was that score.  That amazing Leonard Bernstein music.  

Like so many of you, I know that show so well that I never think I'm going to be wowed by a production of it.  But this time the thing that got me was how much of the storytelling was done without words.  Music and dance.  A real ballet.  I spend so much of my time crafting lyrics and trying to get songs to be filled with layers and layers of meaning, but I sometimes forget how powerful it can be just to let the music open up and speak on its own.  Bernstein and Robbins knew that.  My mind started wandering, thinking about my own shows and how there might be ways to crack open the scores to allow room for more dance.  I started thinking about who the great choreographers of this generation might be, and whether or not there's currently a place for them on Broadway.  What does it take for someone to be recognized as a visionary?  And before I knew it, Tony was dead (uh oh, did I spoil it?) and it was time to go to sleep.

The next day we drove back down south to Dudley College in the West Midlands, where I had been booked to teach a master class.  This was an amazing experience for me because the kids there were so well-versed in contemporary musical theater.  Not only did this group, in the middle of another country, know who I was, but they also had copies of my CD and my songbook and they had prepared some of my songs.  You haven't lived until you've heard your words sung in a thick Midlands accent.  I played for them.  They swooned.  It was very good for my ego.

The real reason for this trip, however, was the launch of the New Voices Collective in the UK.  I've written before about this group, led by my friend Artistic Director Joel Fram.  For several seasons in New York the New Voices Collective put on several concerts a year featuring the music of composers in New York who were making their livings in the pit orchestras of Broadway shows.  Most of us were writing songs that were not getting performed, and Joel -- in conjunction with colleagues Doug Okerson and Jen Bender -- created a concert series that recognized us and our work.  Knowing that we had deadlines and guaranteed performances made us write, and Joel often gave us specific tasks for the pieces he wanted written.

Anyway, New Voices was one of my favorite things about New York until Joel moved to London a few years ago.  After a bit of a hiatus, this month the Collective had its UK premiere performance of some of the "greatest hits" from concerts past, and some of my music was featured.  It was an astounding concert, rich with complex music, humor, glorious singers, a crazy-talented pianist (Mark Etherington), and some of the best songs I've ever heard.  Claire Moore's performance of Joel Fram's song "somewhere i have never travelled" actually made me cry.  I was so proud to be among that group of musicians and am so eager to see what they do for the next concert, scheduled for March.  

Finally, on my last day in London, I was a guest at the Guildford School of Acting where I spoke to and taught some of the most talented young musical theater kids in the country.  I love that place, and (shhh...) we are just beginning to discuss the possibility of working on something bigger together next spring.

After all that (and... a silly visit to the set of X-Factor where we stalked Simon Cowell a bit...), I came home renewed and ready to get back to work.  Thank you so much Alastair, Joel, Annette, Oliver, Mark, Tom, Martin, Jen, Kourtney and Simon, Ruth, Sara (potato), Ross, Chas and Chris, Alastair's mum and dad, and Nigel for making the trip so much fun.  Can't wait to come back!

TWO REMINDERS:
1.  Go see "13" on Broadway.  Click here for the show's website.
2.  VOTE!
  




Friday, September 26, 2008

Broadway In South Africa

BSAlogo.jpg

Monday, October 6th at 7:30 pm
Peter Norton Symphony Space
2527 Broadway at 95th Street
Tickets here.

I have written a new song.  Kendra Kassebaum is singing it.
Read all about it here.




DE PROFUNDIS

Announcing: the release of a new choral piece!  Thanks to Judith Clurman who approached me about submitting a choral piece to be included in her choral series, De Profundis is now available from G. Schirmer.  This is the first a cappella piece of mine to be published, and it was premiered by my friend Jeremy Faust and his ensemble, the International Orange Chorale.   The voicing is SATB, the text is by Christina Rossetti (1930-1894 and yes, she's a favorite of mine), and the music is by yours truly.  Enjoy.

Here's the poem.  




Oh why is heaven built so far,
Oh why is earth set so remote?
I cannot reach the nearest star
That hangs afloat.

I would not care to reach the moon,
One round monotonous of change;
Yet even she repeats her tune
Beyond my range.

I never watch the scatter'd fire
Of stars, or sun's far-trailing train,
But all my heart is one desire,
And all in vain:

For I am bound with fleshly bands,
Joy, beauty, lie beyond my score;
I strain my heart, I stretch my hands,
And catch at hope.





Thursday, September 25, 2008

On Set: Week after Week





I was having a really great time blogging about my TV show until we got deeper and deeper into the process.  For starters, my time at work got busier as more and more singers advanced week after week (so there wasn't as much sit-around-and-blog time as there was before), but also, I started to realize that most of what I was doing on set was more or less confidential.  Something interesting would happen on set and I'd think, oh, I can't really write about that without getting in trouble with the network.  So I seem to have stopped blogging.

I will say this:  I am incredibly proud of all the singers who appeared the show.  The final performances aired last night and America voted.  I have no idea who won, and I'll likely find out on the air next week, the same as everyone else.  I sometimes get flack for working on reality TV shows like this, but the coaching I do with these singers is the same coaching I do with everyone else.  Don't forget to breathe.  Think about your phrasing.  Make sure you have enough air to land in the center of the pitch.  Who are you talking to?  What can we do to justify that key change?  How can you earn the high note at the end?  I am a proud mama backstage when one of my singers goes out there (in front of twelve, thirteen, fourteen MILLION viewers) and 'nails it', as David Hasselhoff would say.  May they all have exciting opportunities as a result of the work they've been doing for the last two months.




Wednesday, September 03, 2008

On Set: Week Two

Walking around a TV set all day, you begin to wonder who all of these people are and what they do.  There are the obvious jobs:  the hair and makeup people who carry their tools of the trade on their belts, the camera men with their cameras on their shoulders, the stage managers with their headsets and walkie-talkies.  Even the guy who maintains the snack table (bless him) is usually holding a bag of chips or a case of water bottles.  But my new favorite job, and one I never knew existed until I started working on TV shows, is the celebrity stand-in.

Of course it makes sense.  The celebrities are way too busy, I'm sure, to sit around all day while everyone is making all the elements fit together.  Things happen over and over in rehearsals.  Sometimes they go wrong, and you have to do them again.  Yesterday the baton twirler came out to do his twirling routine and his batons were pre-set in the wrong place.  Today one of the pyro sprays sent sparks in the wrong direction.  We run a number, and then we sit around while the director watches the video playback to make sure all the camera shots are correct.  We adjust the mic levels.  A lighting cue is changed.  Frantic PAs run around looking for a missing hat or a misplaced prop.  (How do you think I have time to do all this blogging?)

