Thurgood’s Song (Day 357/365)

Double-ha! I walked the dog tonight and actually wrote lyrics to Thurgood’s song in Act II, wherein, if you will recall, he abuses all kinds of women along the lines of Lydia the Tatooed Lady and Egyptian Ella by denying that he would ever abuse those kinds of women.

The song will be in triple time, like “Lydia.”

Three verses so far (not counting Marc’s lovely “Dissociative Disorder Delores):

There’s a lot you could say for Gertrudë
She was clean and she came when you called.
But I’m afraid I could not have been rudah
When I found she was totally bald.

And then I was dumped by poor Mimi
Because I failed one of her tests:
It was bad that I ran away screaming
When I found that she sported three breasts.

I was ready to wed my dear Julia,
But she threw a wrench in my plan:
“Oh darling, I’m sorry to fool ya,
But you see that I’m really a man!”

And so on and so forth. The chorus will be something like, “I would never… I would never…” something something something.

8 days to go.

Piddling (Day 339/365)

For some reason my brain would not engage today. For once I had gotten plenty of sleep, but nothing would make my head start working. I listened to the two songs from Moonlight a couple of times, but nothing new occurred to me. I thought about getting through another handful of pages in the Logic Express book, I’m only on page 141 out of nearly 600, but even just following instructions was too much.

Finally I decided to open up the lyrics for Moonlight and see if anything happened there. Nothing did, exactly, but I decided while I was in there I’d go ahead and create pages for each song.

I’ve been using a little program called CopyWrite to work on the lyrics. Why not just a word processor? I don’t know. This popped up at some point in my life, and its quasi-notebook approach seemed a good place to work. It allows me to scratch out lyrics in the writing window, and keep notes about the song in a little “drawer” out to the side, and since it’s a notebook, I have all the songs at my fingertips. It also allows writers to tag pages with things like “chapter,” “draft,” “character,” etc.

However, it has some shortcomings that have begun to bug me. For example, its text formatting is very limited, with no strikethrough, which is very odd for a project manager, I think. Changing the name of a page, from “Harrison’s song” to “Sheer Poetry,” for example, was a matter of right-clicking instead of just hitting enter like it is everywhere else in the Mac world. Lots of other little things as well.

The last straw was when I went to create a page for “We’ll Run Away” and it wouldn’t allow an apostrophe in the page title. That’s just stupid. CopyWrite saves all your pages as separate files in a project folder it creates, and Finder naming conventions do not prohibit apostrophes, so why was CopyWrite balking?

Online I go to look once again at Circus Ponies’ Notebook. I’ve been eyeing this program for a while, but every time I download it, I think that I really don’t need it. But now I think perhaps I do. I look at all the screenshots, I watch the rather long video tour, and I am impressed.

Just to make sure, I head over to MacLife’s website and double-check for all the similar programs. I’ve looked at most of them over the years, and none of them have ever gotten me excited enough to download them, and Notebook seems to have the edge. So I download it for at least a 30 day trial.

(It also occurs to me that Grayson might find the voice annotation function useful. I know if I were sitting in a political science class being conducted in German, I’d like to be able to take notes while recording the lecture for later listening, on a Cornell note-taking page, no less.)

So I spend most of my morning transferring the pitifully few lyrics I have from CopyWrite over to Notebook, and then tracking down my post where I list all the songs and transferring that information over.

Notebook doesn’t have a little drawer for notes on a page, but I decided to create a separate “divider” for the notes on the songs, then link them back and forth.

I can also drag the Finale files into the Notebook to link each song to its score. For “Sheer Poetry,” for example, I could drag a couple of poetry websites onto the page for quick reference.

All in all, not a bad decision.

In other news, the All-Campus Chorus concert was this afternoon. Vivaldi’s Gloria went off without a hitch, and then the orchestra played Smetana’s The Moldau and Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture, both of them fabulously. The Moldau especially is just a beautiful piece, a work of genius undimmed by its lush popularity.

And finally, tonight I taught my last Period Dance lesson for the summer, the “ragtime” dances: tango, foxtrot, Castle Walk. The kids have had a great time, and it’s been fun watching the regulars get into it. What’s really neat about the Land of Pan-Dimensional Mice is how hard the kids will work to have fun. My heart is always especially warmed by the number of boys who show up every week to learn these dances. Next Sunday, the Grand Ball!

Quick work (Day 337/365)

It dawned on me that I had better print out the music I do have, if Marc and his mouselings are going to use it, so I went to do that. It was then I discovered that I hadn’t finished harmonizing Thurgood’s tango.

