26 Songs

This is part 1 of 11 in the series 26 Songs.

Series photo by Jon Bragg on Flickr.

A few things have happened over the last two months to keep me busy and too tired to blog, not the least being passing my final CA exam and audit busy season hitting me like a ton of bricks.

Now everyone knows to be any good at anything, you either have to have talent or a lot of practice. To be brilliant at anything, you need both. Since no one starts off chasing their dream with the intention of being less than brilliant, theoretically I should be spending all my spare time practicing writing musicals.

Which I have not. Because not only do I succumb to procrastination far too often (and generally on the pretext of exhaustion from work), I am also too scared to write anything that is less than brilliant. I am terrified that all my years of drilling in classical piano has retarded my ability to improvise and create and I’m left only with the ability to interpret what other people have written. I am petrified that my long hiatus from anything musically serious has killed off what little ability of that is left. I am convinced that whatever I write is inevitably going to sound horribly cliche, awful and bland.

The fact is I have never written a song music first. Ever. This majorly bothers me. Someone who aspires to be a composer like Stephen Flaherty or Andrew Lloyd Webber should be able to write music first.

The other thing that bothers me is I feel like I can’t write lyrics first either. The last time I wrote anything creative was six years ago in my final year of high school. I’m paranoid that the last six years of being analytical and writing boring technical accounting memos and business reports have killed my ability to write creatively and to express emotion. As you can see by this long-winded ramble, I am horrible at expressing myself.

Anyway. At the beginning of the month, I got talking with a friend from my piano eisteddfod days about these debilitating fears and we decided we would stop whining and do something about it. Every week, one of us will start off by writing a rough set of lyrics and the other person has a week to come up with some musical ideas then we’ll work together on both music and lyrics until we have a half way decent song. Hopefully at the end of a year, we’ll end up with around 26 songs, some of which I can put in the 20 minute portfolio I need to get into the Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program at Tisch, New York University.

We’ve started working on our first song already and I’m feel very, very rusty. Things I have realised over the past month include:

  • I can’t write music for unstructured lyrics, at least nothing that ends up being a cohesive song. It must be in some sort of variation of a song form. I like the typical AABA structure of musical theatre numbers.
  • I do not have a gift for melody, unlike some other people I know who have this marvellous God-given talent for coming up with great melodies. I have to work really, really hard to come up with a passable melody. I am also horribly unoriginal because everything I am writing comes out sounding the same. The accompaniment is pretty blah. I have a total of like…3 chords in the song. Ugh.
  • I fail at writing bridges. At first, the “B” sounded so much like the “A” and actually reprises the middle bit of the “A” towards the end that I don’t really know if it qualifies as a proper “B”. I left it for about 2 weeks while I got smashed during audit busy season and came back to do some more work on it tonight. Now the first part of the “B” sounds okay, but I can’t bring it back to “A prime” in a way that musically makes sense.
  • I think I might be trying to go for something too fancy with the complicated rhyme scheme. I am crying inside for using the false “time/mind” rhyme. I’m also cringing a little at the use of “page/stage” since it sort of feels like it’s there just to fit the rhyme scheme.
  • I fail at improvising awesome piano instrumental solos. I tried for a few hours on my keyboard and just didn’t really get anywhere that I wanted to get so I’ve given up for now and written “placeholder” in my notes. It’s really the highpoint of the whole piece though so we need something much better. I hope Jonathan has some ideas!
  • I fail at bringing a song to a satisfying conclusion. The ending is horribly weak. It sounds unresolved and then the ending sounds way too sudden. I feel like it’s not musically interesting enough to drag in a B prime but the way the last A just tapers off and has no real conclusion sucks.
  • The best songs, just like the best prose, show, not tell. I think part of the problem is we have really obvious lyrics at the moment, like “I am going to do XYZ”. The line is not inspiring and so I can’t find any inspiring music for it. More rewording of lyrics to follow!
  • Hammerstein and Sondheim are right on the money. You cannot write what you don’t feel; if you don’t feel it, then you don’t believe it and the whole song comes off as fake. And it is really, really hard to write music for a lyric you don’t believe in.

Anyway. I will be posting up the stuff we write…when it’s a bit more polished and I don’t feel like I want to die on the spot any time someone hears it. At the moment, only 3 people in the world have seen the first iteration of the first song and it’s all I can do not to try and dig a very, very deep hole in the ground whenever I think about it…

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I'm just a girl with a piano. I'm on a quest to go from audit files to Broadway. Currently, I'm working on an as-yet untitled musical exploring identity, family, and love for second generation immigrants. In my spare time, I serve as the Secretary/Communications Director for the NYC-based Composers Collective.

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