And while all that is happening, there are three people sitting in the judges' chairs.  I'm told you can make a whole career out of being a stand-in (though I don't imagine it buys you a house in the Pacific Palisades).  These are the same stand-ins who do everything in town -- the Grammys, the Oscars, American Idol.  Two of them I even recognize because they were the stand-ins on "Grease: You're The One That I Want."  The best part is when we rehearse the "judges comments" and the stand-ins get to speak directly to the performers.  They're directed to say only positive comments for the rehearsal run-thrus, and they say things like "Wow, that was so amazing, so original.  You have obviously practiced so much and I'm sure you're going to be in the top five."  And then the real judges come out, two hours later, and rip the contestants to shreds on national television.

The stand-ins even kind of look like the celebrities a bit, too.  The more the show goes on, the more they try to say things the actual celebrities might say.  And what's amazing is that each contestant seems so relieved that someone liked his performance.  Even if it's a celebrity stand-in.  Even if the stand-in has been directed to say only nice things.  Even if none of it is true. 

I continue to think it's such a weird time we live in, when reality shows rule television and everyone around is looking for his fifteen minutes of fame.  A job is just a job, I guess, but if for two or three hours a day you get to pretend to be someone famous, well then perhaps that makes your job just a little more glamorous.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

On Set: Week One

The thing about Hollywood studios is that they are Hollywood from the moment you pass through the front gate. As you're parking your car, you have to drive past rows and rows of empty parking spaces that are being reserved for people who are more important than you are. My first day on my new TV show was Saturday, and even though there was no one else on the grounds, I drove my car up to the fourth floor of the parking garage in order to avoid parking in empty spaces being saved for the casts and crews of "Samantha Who" and "According to Jim" and "Geeks" and "CSI:NY." Of course the really famous stars get to avoid the parking garage entirely. Ah yes. The hierarchy had begun even before the job had.

This is the third music-based reality TV show I've worked on, and though the job changes every time, the location doesn't. It's amazing to me that we are in the same studio now as we were two years ago when I had my first TV job. There are 23 studios on this 40-acre campus and we are in the same one. Okay, that's fine. At least I know where the bathrooms are.

I also know where the craft services table is, and that's dangerous. I had forgotten how hard it is to stay far far away from that evil table. On that first morning, there were more donuts than I had ever seen in one place at one time. But then again, this is a huge show, and there are hundreds of people on the crew. The hundreds of donuts were supposed to get everyone through the morning. By noon, sure enough, the donuts are gone and the snacks are out. And I'm serious when I tell you, if you have EVER snacked on it, it is on this table. The challenge then becomes to avoid the chips/candy/gum/soda/pretzels/dips/OMG Reese's pieces as you walk past this table eighty-four times each day.

My job this time around is that I'm the vocal coach. In the past I've been everything from rehearsal pianist to click-track generator to celebrity handler to music clearance seeker to lyric transcriber to schedule coordinator to harmony teacher to lip synch monitor to orchestra conductor. (Watch footage from the GREASE days here.) But this time, I am simply the vocal coach. My job is to work one-on-one with all of the singing acts to make sure they are comfortable and that they sound as good as they are capable of sounding. Some of the contestants have lots of experience and a great sense of their own abilities. More often, though, they are just beginning. My two favorite moments so far have been teaching a 40-year old woman how to do a vocal warm up (She's been singing her whole life and apparently no one has ever suggested to her that it might be good to get the voice moving a bit before she tries to belt an E-flat.) and suggesting to the twenty-something guy that it might be a bad idea for him to take a quick smoke break in the middle of our singing lesson.

The thing about being on set is that there's an unbelievable amount of down time. I mean, SOMEBODY is always working (except for lunch, which in this case is catered on the ground floor of that empty parking garage. Yes, I'm serious.). But while they're resetting the stage or refocussing the lights or getting the performer out of the hair and makeup truck, you're sitting around waiting to be useful. Or in my case, you're blogging.

All right. Show starts in 43 minutes. I've gotta go check in on my acts. Tune in on Tuesday and Wednesday nights between now and October 1st. As we used to say in Covington, Tennessee: it is certainly something to see.

America's Got Talent
NBC

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Perspective-Altering Things Musicians Have Taught Me (or why I eat avocados)

In the course of my lifelong musical education, there are a few people who have said really perspective-altering things to me, and those little gems have changed the way I think about music. The same thing happens in the real world, too, like when you spend your whole life avoiding avocados because they're so high in fat and then someone tells you it's the "good" fat and actually they're okay to eat. Perspective-altering. Life-changing. Anyway, one of those concepts popped into my head last week and I couldn't stop thinking about it, so I will share it with you here, along with some of the other nuggets of wisdom various musicians have shared with me along the way.

1. GESTURE
One of the composition professors I had in college talked about using the concept of "gesture" as a writing tool. To this day I think it's the most important thing I learned in music school: the idea that everything you write has to have gesture. Is your musical idea sweeping and lyrical, with overlapping phrases like the sight of a swimmer's cascading arms? Is it pointillistic and choppy, like Sondheim's music for George Seurat's character in "Sunday In The Park With George"? What is the shape of the sound? I wish I could hear his lecture again, because I find it's hard to explain the ideas. But I remember bringing music into my composition lessons and he would circle musical ideas on my scores and say, "Ah, this is a great gesture here," and my assignment would be to sustain that musical idea for a page and a half before moving on to the next one. A gesture is small, like the three notes that sit on the lyrics "Bali H'ai" or the lilting beginning of the chorus of "I Could Have Danced All Night." Those melodies have gesture. Shape. I think about it all the time.

2. TIME
For about the first 22 years of my life I was a solo pianist. I played classical music, tons of it, and many of the hours of my day were spent alone at my piano, practicing. My piano playing was a lone thing or, at most, an instrument to accompany a singer or another instrumentalist. It really wasn't until I started playing piano in orchestra pits that anyone ever talked to me about the concept of TIME.

In music, "to have good time" means that you are a steady player, that all the beats of the music fall exactly where they are supposed to fall. Especially in jazz and swing music, and I suppose pop music, too, it means that you can play with a groove, that you can hold your own in a rhythm section (with a bass and drums, for example) without rushing or dragging the tempo. When you're sitting alone in your living room playing the piano by yourself, you are allowed certain nuances to the "timing" of the music you play. Flexibility. Breath. Rubato. Even if you're playing Bach, the strictest of the classical composers (and one of my favorites), you're allowed to stretch a phrase here and there, to push and pull the tempo as you follow the musical line. When you're playing with a swing band or jazz combo or, I don't know, a Broadway pit orchestra, you are not. (Well, not unless you're the conductor, but that's another story.) In my first few years in New York I had a hard time knowing when I was supposed to be strict with my time and when I was allowed to be flexible. A music director told me once that in order to think about time, you have to acknowledge that all the beats are the same, whether you're playing them or not. If you're in 4/4, then every measure has eight eighth notes, and they all have to be exactly the same length. That's easy to do if you're playing all the eighth notes, but if the measure is half notes or whole notes, it's awfully tempting to rush right through them. And if you did that, you would have horrible time. Aside from the professionals working in the industry, most of the pianists I hear playing Broadway music have bad time. It is one of the first things I notice, and if it's not good, I will cringe through the entire performance. Now that you know about it, I bet you will, too.