So I just squeezed out some chords, and I’m not sure whether they’re interesting or just wrong. Oh well, for the mouselings’ purpose, it will serve.

Sheer poetry (Day 335/365)

Today I was forced to work.

But first, this report: I was in the Fine Arts building today, looking for Stephen Czarkowski to ask when would be a good time to meet with the bass players to get some feedback on the “Dance.” As it happened, right then. I got dragged into a practice room where Jack and Alex and I talked through the piece. I was able to point out some things about it they hadn’t noticed yet (7/8 is actually 3+2+2/8, a lopsided 3/4) and we worked through it.

Then we talked about their instruments and what they could and could not do. They can actually do a lot more than one might think. Why the heck do we not provide them with pieces written for their strengths?

This evening, I chatted with Ryan Smith, the percussion teacher. The irony is that while my writing for the bassists is apparently spot on, my writing for the marimba leaves something to be desired. I knew the virtuosic spot near the end might be problematic, heading as it does directly into three-note chords, but hey, I figured the marimbist might actually enjoy the challenge. And there is one passage where I have a double-octave thing going on that was really just a mistake in dragging and dropping that I forgot to fix. But otherwise, I think it’s within bounds. I’m curious as to what Ryan has to tell me.

So anyway, yesterday Marc emailed me to suggest that if I had any scraps of Day in the Moonlight tunes lying around, they (the theatre majors) could use them as interlude bits in their performance.

Well, all I had was Thurgood’s tango, but I figured I could mess around with a couple of melodies and at least come up with fragments the kids could play with. I thought I’d start with “Sheer Poetry,” the boy Garrison’s song to his true love Elizabeth. His goal is to become a poet, something that his father (Thurgood) disapproves of. When she presses him to read her some of his stuff, which he has resisted doing, he sings to her:


Who knows what a metaphor
is for?
What makes hyperbole
so free?
Or an anapest
the best?
I do.
It’s no bet or trick
that my rhetoric
or poesy
that you notice, see?,
Because it all comes from you.

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Let me count the ways.
Rise up, my love, my dear, and come away,
We’ll find a fine and private place
Where none I think but us embrace
On a summer’s day.

And so on and so forth. The chorus is:

It may sound queer,
but it’s true, my dear
my love for you is sheer

Not only did I finish that first verse, but I wrote the music for it. No intro yet, and no chorus, but still, at least I accomplished something.

30 days to go.

…and so forth (Day 322/365)

So today I wrote a second verse to “Love Song.” I’m still not sure about it.

I’m also still not sure about the melody at all, especially after hearing the GHP music majors in their Prism I concert play a couple of Piazzola tangos. I may have to steal some of his ideas. I’ve written a more sinuous melody line, actually a very nice tango, but I think the comedy might be served better by a more straightforward vocal line.

Stephen Czarkowski handed out the parts to Milky Way today and said that the players blanched. He seemed delighted. He also encouraged them to ask me questions about their parts. Great: now I get to have my ignorance exposed by gifted 17-year-old musicians.

Anyway, here’s the second verse to the tango:

There’s always been a something about you
(a small equator)
No one else I’ve ever met would do for me
(I must get out more)
I can’t imagine life without you
(I can do that later) or (It might be greater.)
How dare you die and set me free?
(This means war!)

I know, I know. I have some polishing to do.

Another little bit (Day 320/365)

I wrestled a melody out of the rest of the first verse of “The Love Song of Thurgood J. Proudbottom.” I also finished that one line that used to go And… something something something. Now it’s And in my dreams you float above me.

The accompaniment/harmony is only sketched out. Yes, I know, if I were a real composer, it would already be there. I’m exploring new territory here, the musical show tune, and its harmonies are unfamiliar to me. No, I’m not kidding. Remember that I have no formal theory training; I have to intuit what I’m doing.

45 days to go.

A little bit (Day 319/365)

A little bit here and a little bit there.

During the morning, I taught the minuet to the string players and had a nice chat with them about why knowing this kind of thing should inform their playing. (I also dropped off the parts for Milky Way at the same time.)

In my afternoon break time, I pulled up the tango and looked over what I did yesterday. Not bad, although of course the computer cannot play the recitative in any way but straight time, so that will rely on the interpreter. I added accompaniment to the first phrase, and it was very nice.

Here’s my problem: it seems too easy. The melody for the thing just plops onto the page, which makes me suspicious. Have I already heard this somewhere? Is this somebody else’s melody that has wormed its way out of my subconscious? The accompaniment certainly does not seem familiar, but the melody flows like an old friend.

