Several weeks ago, I walked six blocks through the sunny Upper West Side Autumn to sit down with Ronnie and talk about themes and logistics for my third C&V piece. I’d performed the first piece by Mika and received the music for the second (Rachel’s) the previous Monday evening and now Ronnie was about to start writing my third piece. She and I split a slice of pound cake and I gave her my wish list: feminine characters who are also powerful, vocal lines that start low and arch high. Ronnie took it all in and offered back lots of brightly-colored thoughts. I felt happy that she left saying “Ok, I have a bunch of ideas now.”
A month earlier, Rachel and I had had a similar conversation over tortilla soup and beer in Brooklyn and I knew Mariah Carey’s walking past during our meal was a good omen. It was. Pronoun is a fun, extroverted, beautiful piece about a special bride.
Mika‘s and my conversation had started earlier in some kind of artistic virtual love-fest when we discovered each others’ tumblr blogs (His. Mine.) back in September while he was writing for me. The whole interaction would have made a hilarious/nauseating puff piece on how the online music community works. We both posted about how much we liked the other’s work. It’s all great for the ego, but there’s more than that taking place. I learned a lot about him that helped in preparing his piece, Internal.
Part of my job is to help conductors and directors come up with good ideas they may not have had. I’ve never had the chance to do this for composers who are writing music with me in mind. I’m eating it up.
Singers choose our rep based not only on interest but on the confidence that we can handle a piece’s vocal problems. In auditions for example, you only perform music that make you sound fabulous. With a 400 year-broad vocal repertoire, there’s no huge need to bother with music that doesn’t feel tailor-made for your voice and personality. On the night of our first workshop performance, I had come back from one such out-of-town audition. I arrived at Penn Station at 6:30 PM, rushed to Brooklyn and performed Mika’s month-old piece. In the context of the Composers and the Voice seminar, I get to say, “You know, I love this phrase that ends on a high B-flat, but I’d also love a measure right here to breathe out and then get a good breath tuck.” We make the piece a bit easier to sing and we make my performance sound more like what Mika wants to hear. We worked on some phrases for color and tried to find what would sound best for a spot marked “Angrily.” Did that mean more spoken or more consonants? When we go through this process, Steven will prod the singer and the composer, asking quiet, open questions like some Socrates with glasses. He’s quite good at simplifying things. “What would that phrase sound like if you just sang it forte?”
The other day Mika and I had a broad-ranging talk on the overemphasis on talent and back-story that plagues lots of cultural writing. He said “Music isn’t magic. Being a good musician is just about wanting to be in this process of trial and error 8 hours a day.” I agreed with him. In movies about sports, war, makeovers, or performance you’ll get a Success Montage. Early in Act III, the director puts on pounding music and chop-edits through months of work, negotiations and false starts in 40 seconds. Classic that come straight to mind: Rocky’s training, long sections of Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves (Don’t hate.), and Save the Last Dance (Again, don’t hate… get into Juilliard dancing ballet and hip-hop!). It makes for fun, tightly constructed movies and ridiculous real-life expectations. Most of the good artists and performers I know feel lucky to be stuck in that montage and even when they come up for air and acclaim, they go right back down into muddy work. We’re having a great time in this part of our movie. I hope it lasts a while.