3. WORKING FOR FREE
When I was first starting out as a music director in New York, I remember a fellow music director asked me that awful question, "So what are you up to these days?" It's an awful question because you're compelled to say something impressive since the alternative answer, the TRUTH, is "I'm trying to figure out how to pay my rent so I can keep doing this thing for a living." I don't even remember what I really had going on, but what I told her was that I had been offered work music directing a few things for free but that I was going to turn them down because I was too far along in my career to be working for nothing. And she raised an eyebrow and pointed out that some of the most valuable experiences she had had were on projects where she was working for free.

Of course she's right. There are two adages that come to mind on this point. The first is "Work leads to work." Invariably, some person involved with the project you're doing for free will think you did a great job and recommend you for the next thing, which will actually be a paying job. Sometimes it's even a GREAT-paying job. Having a presence in the industry is so important. Also, sometimes there are just things you believe in. There are benefits for causes you support. Showcases for projects you think are brilliant. Cabarets for actors you think are talented and unheard. And you just want to be a part of them. So you do them. I recognize that we can't always afford to work for free, and I really, really try to make sure everyone who is working for me is getting paid SOMETHING, even if it's a fraction of what he or she is worth. But since that conversation, I have thought twice about the "I'm-too-important-to-work-for-free" argument, for sure. The second adage is that you have to do a job because it makes you "rich, famous, or happy." It's really, really rare that one job will do all three. There are the money jobs that you take because the paycheck is too good to say no. Those are the "rich" jobs. Then there are the jobs you take because of the exposure you'll get. The interviews. The time in the spotlight. The name-recognition. Those are the "famous" jobs. And then there are the jobs you take because you just want to be a part of the making of something exceptional. Those are the "happy" jobs. If we're lucky, our careers are balanced with experiences from all three categories.

4. LISTENING
I have a love/hate relationship with jazz music. The way real jazz musicians think about music is so different from the way I think about music. When I was working on my first jazz-based musical theater score, right after college, I asked a big band leader if he would be willing to teach me jazz piano lessons. He declined, but he told me that all I had to do was listen.

I harumphed for a while, thinking what he meant was that I should listen to a lot of famous jazz recordings and just imitate what I heard. Ha. Easy for him to say. It is possible that he meant exactly that, but over the years I've come to think that maybe he meant I should listen more closely to the other musicians I'm playing with. Whenever I'm having trouble hearing myself in an ensemble or locking into the groove with the rest of the band, I play less. I guess for me anxiety leads to me feeling the need to POUND on the piano and make myself heard, and that's usually disastrous. But if I play more softly, or more sparsely, or with more precision and less grip, the music falls right into place. Always. Unless the drummer has bad time, and then we're all screwed.

5. EDITING
In college I wrote for the school newspaper. Usually I wrote about musical things for the arts section -- interviews with Joan Tower, John Cage and George Crumb, reviews of cast albums and at least one generally scathing essay about Andrew Lloyd Weber. In those days, we were responsible for making sure our articles fit exactly into the space they were allotted, and I learned a number of tricks about how to edit down an article without losing any of its content. (For example, in the sentence above I could easily have cut out the words "exactly" and "a number of" and "down" and "any of" and probably made this entire blog posting a line shorter.) Even if I'm not publishing an essay into a certain number of printed inches, I still think about those editing techniques, and I find they have made their way into my compositions, too. Knowing how to edit your work is just as important as knowing how to write it.

All right, that's enough bloviating for one night. But I will share with you this fascinating article I found while googling "musical gesture" in hopes of finding a more illuminting definition than the one I wrote above. It has little to do with anything I wrote above, but you music geeks who made it to the end of this posting will really appreciate it.

"The Geometry of Music"
Time Magazine, January 26, 2007

PS Thanks to Michael Kurek, Ted Sperling, Kimberly Grigsby, Barry Levitt, and Andy Grogan.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

The American Mall

Well, it's been a month and I haven't found Adam Wagner. Or Waggoner. Or Waggner. Or his sister Cara. We think he might be in Iowa. We're pretty sure he might have been in Ames, Iowa at some point. And it was suggested that maybe he was in the Navy. (Sigh.) What good is the internet if I can find everyone in the world except my fifth grade crush?

Anyway, moving on from middle school crushes, I'd like to talk a little bit about high school crushes. At least, the kind of high school crushes for which MTV movie musicals get made.

I have these friends in Los Angeles who are songwriters, and in addition to the many theatrical shows and TV scores and Cheetah Girls albums they work on, they happened to write one of the songs for the Disney movie "High School Musical." These friends (who are married to each other) were talking about how they write songs for movies and shows all the time, and this one just HIT, before they knew what was happening. And because work leads to work, the producers of HSM hired my friends to be the music SUPERVISORS (a big promotion) of their next project, which is a film called "The American Mall."

It's so true that an entire career can be built because of "who you know." In the course of putting together the soundtrack for "The American Mall," my friends were working with a songwriter who was a brilliant producer and was getting a great sound out of his tracks, but his songs were perhaps not theatrical enough. (That's ironic for me, since in this town my songs tend to be "too theatrical.") So my friends, the music supervisors, asked me if I would collaborate with him. I talked to the director about what he wanted the moment in the movie to be, and he said he was looking for it to be a modern-day "Whatever Lola Wants." (That's a pretty theatrical reference for an MTV movie director; I was impressed.) So I sat down and I wrote a tango. I wrote a whole new song but I kept the title and the hook from my collaborator's old song. And I showed up at his studio with my piano demo, recorded on Garage Band with me singing and playing at the same time. No bells, no whistles, just verses and choruses and my croaky alto voice.

Collaborations are an amazing thing, really, and to this guy's credit, he kind of smiled and nodded, and he turned my piano tango into the kind of song that belongs in an MTV movie. I know all kinds of people read this blog; some of you theater fans will hate the movie, others will love it. But I'm really fascinated with how all this happened, how my song was virtually unchanged in the writing and TOTALLY changed in the production. You'll see.

Once the movie's been out for a while I'll see if I can't post the "before" and "after" mp3s. It's a way cool process. And... while I'm at it, my music supervisors brought me in to collaborate on one of their songs, too. So I've actually got two songs in the movie. If you do watch it in a few weeks, pay close attention to "At The Mall" (which I wrote with them) and "The New You" (which is the not-really-a-tango that is actually kind of a theatrical AABA song but you can't tell anyone or I might never work in this town again).