Either I’ve gotten very good at this, or I’m a plagiarist.

General productivity (Day 318/365)

I was quite productive today.

I printed the score and the parts for Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way for the GHP orchestra and chorus to look over in a couple of weeks. Actually, I printed the parts three or four times. The first time, the page setup was set for tabloid size paper, and it took me a while to figure out why I couldn’t get all those parts to print on regular paper.

Then, of course after they printed, I saw corrections I needed to make: add the part name (e.g., “Flute” or “Trumpet 1”) after the title and page number on second pages and beyond. Otherwise, of course, if the sheets got shuffled, one could not tell which page went to which part without a lot of time-consuming double-checking against the score.

Then I noticed that the combined percussion parts didn’t label the staves with the appropriate instrument, and then I realized the parts would be cleaner to read if I had Finale drop the empty staves out of the picture.

None of this sounds creative in the least, and it’s not really, but it’s donkey work in service of the overall creative effort.

However, I did actually create today as well. I pulled up the lyrics I’d dashed off last week to “The Love Song of Thurgood J. Proudbottom” and began to work on that song.

I extended the intro:

My love for you is like a… what?
A rose?
I suppose…
Or what?
More often than not,
I think of you,
though my eyes are usually bleary and bloodshot,
a whole lot,
as my terminally delicious and suspiciously over-ripened
Now let’s gavotte.
But this is a tango!
Then make it a mango.

I’m especially proud of the last two lines. Then I set it and the first four lines of the verse to music. Then it was time to go to the Wind Ensemble Concert, and I had to stop for the day.

In other news, I taught the waltz to about 200 kids tonight in the first of the GHP Period Dance seminars. About half left halfway, it’s really too many people, but those who stayed had a great time. It’s always amusing how little these boys understand about dancing with a partner, and vice versa!

At any rate, we made it through the waltz, the polka, and the galop. Next week: English country dances!

Thought and news (Day 310/365)

Two interesting things today, one for Moonlight and one for William Blake.

Having started some actual work on songs for Moonlight, I made a sincere effort to keep the lyrics for “Love Song of Thurgood…” in my head so that maybe others would come. But what I found myself doing was playing with melodies for the words I had.

This is probably a good idea. Hammering out words that fit some metrical scheme (which may not be apparent from the words on the page, actually) to fill out the first verse is a good place to start, and then I think if I can begin setting those words to music, that gives me a rather complete framework to start writing the second verse, the ‘B’ section, and the third verse.

Question: having seen the gist of the first verse, do you think I need to strive for any kind of character development in the song, i.e., we know more about Thurgood at the end than at the beginning, or we see some change in him from beginning to end, or is it going to be acceptable for this to be yet another comedy song? I have a feeling we can fill this show with comedy songs. Is that going to be OK?

In other news, I handed off the score to “Blake Leads a Walk on the Milky Way” to Stephen Czarkowski, our orchestra maestro extraordinaire, to peruse. Never mind that I sent this to him in April. Never mind that I’ve been on pins and needles since he replied that there were a “few problems” and that he never told me what they were.

You understand my anxiety: I am a total fraud, without a real clue as to what I’m doing when I create an orchestral score of some proportions like “Milky Way.” For all I know, none of it can be played. Well, that’s not exactly true. I have some real knowledge of the woodwinds and sort of for the brass and percussion. Strings, though, I am quite in the dark.

I can look at a score by one of the masters and see that my music is not as “hard to play” as theirs, but I have no idea if there are certain intervals or fingerings that just can’t be done.

So I reacted apparently noticeably when, in a meeting with the GHP music department, Stephen says, “Oh, your ‘Milky Way’ score? There are some parts… Unplayable.”


I’m thinking all kinds of horrible things: what if all those arpeggiations in the celli are just not doable? What if whole chunks of the thing cannot be played? That lovely music, everyone’s favorite, just gone because it’s… unplayable.


He finally crosses my path again later this afternoon, bringing the score with him. Here, he says, measure 57, these two notes in the viola, out of their range.

And that was it? A part I copied and pasted from the second violins and transposed down, and never checked the range on? And I never heard the note was missing because it’s a complex section and the violas are doubling the violin IIs anyway? And I clearly never ran the plug-in that checks for range issues?

Before I could get too upset at the whole thing, Stephen says they plan to give it a readthrough during the sixth week of the program, i.e., basically after everything is accomplished and things are winding down. That’s as it should be, actually. I have no claim on the students’ time here at this program in this way, although I would like to think that might change after the readthrough.

But “Milky Way” will get at least an orchestral readthrough in late July. I’ll keep you posted.