Best known for the Off-Broadway musicals, "The Last Session," "The Big Voice: God or Merman?" and "New World Waking," a song cycle for peace and justice.

Friday, May 03, 2013

Think-piece on sitting at a piano alone and just playing music.

Yesterday, I sat at the piano, cleared my mind, and just started playing songs in no particular order. Jim had gone out to see Mark Nadler's new show at the York -- a last minute invitation and I was too exhausted from a long day of walking and socializing with some friends.

So, he went off to see it (and said it was fantastic). I knew Mark Nadler way back when, doing piano bars in the Village, a job for which I was not suited but wasn't bad at. At long as people could talk and drink, I was fine to have in a corner. Mark was more ambitious. I had no idea how be a night club entertainer. Did I mention Jim said it's great?

So, I was home. I watched a bunch of "Arrows" episodes, which put me in a zen mood and then I went to our little upright -- or, rather, Sylvia's upright. Barbara Spiegel's mother. She lived here until she died. Barbara says she would love knowing her piano is being used and sung around.

Knowing I'm going to be singing "Rescue" and "Lazarus Come Out" on Saturday, I started with them. Cindy Marchionda, from my acting class wrote me and said she wanted to be part of the Bonus Round Band that night. She asked, "How many are there?"

I said, "I don't know. Maybe just you and me."

That morning, I had worked out a duet arrangement for us and revised a "Lazarus" score. She'll lead the audience plus anyone else who comes to be in the band. (She didn't know she'd be the band leader. Never volunteer for anything; they may make you do something). So, I knew I needed to review those changes.

We're gonna turn "Rescue" into a love ballad. Not change any words. Just have a little fun with the animalistic imagery. And "Lazarus," it needs a new score. I've learned so much with Mark Janas as my musical mentor. Now I can look at it and know exactly how to write out the score.

But I didn't want to think about any of that.

I wanted, last night, to return to the original source. Open my heart and sing whatever came into my head. That's what I did with The Last Session. Over and over. And I still love singing those songs. They've become richer and more meaningful to me over time. I will sing them until I die (again).

And I didn't want to think about "shows." I wanted to play the songs that turned me on the most. And I'd know them because they'd be the ones to rise to my consciousness as I finish the current one. But that was my starting point.

Rescue -- and because we're making it a medley -- play a segue right into "Lazarus." Which, when I tried it, worked beautifully. Rescue is in E, so the B is common to the key of G, which is where we're going to get to "Lazarus." So, instead of playing an E chord at the end of "Rescue," I played a G chord, downshifting into the octave pulse in the left hand.

I thought about the show. That's how we'll do it. Easy.

Then, I sang it and tried to forget about Saturday's show. I am singing "Lazarus," but I"m thinking, "What song do I want to play next?"

Then I remembered "The Craving."

"The Craving" is a very dark song. It's about addiction. But there's something in the music that haunts me, and it reaches some very deep levels of sadness, which made me think of "Dead Inside."

Suddenly, I'm Tom Waits, I guess. Can't find the downside of low.

There I go again. For my next song, the Downside of Low by Roy Orbison.


Rescue Lazarus Come Out

The Craving
Dead Inside


Well, as long as we're in hell, we might as well go for the jugular.



Holy Dirt

Holy Dirt, the anti-hymn. The place where everyone dies. Now, normally, in New World Waking, we would go into "Lazarus Come Out." But I've already sung it and Holy Dirt is so very D-flat. I love D-flat. What else do I have in D-flat. And there it was, like a gift from above.



At A Hospice, In the Atrium

The sound of sadness. The comforting sound of letting it all go. Of being nothing. 

Richard II: No man with nothing shall be pleased until he be eased by being nothing.

"Hospice" ends on a healing note. So, time for change of pace. 



Franco Ate The Paperwork
He’s Coming Back


My Thanksgiving Prayer
War By Default

And then I got tired of not remembering the words to War By Default. So, went back and sang "Rescue" so review the changes. It'll be nice doing it as a duet.

That was the approximate order, at least as how I could reconstruct it. I didn't turn on anything to tape it nor did I stop and take notes. This was just what I wanted to hear at that moment. I was actually surprised that there were so many.

"Franco" and "War By Default" are from New World Waking. I was shaky because I couldn't remember all the words, but what was interesting to me, as a musician, was how I jammed on the music instead of playing them as written out in the piano part of the score.

This used to intimidate me when I was making the transition from singer/songwriter to "composer." How I never played any song the same way twice, because I've always played according to how I felt at any given moment. The emotion would color which octave I'd play in, and the tempo. 


And I felt this put me at a disadvantage in the world of theater because the goal there is to write down something very specifically for the musician/accompanist who is looking at it for the first time. In bands, we just wrote down chords. And you can do that, to a certain extent in score music, but for the most part, the more specific about which note, where, the better a chance that it will be played in a way that won't make you cringe.



A choir or chorus needs specificity.




I felt like a bit of an idiot when I began with TLS. I didn't know how to write any of it down except for the most rudimentary notes and chord symbols. And in that first workshop run, on Melrose Avenue I didn't "arrange" the vocals. We just made them up on the spot.



Then, one day, you wake up and someone says, "The producers would like to see a score."



Gulp. I don't think I had ever even seen the score to a show, much less have the knowledge to write it out to professional standards.



So, when others came along and began arranging and playing and changing things, I was utterly lost. Even if I didn't like something, I didn't know how to tell them what was wrong or how to do it right. And I'm not blaming them. This is what was in my own head. I was an amateur to the process -- and I was dying, a not insignificant part of the story. 



We didn't have time to teach me four years of music theory.


But, before all that. Before The Last Session was even conceived as a "show," there was just me at a piano playing what came to me with no rules, no expectations. They came from me in a flow. 

They were nothing. Just songs I had to write. Like any of another million gazillion songwriters. 

But they were things I need to say. Things I needed to express, and all I had was my mind, my voice (which is really the whole body) and my piano. (We always picture "throat" when we write "voice," but the voice comes from the whole body).

Just songs that I had to write. Songs I needed to write. Songs that, when I was in the pocket, actually heated me up from the inside. A furnace fires up when I'm just playing what comes when I think no one is watching.

When I go into the studio on the 15th, even though there will a guy at the board, and maybe a friend of two, I'm going to try to get into that head space and just play it like I'm feeling it. Shut out the rest of the world and just go in. Feel for the inner heat and then follow it like a puppy dog.
Post a Comment