The movie premieres on MTV on August 11th. I'm going to the actual movie premiere tomorrow night and I'm told I should expect to walk the red carpet. WHAAAAA? I have to wrap up this blog and see if there's anything in my closet that's not from Banana Republic.

Watch the movie. Let me know what you think. In the meantime, here's the official trailer. Enjoy.

Sunday, June 29, 2008

My Lifelong Love


Earlier this year, Lauren Kennedy, one of my very favorite performers, recorded a song of mine called "My Lifelong Love." (You can hear the song HERE on my music page.) It's on her new album called HERE AND NOW which is filled with great performances of lovely songs by fantastic new theater writers. I am thrilled to be in the company of so many superlatives.

But that's not why I'm writing.

The song is getting a lot of attention, and people keep writing me for the sheet music. It's currently unpublished, so that's (so far) the only way you can get it. But I am thrilled that people are responding to it. It's a song about a woman remembering her first love -- Adam, a boy who played the clarinet in her junior high band. I wrote it specifically as an assignment for the New Voices Collective when artistic director Joel Fram was putting together a Valentine's Day concert and wanted all of us writers to write about our first loves.

Ah, Adam. Yes, to answer your many questions, there really was an Adam, and yes, he really did play the clarinet. And yes, a year later, so did I. The first time my dad heard this song he chuckled and said, "Did you send it to Adam?" And you see, that's the problem. I CAN'T FIND HIM.

Adam Wagner. Any of you who knew me at Covington Elementary School will roll your eyes right about now remembering the torch I carried for Adam Wagner. Not only did he play the clarinet, but he swam on the swim team (as did I) and he played football. (Okay, I didn't play football. But he did, and that was totally awesome.) I think I remember that he was kind of a computer geek, too, but I say that with all the love and affection an 11-year old girl might have for a 12-year old boy. I also know (and hope) that he eventually might read this and I would hate for him to think, all these years later, that anyone thought he was a geek. Who can say? I have very little memory of anything that might be called a fact. I just remember that I had a huge crush on him, and it kind of defined the sixth grade for me.

I'm sure somewhere in my mom's basement there are pictures of Adam Wagner, but for now all I can tell you is he has a very common name and he left my high school somewhere around sophomore year and moved away. I thought maybe he moved to Iowa, but I couldn't swear to that.

Anyone know Adam Wagner?

Friday, June 20, 2008

Free Style


FREE STYLE at the Ford Amphitheatre
A heartfelt and fun evening of song and dance featuring Malcolm-Jamal Warner and the Groovaloos.

Since January, Reprise teaching artists visited more than 1,000 Los Angeles High School students to teach them how to write song lyrics. Students composed lyrics about their hopes, fears and dreams. Out of this group, fifteen finalists were chosen.

In a ground breaking new program, Reprise paired those fifteen young lyricists with professional musical theatre, film and pop composers including Desmond Child ("Livin La Vida Loca"), Stephen Bray (score of The Color Purple, Madonna's "Into the Groove"), Michael Skloff (theme to "Friends"), and Baby Musical Director Georgia Stitt. The result is an original musical work called FREE STYLE that gives us a unique look at the real lives of LA's urban youth.

Join a talented cast including Malcolm-Jamal Warner, Tituss Burgess (currently starring in Broadway's The Little Mermaid) and Emmy nominee Paul Anthony Stewart along with LA's most famous dance crew the Groovaloos, for a truly unforgettable evening.

Come hear their songs.
FREE STYLE at the Ford Amphitheatre
July 11 at 8:30pm
Ticket info here

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

88s Cabaret, July 7th

georgia stitt concert

THIS ORDINARY THURSDAY
(on a Monday under the stars)
The songs of GEORGIA STITT

Monday July 7th, 2008
8:30 PM
Republic Restaurant
Los Angeles

www.myspace.com/eightyeightscabaret

Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Sing Me A Happy Song

Thanks to the Festival of New American Musicals in Southern California, and especially producers Bob Klein and Marcia Seligson, I'm getting a one-week workshop of a new musical revue that David Kirshenbaum and I are writing together. It's called SING ME A HAPPY SONG, and until a few days ago I wasn't really sure what it was. But there's nothing like the pressure of knowing people are showing up in a room to work on your material to make you get your show written.

Here's the blurb: Written by two of the newest Broadway voices, Georgia Stitt and David Kirshenbaum, "Sing Me a Happy Song" is a contemporary musical revue by two of Broadway's newest voices about finding heart in these material times. With songs about modern-day relationships, searching for yourself on the internet, striving to have everything but never having enough, love, family and your gay best friend, this five-character show is at once comic and poignant, smart and silly, emotional and timely.

Not bad for something that until about a week ago was just a collection of songs. In the last week David and I have written an opening number, a closing number, and a trio. (Okay, well, most of a trio.) Add that to the numbers he and I have been sneaking out for the last year and a half, and there's starting to be a score there. What's fun about this collaboration is that David and I are both composers and lyricists, so we're sharing the responsibilities of each job throughout the process. Some of the songs are his, some are mine, and some are his lyric my music, and others are his music, my lyric. We're challenging ourselves to find the voice of the piece, rather than lining up a his-song/my-song kind of score. So that's been interesting.

The folks at the Santa Clarita Performing Arts Center have been great and supportive, especially Adam Philipson who has championed this show since he heard a few songs over a year ago. He paired up with The Theatre Project/SCV and the College of the Canyons, and now we've got a cast of college-aged students working their tushies off to learn our tunes. Performances are this Saturday, June 14th. If you think you might wanna come see it, tickets are here.

Also, here's some press: Theatre Project Brings Pro Arts Education To SCV

Tuesday, June 03, 2008

Questions from aspiring Musical Theater Writers

Wow -- it's been a really long time since I blogged. I think this last month has been one of the busiest ever for me. We did the reading of THE WATER in Los Angeles. I did a concert at Birdland in NY. I spent a week in Connecticut watching my husband's show "13," which is on track to come to Broadway this fall. I'm now in preparation for a workshop of SING ME A HAPPY SONG in California, and I'll write all about that in another blog entry. But I realized that with so much going on I haven't had time to absorb or reflect on any of it.

On the plane ride from NY to LA yesterday, I responded to several emails where students were writing me seeking advice about songwriting. And as I was answering them, I thought maybe it was info that was worth sharing. So, for today, here's some Q&A on the topic of songwriting. And in a few days I'll write another blog telling you more about all the rest of the stuff that's going on. Thanks for being patient with me!

Georgia
____________________

Something I noticed and really like about your lyrics is how naturally they capture real life and modern speech patterns, but still adhere to musical theater structures and verse forms. One of the most challenging things for me right now (especially since I often am writing lyrics without music- something you luckily don't have to worry about!) is figuring out how to create and stick to a structure for a lyric without giving the song a constrained or forced quality at points. Do you ever have to compromise the structure for the meaning or the content for the poetic? Are there any exercises or tactics you would suggest to work on balancing such things?

