Five years ago today, I took on a new role, that of father. It is so encompassing, so overwhelming, and so tiring, I don’t quite know what to say about it. I can’t deny that it’s impinged on my musical-writing time. And you might have noticed new entries on this blog appear less frequently. I’m sorry if I’ve disappointed you, but for me these little shortfalls are far outweighed by the wonderfulness of my daughter, Adelaide.
She’s a one-girl show, constantly entertaining people with songs, dances, acrobatics, jokes, even routines. She’s everyone’s favorite child, and “everyone” includes her schoolmates, all of whom vie for time with her. But through great good scheduling luck, I’m the one who gets to spend more time with her than anyone.
No, the sentiment of one of her most widely-enjoyed original songs is not lost on me. It’s called Enjoy Your Family and Adelaide enthusiastically exhorts us to have fun with our kin while they’re still alive. One of my songs contains the line “My daughter makes me dance with glee.” So, apparently we share this habit of musicalizing the things we actually feel. “Actually” – by the way – seems to be the word she most frequently utters.
You’re probably thinking, “But of course she turns her emotions into songs; like father, like daughter.” But actually, she never observes me writing and it’s relatively rare she sees me playing piano. Her favorite piece of shtick is to clap her hand over my mouth the moment I start to sing. My niece, when she was slightly younger than Adelaide is today, sang a solo in Our Wedding – The Musical. Had Adelaide been around then, I wouldn’t have been allowed to sing my vows. Perhaps this is why so many people believe in marriage before children.
And, a decade apart, I’ve moved from writing a wedding musical, filled with true stuff, to a musical about the struggles of long-married couple with child, a work of fiction.And here I hear the skeptics: “How can you call The Music Playing fiction when it’s about a couple struggling to keep their ardor up as they raise a baby girl?” This might be asked of a lot of people. Are Philip Roth novels about Philip Roth? Are Neil Simon’s four plays featuring a pair of brothers memories of things as they were? And when will you people stop prying into writers’ lives and just enjoy the work? What’s happened here is that I saw emotional and comedic possibilities inherent in the situation. It seemed to me that there’s something wonderful, crying out to be turned into a musical. And then I created these characters, who, to my way of thinking, are very different than me and my wife. They deal with different things in different ways, and it’s all very entertaining. And the little girl? Not anything like Adelaide.
That doesn’t mean she hasn’t contributed to the show. One thing she uttered in her second year, “Mommy is yummy” became the title of a song. Songwriters are always on the look-out for titles, and these three words encapsulate something that’s on my character’s mind; he needs to express it. In the show, he hears his daughter say these words, and launches into something of a rhapsody. In real life, Adelaide said those words and I tucked them away in the back of my mind, thinking they could be a song some day. Now, it’s quite possible that, over the five years, other stuff got tucked and emerged, but such is the stuff of all art.
And I’ve made new use of the song I used to sing when pushing her in her stroller on Riverside Drive. Adelaide’s the only one who ever heard that song, and, since no one can remember things they heard before they’re two, has surely forgotten it. In The Music Playing, there’s a scene that sets up a stark contrast between the lives of the two parents. The father’s in a serene state, as I was, pushing that stroller on a nice day. The mother’s stressed out by delays in her commute home. So, I took my old strolling song and wrote an anxious counter-melody, setting them up as a quodlibet. The hope is that this earns a big round of applause. And you know, that’s the motivator for many an entertaining tot. My daughter takes these wonderful bows when she finally comes to the end of her songs and dances. And if she doesn’t hear clapping, she’ll yell “Clap!”
Musical-writers usually button songs to trigger applause. But, in thinking back on the plethora of draining, depressing musical tragedies I’ve watched, concentrating on stopping my fidgeting from bothering other patrons, I sometimes think more of us need to pick up on my daughter’s aesthetic. Be a dynamo. Put a seemingly inexhaustible amount of energy into showing your audience a good time. Dare to be goofy. Go too far. Curtsy and bow. I tend to think only two of my shows live up to this, The New U. and Area 51. Recently, Adelaide and I attended a party in which I saw cast members from one of those shows for the first time in many, many years. Everybody spoke of how the audience howled, how it was the wackiest thing they’d done in their lives. Little did they know that my current inspiration to be surpassingly zany was dancing underfoot.