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 It's currently unpublished, so that's (so far) the only way you can get it.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

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

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

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!


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.