I think for me as a lyricist, the structure of a song emerges as I go. I start out with a metric form that might be a bit stilted, just my first draft idea, and as I go along, I realize that maybe in the second A section I need a few more syllables in the third line. So then I go back and alter the third line of the first A section to make it match. And then that sparks a new idea which might change things again. I figure it's not done until it's done. And no, you can't sacrifice meaning or your song won't work. But you can continue to tweak and alter things until you get it right. If you're stuck with a word you can't rhyme well, then think of another way to say the same thing, and give yourself a new rhyming word to play with. I do the same thing with the melody -- which is easier for me when I'm both composer and lyricist, of course. But I can keep changing the melody to make it fit the words I need until I get it right, and usually that means getting it right several times, in all the different sections of the song where it matters.

One idea might be to write lyrics to pre-existing melodies. Like take a classic Rodgers and Hart song (or whatever inspires you) and write a whole new lyric to that melody. Your composer never needs to know what your inspiration was, and if you do it right, it won't be ABOUT the same thing so he/she will never know. But it might break you out of your obvious first-instinct rhythms and compel you to try something different. Like instead of "My Romance," your song might be called "On The Bus." For example.

Another thing I've noticed and admired about your work is the humor in many of your songs. While I can sometimes be funny in real life, I'm having a lot of trouble writing funny songs. Of course I know one can't sit down and just write something funny because it'd end up forced but is there be some technique or approach that is slightly different when writing comedy?

Humor in a song is something I'm still trying to figure out. A lot of it has to do with timing, and that will probably just require some experimentation. Right now I am just trying to observe what makes me laugh in real life -- and they're usually more about funny situations than funny lines. So humor really has to be character based. An anonymous funny song is nearly impossible to write, but a funny song sung by a character with a unique (or even a more universal) point of view is much more compelling.

At NYU grad school, one of the first exercises they assigned us came from a stack of black and white photos they had on file. They spread out these photos on the table and we each had to choose one and write a song about what was happening in the photo. Might be a fun exercise for you. Look for a photo that makes you think one of the characters might be amused by something or might have an amusing comment or perspective about the situation, and see if you can sustain the idea for a whole 3 1/2 minute song.

As a young writer, I should be editing as I work. I know the process is different for each person and I know songwriters often talk about writing several drafts of a song. What is the editing process like for you? Is that something I should be thinking about at this point, writing several different versions of a song, slowly and carefully going through every possibility, or should I let the words flow (when they will) and let them carry me away, so to speak. I want to trust my creativity but I also want to be objective about what I'm writing.

I wouldn't worry too much about it yet. Just write. Get lots of songs out. Get them on paper. Find composers to collaborate with. If you have a lyric that keeps bugging you (inside your head), then go back and tweak it. If you think you can make it better, then make it better. But don't edit for the sake of editing. Look at what bugs you about the song you just finished, and try to get it right the next time around. At this point, the more you write, the more you'll learn. If you sit there and try to make every song perfect, you'll graduate with only a few finished songs and lots and lots of questions.

I have wanted to write for the theater since I was in high school, and this summer I am hoping to finish a musical that I've been working on for a while. I would love to go to NYU for the Graduate Musical Theater Writing program after [college]. What would you recommend that I do to prepare a competitive musical portfolio for admission to the GMTW program?

I'm not sure how much it has changed since I went there, but the application to get into NYU GMTWP is really extensive. Back in my day (ages ago, whew) you had to set one of their lyrics, write several essays, submit a sample of your hand notation, outline a made-up musical, etc. You might want to write the program and request an application just so you can get a sense of what will be required of you.

Honestly, at this point I think the best thing you can do is get a solid and well-rounded foundation in your music theory and history. I didn't write any musical theater until my senior year at Vanderbilt, but one of the most exciting things I did along the way was spend a semester writing almost entirely vocal music. I set poetry as art songs, I wrote choral music, and I really got to learn a lot about vocal ranges and phrasing, breathing and blending, etc. Write in a million different styles, and see if you can discover all the amazing things the human voice can do.

When I was at Blair, the Vanderbilt Opera Theater (do they still exist?) performed my musical as part of my senior project. Looking back on it now, it was filled with all kinds of problems --- compositionally, dramaturgically, lyrically, oy veh -- but having a chance to rehearse it and hear it out loud was invaluable. How about putting together some kind of student workshop of your musical? Do you know any aspiring directors? At this age and this point in your process, it seems to me that school-based developmental opportunities are the best. If this show turns out to be your GODSPELL or your AVENUE Q (both of which were started as college-projects), then it'll still be there when you graduate -- and it'll be even better for having been workshopped.


I love composing and musical theater so much, and I am very excited about the future. I am taking composition lessons next semester, and I know we will work on my musical together. What do you think the next step is? I know that the process for making a musical successful is a long one, but I am truly committed to and deeply passionate about what I do. I would love to start the process as early as I can, but I have no idea how I should go about it. How do I get involved in the readings and the workshops that are necessary to taking a musical to the next level?

If you love musical theater that much, make sure you're getting a chance to work in it -- however you can. I spent my college summers as a piano accompanist and then music director at a summer stock theater (the College Light Opera Company in Falmouth, MA). I'm not sure if you sing or play piano or conduct or any of those things, but even if you're not writing the show, you can learn a lot by DOING musical theater. I think I learned more about how musicals work by conducting them for ten years than I ever learned at Blair. (I mean absolutely no offense to any of my marvelous teachers, of course.) The more well-rounded a musician you are, the better your music will be. So -- study everything: music history, counterpoint, analysis, orchestration, poetry, literature, dance, philosophy, psychology, art. (I use all of those things on a daily basis.) Finally, expose yourself to lots of life, so you always have something to write about.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Harmonious

I wrote earlier about how 900 voices were going to sing my choral music in a concert last week. Well, they did. And I was there. It was an astounding event. The choir was too big for the stage, so they sat in the audience seats at Disney Hall and the actual audience was relegated to those nose-bleed seats above them and the section behind the stage where you usually get a nice view of the conductor's face but the entire orchestra is facing the other direction. That's where I sat. Front and center. Facing the choir. It was glorious. Imagine being at a ball game where everyone is singing the Star Spangled Banner, but they're beautifully musical, refined, harmonized, and nuanced. Hee Hee Hee. Or if you can't imagine it, take a look at the LA Times photos here. (In photos 2 and 3 of 6, I'm pretty sure that's my music they're holding.)

Here's some video footage of the event. If you listen to the last five or six seconds of sound on the clip, while Jessica Hernandez is talking, you'll hear the words "the promise of light" ending on an open fifth. Maybe it's not the most fabulous music in the whole piece, but there ya go. That's mine.

