Tuesday, October 4, 2011

NYMF/ASCAP Foundation Songwriters Showcase

I have to admit that I am still feeling the aftershocks of awe after attending last night's NYMF/ASCAP Foundation Songwriters Showcase.

As I've been attending these NYMF shows, I've been going to most performances alone, which is something that I appreciate but sometimes makes me miss having a companion, mostly because I love exposing my friends to musical works they normally wouldn't go out of their way to see. However, last night was one of the few nights I was truly happy to be experiencing alone; because though I would have loved to expose someone else to the sheer talent of some of these writers in a such a warm environment, I reveled in the fact that I got to just let the music and the discussion sink in, not having to worry about whether or not someone else was enjoying it as much as I was--just engaging in the whole experience uninterrupted.

The showcase was hosted by Stephen Schwartz and featured songwriting teams Kooman and Dimond, Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn (also known as 2/3 of band GrooveLily), and Pasek and Paul. I was aware of these writers' work before this evening, but there was something about getting to see an event focused entirely on their music -- where it comes from, what the process of writing is, how collaboration crystallizes into a final product -- that was absolutely magical. Not to mention getting to see these wonderful writers really appreciating one another was so moving in its own way. Here are some highlights (at least in my opinion) from the discussion:
  • Though the panelists were all songwriting teams and had the common thread of meeting in college, I loved how varied they were in their approaches to their writing. Kooman and Dimond began their work together writing music for Carnegie Mellon students. Valerie Vigoda and Brendan Milburn are married. Pasek and Paul apparently fight a lot throughout the writing process. It was nice to see everyone's dynamic with his or her partner.
  • Most of the writers did not actually go to school for musical theatre writing. Pasek and Paul got their start as musical theatre performers at UMich, Valerie Vigoda was a singer/songwriter (Sarah McLachlan with a violin, she joked), and Michael Kooman was originally in the school of music (not theatre) at Carnegie Mellon.
  • Stephen Schwartz apparently thought of having a CD called "Murdered Darlings," which would be comprised of cut songs. There was a lot of talk about murdered darlings last night, in fact, hitting home the idea of theatre being a process of revision and seeing what works and letting go of what doesn't.
  • When Kooman and Dimond start a show, Christopher usually writes the book first, and then they work on the music. As a playwright, I thought this was a fascinating approach.
  • Valerie Vigoda is going to have a one-woman show that is going to rock your socks off. She performed the opening number, and I just had my mouth hanging open by the time it was done. Also, note to self, if you learn an instrument, let it be the electric violin.
  • There are some major A Christmas Story fans out there; granted, many audience members were associated with the show, but any mention of Pasek and Paul's musical adaptation garnered loud cheers.
I have to say that I was captivated throughout the evening. I wanted to post video performances of every song available that was sung last night on the blog to even give the tiniest indication of what it was like. But instead, I will only post one -- as it represents a moment in the evening that I found incredibly profound and moving.

In the middle of the program, every songwriting team presented a second song, usually preceded by some kind of introduction. Kooman and Dimond explained that their next song was an intensely personal number -- one that was written in 24 hours, spurring on one of the biggest creative arguments they'd ever had, and that even made Andrew Lippa cry. Seems like a pretty big set-up for song, right?

And then Michael Kooman took to the piano and sang this song, "Lost in the Waves," which is performed below by Anderson Davis:


When it ended, I was in shock. There was something about it-- the piano, the lone voice, the crispness of lyrics in the silent Peter Norton Space. For the entirety of the song, I was transported into another place, and when it was over, realizing where I was was almost shocking. I sat there, gobsmacked, trying to adjust back to the event. And the most beautiful part of the whole thing? When Stephen Schwartz turned to Brendan Milburn so that he and Valerie could present their song, the look on Brendan's face was the exact same as mine.

I was so thankful when he took a minute to digest the performance, when he was genuinely short on words in the aftermath of that song. There was something great about seeing in other people, not to mention other terrific writers, the passion and love that I feel for these works.

NYMF is now into its second week-- what a way to begin it.

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