Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Music: Getting Real

Georgia Stitt, BMus’94, with 4-year-old America's Got Talent contestant Kaitlyn Maher.

In show business, the saying goes, it’s not what you know but who you know. In the case of Georgia Stitt, award-winning composer and vocal coach on America’s Got Talent, it’s both.

Music: Getting Real, from VANDERBILT MAGAZINE
by Angela Fox

A Tennessee native, Stitt received her bachelor’s degree in music theory and composition from the Blair School of Music in 1994 and her M.F.A. in musical theater writing from New York University. Since then Stitt has forged a successful career as a composer, conductor, arranger and music director in musical theater, dividing her time between New York City and her home in Los Angeles. As unlikely as it sounds, it was Stitt’s classical training and Broadway experience that led to her current work in reality television.

Two years ago Stitt got a call from director/choreographer Kathleen Marshall, with whom she had worked on the Broadway revival of Little Shop of Horrors. “Our paths had crossed several times since then,” Stitt recalls. “This time she was directing and choreographing [the TV show] Grease: You’re the One That I Want, and she brought me on board as vocal coach.” On the NBC reality show, aspiring performers competed to be cast members in a revival of the musical Grease on Broadway.

Grease: You’re the One That I Want introduced Stitt to Nigel Wright, prominent British record producer and Andrew Lloyd Weber’s longtime musical director. Wright, who was musical director for the Grease reality show, was so impressed with Stitt’s vocal coaching that he brought her in as his assistant musical director on Clash of the Choirs. That musical TV reality hit pitted five amateur choirs from around the country, each led by a celebrity singer, against each other. “That went well,” Stitt says. “So when Nigel went to work on America’s Got Talent, he called me again.” Stitt worked on the 2008 season and hopes to return for the 2009 competition.

The difference with America’s Got Talent was that not all the talent was musical. “Of the 40 acts, though, 19 were musical, and one of my singers won the top prize,” Stitt says with pride. That singer is Neal E. Boyd, an insurance salesman from St. Louis who had studied classical voice and sang opera—which made his win even more impressive, says Stitt. “The show truly has Americans voting for the winner, and in this case they voted for an opera singer.” Stitt and Boyd clicked so well during the competition that Stitt continues to coach him for recordings and performances.

Reality TV work is very different from the vocal coaching Stitt does on Broadway or with private clients. “There’s a level of professionalism that’s already there, of course, when I coach singers on Broadway,” Stitt says. “On America’s Got Talent, some of the singers have never had a voice lesson. One woman who was in her 40s had never done vocal warm-ups before. When I showed her how, it was like I had taught her how to read. But that’s what teaching is about—you have to figure out where a student is and then meet them there.”

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Stitt & Heisler's "Alphabet City Cycle," With Baldwin, to Get Digital Release by PS Classics

By Kenneth Jones

PS Classics will unveil composer Georgia Stitt and lyricist Marcy Heisler's "Alphabet City Cycle," a five-song cycle for soprano, violin and piano, on March 31. It is the label's first digital-only release.

Featuring vocalist Kate Baldwin, the soprano who will play Sharon in the upcoming Encores! presentation of Finian's Rainbow, "Alphabet City Cycle" will be available exclusively at iTunes. The title refers to the East Village Manhattan neighborhood with lettered avenues. Victoria Paterson is heard on violin.

PS Classics co-founder Tommy Krasker told Playbill.com, "'Alphabet City Cycle' is a wonderful reunion. We released Georgia's album 'This Ordinary Thursday' in the spring of 2007, and just brought out Marcy's Dear Edwina last fall. Georgia's hard at work on a new album, but we don't yet have a time-line for completion or release. What she had finished, though, is this gorgeous song cycle. 'This Ordinary Thursday' has been one of our strongest digital releases to date; rather than wait for the new album to be completed, we decided to unveil the song cycle now, as a digital exclusive."

Stitt revealed in press notes, "Marcy and I became friends in New York City several years ago, back when we were both starting out as baby songwriters and were playing our respective songs all over town. I was really curious to see what Marcy and I might create if we pooled our talents. After rejecting the ideas of writing a full-length musical or a slew of cabaret songs together, Marcy pulled from her filing cabinet a stack of poems she had written and asked if I'd like to take a crack at setting them. I sifted through maybe 15 or 20 poems and picked one to put to music. Once we realized that we were on to something and that our songs sounded different from anything either of us had written before, we picked four more poems and kept going. The 20-minute song cycle here is the collection of those five musical poems; they are some kind of hybrid between musical theatre and art song."

Heisler stated, "While written at separate times in my life, the poems come together in a story maybe I was too much a part of to see clearly. While not all of the pieces are autobiographical, they all came from strolling down the streets of and near my Greenwich Village home. It was Georgia's music that gave me a new perspective on their meaning, capturing the lure and loss and ultimate inescapability of connection we cannot help but seek."

"Alphabet City Cycle" was produced by Grammy Award winner Jeffrey Lesser, who also produced "This Ordinary Thursday" and several other PS Classics recordings, including Maureen McGovern's "A Long and Winding Road" and Lauren Kennedy's two solo albums."

The track listing follows:

"The Wanting of You" (The Student on Avenue B)
"Almost Everything I Need" (The Divorcée on Avenue C)
"I Hardly Remember" (The Widow on Avenue D)
"Blanket in July" (The Jilted Actress in Tompkins Square Park)
"Sunday Light" (The Lover on Avenue A)

Stitt played all tracks except track "Blanket in July." For that, Grant Wenaus played the piano and Stitt conducted.

In celebration of the release of "Alphabet City Cycle," Georgia Stitt will be performing in concert at Birdland on March 30 at 9 PM. Singers expected to appear include Julia Murney, Tituss Burgess, Kate Baldwin (performing two selections from "Alphabet City Cycle"), Graham Rowat, Laura Osnes, Kathleen Monteleone and Kevin Greene.


Founded in 2000 by Tommy Krasker & Philip Chaffin, and a four-time Grammy nominee (for its cast recordings of Nine-the musical, Assassins, Grey Gardens and Company), PS Classics seeks to preserve the heritage of American popular song through a variety of cast recordings, solo albums and recordings drawn from rare sound archives, including "Sondheim Sings."

Upcoming releases include Steven Pasquale's debut album "Somethin' Like Love," the Off-Broadway cast recording of Road Show (with Nonesuch Records), the Broadway cast album of The Story of My Life, and the debut album by Story of My Life star Malcolm Gets, "The Journey Home."

Visit psclassics.com.