I've learned that in the classical world, credit often only goes to the composer and not the lyricist, but I was still surprised to discover that Len Schiff's name wasn't in the program. The conductor did mention the "gorgeous poetry" from the stage, but I offer my public apologies to Len for something that was completely out of my control. You should all know how gifted a wordsmith he is, and you should all buy copies of the music so he can cry all the way to the bank.

Two reviews.

High School Students sing at Disney Hall
by Francisco Vara-Orta, The Homeroom (blog), The Los Angeles Times
Wonder what the future of this country sounds like? Harmonious. At least if you judge by the 1,000 voices of high school students gathered in Disney Hall downtown today for a choral festival. Row after row of black-tie tuxedos and vibrant dresses and gowns filled the seats in the modernist hall. The teenagers have practiced for months to master songs centuries old from countries throughout the world. Vivaldi, Astor Piazaolla, Georgia Stitt, and Gabriel Fauré were the musical favorites of the crowd, sung without instruments or occasionally a piano.

Hundreds join in song at High School Choir Festival
by Francisco Vara-Orta, The Los Angeles Times
Friday's festival, which was free to the public, marked the end of a yearlong process of applications, auditions and practices for those hoping to make the cut. The songs of Antonio Vivaldi, Argentina's Astor Piazzolla, L.A.-based composer Georgia Stitt and France's Gabriel Fauré took months to master. Most of the set centered on religious-themed works about faith, Scripture, devotion and gratitude -- with some pieces dating back centuries.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

The Southland In the Springtime

I got a fan email yesterday from a girl who currently lives in the small town in West Tennessee where I grew up. According to her myspace profile, she hates the town (as did I), loves Broadway (as did I), and can't wait until she graduates from high school and has a chance to try to make it in New York (as did I). She asked me if I remembered a girl named Lee who was in school with me, and I wrote her back that yes, I remembered Lee. Turns out Lee is her MOTHER, and the whole thing blew my mind because I suppose that means if I had played my cards differently, this girl who was writing me a fan letter and reminding me so much of myself at that age could actually have been my daughter.

A few weeks earlier I got a Facebook message from a guy I knew in high school who was a couple years older than I was. He had lived in my neighborhood and my sister and I used to ride our bikes around the big circular driveway that led to his family's house. Back in my high school days I thought he was too popular to know who I was, and I thought he was probably trouble anyway. So we were never really friends. But then one summer after I graduated, I was home, and he was home, and the older versions of ourselves seemed to have more in common than the younger versions of ourselves did. We hung out that summer and then went our separate ways again. Hearing from him this month has been super interesting, and thrilling in a deeply emotional way, as if the 14-year old girl in me was finally being acknowledged.

I don't spend a lot of time talking about the South, or claiming my southern heritage, or waxing nostalgic about the place where I grew up. While I was there, I really hated it. I spent a lot of time in my room -- and this was long before we all had computers and chatrooms and text messages to keep us from ever really being alone. I read books. I listened to music. I practiced the piano. I wrote in my journal. I made grandiose plans for what I was going to do when I finally got to New York. Or Europe. Or college. Or anywhere where the people "got" me and didn't make me feel like an outsider for wanting the things that were as big as the things I wanted.

I did stay in the south for college, but my first job post-graduation was on the east coast and I didn't look back for about fifteen years. But lately, I don't know, I guess I've been kind of missing it. About two weeks ago I made a trip to New Orleans and visited some family down there, and I was struck with how familiar it all was -- the accent, the food, the pace, the manners, the religion, the family, the scent of spring flowers in bloom -- even though it hasn't been my world for most of my adult life. I don't really think I'm a Southerner anymore. But I'll admit that I'm starting to understand its appeal. When I think about the things that I want for my own daughter, having a big circular driveway in the neighborhood and being able to spend the afternoon riding your bike around it doesn't sound half bad.


PS Happy Birthday, Emily!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

News from MTV

You may have known that I worked in reality TV, but did you know I was an expert in the field?

The task ahead this week is writing out accompaniment for songs I've composed and even performed but never bother to write down on paper. Eerrrgghhh, it's a tedious job, filled with tiny decision after tiny decision. But with so many performances coming up and so many people learning music without me in the room to tell them how it all goes, it seemed like time to get all those ducks in a row.

Coming up in May, we're doing the reading of The Water that I wrote about earlier, and then two weeks later (on May 26th, to be exact) I've got a concert at Birdland in New York. It hasn't officially been announced, but in addition to performing the Alphabet City Cycle live (with Kate Baldwin and Victoria Paterson, just like on these recordings), I'm premiering yet another a new song cycle and I'll be trotting out some of the old familiar songs that I do at every concert. I started putting the evening together and realized that the list of songs I was drawing up looked exactly like the list of songs I had performed at my Birdland concert in 2004, so I figured it was time to write some new tunes. Which I did. Look for performances from Keith Byron Kirk, Lauren Kennedy, Elizabeth Salem, Jennifer Simard, Tony Holds and... maybe even a few others. We shall see. It's still over a month away. But if you wanted to pick up tickets, you would do it here.

And finally, just cuz I'm a mom.... don't you wish you always felt this happy?

Saturday, April 05, 2008

LA Choir Festival featuring THE PROMISE OF LIGHT

If you've been reading my blog for a while, you're aware of the fact that I also write choral music. Perhaps you recall the blog entry from about a year ago where I talked about my newly published piece, "The Promise Of Light," which I wrote with lyricist Len Schiff.

Well, the music director of the LA Master Chorale, Grant Gershon, chose that very piece as part of the repertoire for the 19th Annual High School Choir Festival, and the NINE HUNDRED VOICE CHOIR will be performing the piece at Disney Hall in two weeks. Here's the info for the Friday, April 18th concert, and here's what's on the program.

The Promise of Light, Georgia Stitt
Cantique de Jean Racine, Gabriel Fauré
Liber Tango, Astor Piazolla, arr. Oscar Escalda
Gloria: Quoniam tu solus Sanctus, Antonio Vivaldi
Gloria: Cum Sancto Spiritu, Antonio Vivaldi
Witness, Jack Halloran

I mean, COME ON.

If you're in any way involved in the event, write and let me know how it's going. I think this is very exciting.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Making THE WATER

WE WON! I'm so happy to be able to announce here that the original musical I've been writing for ... oh, EVER... has just won a contest in Los Angeles. Years, truly YEARS, after I had an idea to write a show about a town that survives a flood, I find myself still working on it, rewriting things that we've never quite gotten right. That's what I was doing this afternoon -- rewriting that damn cemetery scene AGAIN -- and I figured maybe it was time to post about it here.

