To sing a simple song

If you’re curious about what my philosophy of writing musicals is, I’m sorry: I don’t have one.

I try to make all my musicals as different from all my other musicals as possible.  There’s no theme I come back to again and again.

It’s all about the audience.  Making sure they’re having a good time.  It’s never about me.  I don’t write these things as a form of self-expression.

An imperfect rhyme is like fingernails on a blackboard.  I’ve been known to visibly wince.  It’s not just that bad rhymes make the characters sound stupid; they make the lyricists sound stupid.  And the composer, for not saying “Hey, you’ve got a near rhyme here, Don.  Go back and fix that!”

Here’s the technical definition.  Look at the last accented syllable in the metrical foot.  The accented syllable in Diana is “an.”  In coalesce it’s “lesce” and in flattery it’s “flat.”  In the rhyme, the last accented syllable and everything that follows it (in the foot) must sound exactly the same except for the first consonant.  So flattery rhymes with battery, but it would be wrong to rhyme it with Battersea.  I know a less offensive way of rhyming coalesce: Success, or stress – since only the last stressed syllable should rhyme (“know a less” therefore doesn’t rhyme with coalesce).  Diana rhymes with Urbana but not Joanna: the stressed syllable and what follows in Diana and Joanna are both “anna.”  That’s called an identity, and it’s not a rhyme.

There’s a sign on my desk that reads “Eschew cliché.”  I suppose if it read “Embrace cliché” I’d be Frank Wildhorn.

Here’s a musical cliché I’ve been seeing a lot of lately: piano accompaniments in which the right hand just bangs four unchanging quarter-note chords while the bass plays off-beats.  Hard to imagine anything more boring.

Sitting on my desk now, for some odd reason, is Empty Pockets Filled With Love, and also One Step.  Reminds me that I love counterpoint to distraction.   It’s possible that I’ve now written more quodlibets than Irving Berlin.

And now I suppose I should define quodlibet.  In musicals, it’s when one character sings one song “I hear singing and there’s no one there” and another sings another song “You don’t need analyzing…You’re just in love” and then they both sing their songs simultaneously.  It’s a simple trick that’s usually thrilling for audiences.

Which is the name of the game: thrilling audiences.


2 Responses to To sing a simple song

  1. So did Don ever get it right? I hate Don. Sigh.

  2. Warren B. says:

    If an imperfect rhyme is like fingernails on a blackboard, you might want to skip the first act of _Lysistrata Jones_. Yikes.

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