On Monday, July 15, I was honored to be one of the seven featured musical theater writers in Sparkification Productions’ An Evening Celebrating Emerging Female Composers. It was a lovely concert with wonderful women writers and singers. The great Mary-Mitchell Campbell music-directed, and a slate of Broadway performers sang two songs by each writer. Sierra Boggess (The Little Mermaid, Master Class) sang “New Year’s,” my song with composer Tina Lear, and Christiane Noll (Ragtime, Chaplin) sang “The Decay,” my song with composer Jeffrey Dennis Smith.
Check out the videos:
It was thrilling to have these brilliant performers sing these songs, not just because I’ve long admired their work but because it reminded me of how far these songs have come. Here’s some history for those of you who enjoy learning about the origins of songs…
“New Year’s” began as an assignment in composer-lyricist Bill Finn‘s lyric writing class at NYU’s Graduate Musical Writing Program. He gave weekly assignments, and our Winter Break assignment was to write a lyric about our New Year’s. Now, as the song says, I am not a fan of New Year’s, and I thought my lyric would be about how I was earning money off of this ridiculous holiday by babysitting. At the last minute, however, babysitting cancelled, and the rest of the evening played out exactly as the song goes, pretty much beat by beat. When I wrote the lyric for class, it didn’t have the final verse. Bill Finn thought it needed something more, so in my rewrite I tried to figure out how to end the song. By the morning of the next class, I still had nothing. Then I finally asked myself, “Well, what happened next?” What happened next was that we went outside to the cars, and once I had that, the last verse came together. Of course, there have been other rewrites: The first version was longer and rambling, the second to last verse (about feeling behind) was out and then it was back in. A few composers attempted to set the lyric (this often happens in Bill’s class), but Tina Lear was the best composer for the job. Her music perfectly reflects the mood of the character while pushing the story along. “New Year’s” is an important lyric for me for many reasons, but most of all because it’s a female experience that’s not about being in love or falling out of love, and those female experiences are not often put into song.
“The Decay” was my first stand-alone lyric written post-graduation, and its inspiration may be surprising. I had just watched the final episode of “The Office” before it went on hiatus for the 2007-08 Writers Guild Strike. That episode, “The Deposition,” had characters Michael Scott and his then live-in girlfriend Jan Levenson on trial for their relationship–she had been his boss, then things got personal. At the end of the episode, their relationship suffered an irreparable punch in the gut. I thought the episode was brilliant, and as I walked the streets the week after–the week before Thanksgiving–watching shopkeepers sweep away fall leaves, the song came together in my head, and I sat down and wrote. I showed the lyric to one of my collaborators, Jeffrey Dennis Smith, and he wrote this beautiful, devastating music. I don’t know of any lyrics clandestinely inspired by television characters–at least, none has been revealed–and I love that this lyric has that origin.