A little history. Back in the late 90s, after I finished grad school at NYU but before too much else had happened, I met this pair of writers that I really liked. Jeff Hylton and Tim Werenko had hired me to music direct a show of theirs at this black box space in SoHo, and at the time I was just starting out in the city. I made most of my living by music directing a children's theater so being hired to work with adults was a real step up for me. It's funny to think about it now because it was really such a different time in my life. I don't think I even owned a piano yet, and I was managing to give coachings out of my apartment using an electronic keyboard and these tiny little speakers. (There will be karmic payback for that, someday, I'm sure.) But I was happy to have the job and the credit and I enjoyed being in rehearsal with these people who were smart and funny and completely inappropriate at every possible opportunity.

My friend Clay had mentioned an essay to me that was written by John McPhee and published in his book The Control of Nature about how the US Army Corps of Engineers tried (in the 1950s) to divert the flow of the Mississippi River for the purposes of flood control. (This was pre-Katrina, of course, and none of us knew how prescient the writer was.) The book description on amazon.com says "The Control of Nature is John McPhee's bestselling account of places where people are locked in combat with nature." I thought, 'now there's a subject I could spend years considering: man vs. nature.' I was (and still am) particularly interested in how each new generation tries to come up with a plan to beat Mother Nature at her own game and each generation uniquely fails. You plug up this leak over here and suddenly there's water springing forth over there, unexpectedly and completely out of your control. What a great idea for a musical!

Unfortunately, musicals are built on CHARACTERS, not IDEAS, and so it took us a few years of writing about nature and floods and damns to find out that our story was actually about a few (fictional) people in this small (fictional) town in Missouri which is built on the (fictional) Onkeeton River. We wrote a draft of it that was read at the Tribeca Performing Arts Center. We did rewrites. Based on those rewrites, we got a workshop at TheatreWorks in Palo Alto. I remember director Robert Kelley pulling his hair out trying to get all those people on and off stage for the opening number. (It's been cut.) We learned so much about our show there, and as soon as the workshop was over we did another set of rewrites. Based on those rewrites, we got our first full production at the University of Michigan, under the direction of Brent Wagner. He was a godsend to us -- a champion of the piece who was willing to spend weeks rehearsing it and untold hours of his time asking us challenging questions. ("When Rebecca and Will enter, how long have they been together? When Maddy says "quite bright," what is she seeing?") The cast and crew at Michigan pulled off a gorgeous production. Check out some of their photos as well as a program from the performances here. Really, they're lovely and you get a real sense of the way the show looked.

Of course, we came home from that production and did an unbelievably huge rewrite that took the bigger portion of a year to complete. And now, at last, we have a new (again) version of the show. We've re-written all of the big numbers in the show and several of the solos and duets. The new version is the one we submitted a few months ago to the Academy of New Musical Theater in Los Angeles (ANMT) and they chose our piece as the first prize winner of their Search for New Voices in American Musical Theatre. Our next reading is scheduled for May and there is to be a concert presentation of the show in Los Angeles this fall.

So, today, I was back at the piano, going through the score, making sure everything that's in the new script is properly notated in the score. It would really be great if this opportunity was the thing that allowed our show finally to build some momentum. It would be even greater if this opportunity solidified a relationship for us with a director who had bold ideas about where to take it next. It would be even greater than that if this opportunity leads to a full production and we can finally see our show with the diverse and heartbreaking cast we always intended to showcase. However, if there's anything I've learned through the experience of writing this show, it's that some things are just beyond our human control.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Notes in Heels

I miss London. I do. Apparently Lauren Kennedy gave a kick-ass performance of my song "My Lifelong Love" over there a few days ago and I got all kinds of phone calls and text messages and Facebook postings about how great she was. I was sad to have missed it. And I will be sad again on Sunday, April 6th when the Brits pull off a concert at the Duchess Theatre in Covent Garden that features a whole heckuva lot of my music. I will be in Los Angeles at the time, but I'm hoping some of you who live east of the Atlantic Ocean might take it upon yourselves to drop by and spy for me. Here are the details:

Sunday 6 April 2008 - Duchess Theatre, Covent Garden

Notes from New York returns to its roots with a typically tantalising twist to present Notes in Heels, a show profiling the work of Georgia Stitt, Jenny Giering and Zina Goldrich, three flourishing female stalwarts of New York’s eternally ebullient musical theatre scene, starring Notes regulars Julie Atherton and Paul Spicer, alongside newcomers Selina Chilton, Stuart Matthew Price and Amy Pemberton.

Continuing the Notes from New York philosophy of presenting hitherto unheard work in front of an appreciative West End audience, Notes in Heels will bring the extensive repertoire of these fearsomely talented female composers together for the first time in an evening featuring a multitude of UK and European premieres. Adored by musical theatre enthusiasts in the States, each has a truly individual talent and distinctive identity to rival any of their more renowned male counterparts.

To book online click here or call the Box Office on 0844 412 4659

Saturday, March 15, 2008

PRINTED SHEET MUSIC HAS ARRIVED!


















IT'S HERE!!!! Click here to purchase a copy from amazon.com, or pick up your own copy at any music store that carries vocal selections and song folios from the musical theater. (Colony Music in NY, Hollywood Sheet Music in LA, Dress Circle in London. Anyone seen it anywhere else yet?) I've got my own personal copy in my hands, and I can't wait to hear from those of you who've got yours. I think it's taking a few days to trickle into the stores, but now that I've seen it I can't wait to share! YAY!

Friday, March 07, 2008

Starstruck

Chris Gorham and Becki Newton from UGLY BETTY







Director Jason Alexander had some sitcom in the 90s... can't remember what it was called.







I'm sorry... is that Dick Van Dyke?






And yes, that's Zachary Levi, who plays CHUCK on the NBC show called CHUCK. I think I love him.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

BYE BYE BIRDIE

I'm steeped in BYE BYE BIRDIE this week. I've listened to three different recordings of the show (the original Broadway cast, the movie with Ann Margaret, and the 1980s TV movie remake), I've watched the movie, I've played through the score and I taught "Telephone Hour" to a room full of teenagers.

I'm music directing a big benefit here in LA called "A Night At Sardi's." The cause is The Alzheimer's Association and the venue is the Beverly Hilton. The cast includes a lot of celebrities, many of whom have walked through my living room this week and even stopped to pet my dog. Maybe you read about the event in the NYPost. (The funny thing about that article is that they showed a picture of Marg Helgenberger and then she dropped out. Oh well.) Here are some of the highlights of my week so far.

1. On my cell phone: "Hi, Georgia? This is Dick Van Dyke. Can you give me a call, please?" And then he left his home phone number. I saved the message.

2. An email: "Thanks for being so considerate. Fondly, Charles Strouse"

3. My 2 year old daughter running through the house, squealing: "What's the story, morning glory? What's the word hummingbird?"

Okay, I'm in musical theater heaven.

There's a fine line here between gushing and name-dropping, I know, and I really try to walk that line in these blogs so I'm not one of those obnoxious people who builds a confidence with a performer and then goes and blabs about him or her online. But there's nothing to blab.
The thing about this benefit so far has been that every performer who has come onboard (okay, okay, I'll name drop: Steven Weber, Tony Plana, Ana Ortiz, Kristen Bell, Jason Alexander, Vanessa Williams, Zach Quinto, Lea Thompson, Michael Chiklis, Jean Louisa Kelly, Adam Wylie, Becki Newton and a whole lot of teenagers) turns out to be a major singer. Zach Quinto has a degree in musical theater from Carnegie Mellon. Kristen Bell has been in two Broadway shows -- a play and a musical. Tony Plana runs East LA Classic Theatre which specializes in delivering Shakespeare to young people. The cast of UGLY BETTY tells me that they are all musical theater freaks and they spend a lot of time on set singing show tunes. (No, really?)

Maybe you already know better, but I am still a bit star-struck when I meet someone I've watched on TV. The shocking part for me this week has been meeting the ones that I don't watch on TV and then googling them afterwards and realizing exactly how famous they are. And they were just here petting my dog.

Highlight #4. Email from Kristen Bell: "PS Your CD is awesome!!!! I'm singing along in the car!"

Also this week -- I've been in the studio nearly every day with my writing partner writing and recording and re-writing and re-recording these two songs for an upcoming movie. I'm starting to understand the concept of writing by committee. We write a song. We give it to our music supervisors, and they give us notes. We rewrite the song, maybe even rerecord it, to accommodate the notes. Then they pass the rewrite on to the producer of the movie, and he has his own set of notes that have to be included into the "final version" of the song. Only it's not really final, I don't think, because in this case it has to be translated into another language, and then if there are tricky problems in the translation I imagine we'll be back in the hotseat again, rewriting yet another version of the song. All I know is that at the end of it, there is a movie that will be made, and there will be a soundtrack that will be released, and it will sell in places like Target and Best Buy. And I've never had anything I've written reach quite such a large audience. So, here I go off to rewrite. Happily.

One final note: I made the mistake in an earlier blog entry to announce that I was going to be conducting WICKED in LA. I got myself over-excited and that announcement was premature. Once the reality of my schedule for this spring set in, I realized I didn't really have the time to devote to that show and I gracefully (I hope) bowed out of it. So, alas, none of that green madness for me. Yet.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

God and American Idol. Really.

I spent three hours tonight catching up on TiVoed episodes of American Idol. Okay, maybe it wasn't quite three hours since I was able to fast forward through the commercials, but it was definitely time that I guiltily stole from something more productive that I should have been doing. I know there was a presidential debate on CNN and I know I have a conference call in the morning that I should be preparing for, but this show is unbelievable. It is so beautifully produced; it's no wonder it has become such a hit. Every week when I watch it I think, 'yep -- that's America.' We have such a big and diverse country. It's thrilling to see so many parts of it represented, and this show, more than anything since the days of Ed Sullivan, really captures the American Dream. We're not all cut out to be superstar recording artists, obviously, but you get a real sense watching this show that anything is possible, that success can come to anyone, and that hard work really does pay off. If I were majoring in sociology I would write a paper about it. And if I were a better singer (okay, and several years younger) I would be dying to be on it.

I'm really only one degree of separation away from this show. When we were filming "GREASE: You're The One That I Want," American Idol was filming on the sound stage next door. Our dressing rooms shared a hallway with their dressing rooms, and yes, I did one time walk right into Paula Abdul's dressing room when I knew she wasn't there. I spoke to Blake Lewis in the hallway really early in the season and told him how exciting and musical I thought his performances were. He didn't win, but he did really well, and I still think he's one of the most distinctive performers in that show's history.

For a big part of my career I have sat behind either the table or the piano as people sang their hearts out in auditions. Given that, my husband is amazed that I still have interest in watching this show. But I find there is so much spirit there -- in the hopes of the singers, in the cutting truth of the judges' evaluations, and in the vulnerability and exposure of the personal stories the producers choose to showcase. We are vain. We are talented. We are delusional. That's America.

Speaking of spirit, I just have to mention the most amazing book that I just finished reading. Talking about religion in such a public forum as this one is probably tricky, but I'm not going to preach or opine on your time. I'm just going to say that if you have an intellectual curiosity about religion, and especially about religion and politics, and you feel like any time you talk about religion (whichever branch of it makes sense to you) you get a big label as being "one of those people," then this book might be as fascinating to you as it was to me. Every five or six pages I felt like my breath was being taken away because the idea on the page was so big, so new, that I needed to stop to process it. Check it out. Especially in the year of this historic election, it seems vital to ask exactly these questions.

Check it out. Speaking of Faith: Why Religion Matters--and How to Talk About It.

Next week, back to music. I promise.

Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Bicoastal Blues

It's very strange to be back in NY for a few days. I lived here for ten years and then two years ago we moved to California. And in those two years I guess I've surprised myself by putting down some roots in LA. Since I graduated from college I have thought of myself as a New Yorker -- displaced or not. But being back here right now (for only three nights) has been shocking. I guess I'm truly one of those bi-coastal people who lives in two cities. The trade off for calling two places home is that, actually, neither is. I do spend a lot of time packing.

1. On my first day here in NYC I got off the train at the wrong stop. WHAT? I've got that subway map memorized. What better way is there to feel like a tourist than to come up from the subway, look around, and realize you're completely in the wrong place? To my own credit, at least I did remember which direction to walk to get to my correct destination. But what should have taken me 30 minutes took more like an hour. That never used to happen.

2. I can't sleep here. That always happens the first few nights I'm back in the city after having been away. Oh, the noise! Oh the light creeping in the window shades! Oh the sounds of the elevators and the garbage trucks and the radiators! I lay awake in that horrible cycle of willing myself to sleep and stressing out because I'm not asleep. And then suddenly it's morning and I have a busy day of New York ahead of me.

3. Water pressure in Manhattan sucks. I mean, come on. You spend half of your shower dodging the blast of freezing cold water and the other half of your shower trying to withstand the scalding hot torrents. Believe me, it does not average out to lukewarm.

Okay, I'll grant you that there's no greater city and that you can accomplish more in a day in NY that in several days anywhere else. And my friends in NY are the deepest, oldest (sorry), truest friends of my life. I miss them desperately, and when I visit I'm always overscheduling myself, trying desperately to fit work and theater and social time into a trip that's not nearly long enough. When I'm sitting at breakfast with my best girlfriend in the whole world, believe me, I'd trade all the scalding showers and the sleepless nights and the days of bad subway karma just to be able to see her on a more regular basis.

Alas. I have the bicoastal blues.