Sunday, May 22, 2016

MY KIND OF MAN

For this Summer's Boogaloo production.

This is just a fun number. The Hospitality Ladies don't have a lot of stage time, so this song was a way to make it memorable. Also, as they actually do get their men later in the play, this is a fun way of telegraphing what those guys are in for.



MY KIND OF MAN
By Dave Leigh

[Cynthella queues: “Well, Estelle, what kind of man are you looking for?”]

[ESTELLE]
He gonna fix my stairs
He gonna help around the house
He gonna carry and fetch!
He gonna iron my blouse
He gonna open my jars!
He gonna reach the top shelf
And he gonna be a man…
MY kind of man!

“Your turn, girl!”

[CYNTHELLA]
He gonna have money
He gonna have a few bucks
I don’t care how he gets it
By workin’ or luck
He gonna pay the bills!
He gonna buy me some pearls...
And he gonna be a man…
MY kind of man!

[The music plays, but Pansy “misses her queue”. The other two look at her expectantly… the music keeps playing. They try to pull the verse out of her, but at first she just shakes her head shyly… then they ask a little more forcefully:

“What you want, Pansy?”
“Yeah, c’mon… tell us!”
“Yeah, tell us!”

[the music stops and Pansy starts this verse tenderly, but by the time she gets to the word “lovin’” she’s getting into it. Turns out she’s a little sex machine. By the time it hits the word "happy", it's in full swing again.]

[PANSY]
I want a man who’s tender
I want a man who cares
When it comes to lovin’
I want a man who SHARES
He gonna make me HAPPY!!
Be my Jelly Roll
And he gonna be a man
MY kind of man!

[Whoever else is on-stage (the con-men, etc.) get up and become Motown backup singers.]

[CYNTHELLA] He gotta have the money
[ESTELLE] - the MUSCLE!
[PANSY] - - the LOVE!
[CYNTHELLA] To be the man of my dreams   (BACKUP: “Oooo, yeah!”)
[ESTELLA] And thanks to Doctor Hank (PANSY: “THIS RIGHT HERE!”)
[ESTELLA] It’s all comin’ to me!   (BACKUP: “Ooooh, yeah!”)
[PANSY] My Lover Booooooy   (BACKUP:  "Her lover boy!")
[PANSY] Is gonna fall in my lap   (BACKUP: “He won’t know what hit him, he’s a..” finish on the MAN, below))
[TOGETHER] And he’s gonna be a MAN!   (BACKUP: “Mmmm-Hmmmm”)
[TOGETHER] MY kind of man! (BACKUP: “Mmmm-Hmmmm”)
[TOGETHER] And he’s gonna be a MAN! (BACKUP: “Mmmm-Hmmmm”)
[TOGETHER] MY kind of man! (BACKUP: “Oh, Yeah!”)

[Repeat last verse… and TESTIFY!! Somebody pulls out a tambourine.]

SISTERS

For this Summer's Boogaloo production.

"Write what you know". That's what my teachers always told me.

So when I saw what I'd have to be writing a song about here I knew I'd be in deep kim-chee. So I enlisted some lyrical help. I usually work with a lyricist anyway, so I'm perfectly comfortable with that.

The song is sung by a woman whose parents have recently passed away. Going through their papers, she learns that her father had been married previously and that she has a half-sister she never knew about. Now they've corresponded by mail and the singer is waiting for her sister to arrive by rail from California. They will meet for the very first time on the railway platform.

You can view & download a lead sheet for this song here (PDF) 
(I think there's a grievous error in it, but it's not one you can't work around.)







SISTERS
Lyrics by JoAnn Abbott
Music by Dave Leigh

All of my life it was only me
No one else to laugh with, only lonely me
Though I loved my parents,
It wasn’t the same
As a sister with whom I could play

Now I’ve learned my loneliness is done
I can’t wait to see her – we’ll have so much fun!
How I hope she likes me,
And when this day ends
We’ll be not just sisters – we’ll be friends

[BRIDGE]
I envied other families
When I’d see them all together
Happy as the birds that fly
In flocks all of one feather
I’d even envy them when they would fuss and fight
For they always seemed to work it out,
They always seemed to make it come out right.

All my life I’ve waited for this day
When she gets here I don’t know what I’ll say!
Will she like my clothing?
Will she have my hair?
Will she want to know me? Will she even care?

Well no matter if we don’t look the same
We’ll still be sisters and I’ll make her glad she came!
How I hope she likes me,
And when this day ends
We’ll be not just sisters – we’ll be friends


LYRICAL NOTES

This is sung early in the first act. I merely told JoAnn that the singer needs to be nervous. She took it from there and pretty much hit it out of the park. At least I think so.

Once the ladies meet, it's pretty much as expected. They really DO hit it off, and after a bit of gushing and hugs, they reprise the song prior to their exit.
It’s amazing how we think the same 
You’re my sister, and I’m so glad you/I came! 
And I more than like you, I will love you till the end 
For we’re not just sisters – we are friends!

MUSICAL NOTES

This pretty much cries out for something slow and sweet, like "Goodnight, My Someone" from The Music Man, so that's what I went with. The bridge was a little troublesome for me. It's a little more rhythmic than I'd hoped for, but it seems to work.

To be honest. I always dread writing for women, and I don't mean lyrically. I never seem to get the range right. If you're writing for a soprano, for instance, you tend to think, "hey, I can just throw notes up to the rafters and she'll hit them all". And she will. But it may wind up sounding more church or opera than a person who's vulnerable and airing her feelings. I haven't heard this one sung yet, so I don't know if it will need transposition.







Spread My Wings And Fly

For our Boogaloo Summer play, I was asked to write a song for one of the young actresses to sing. The challenge with writing a song for her is that her character just doesn't have a lot to hang a song on. She's not involved in the ending, and not even much in the middle. She's just there. She picks at her brother early on, but anything based on that might just come of as petty.

So here's what I did:

I didn't base it on anything in the play. Instead, I imagined a future history for her, and because these plays are loosely historical, I loosely based it on an elderly firebrand of a woman I knew from about 25 years back... a very independent woman who would have been about the right age. So in my fictional future history of this girl, she becomes very independent as a young adult and travels the world. It also points out why a little girl in 1907 would most of her apparent effort just picking at her older brother.

It's basically the "I Want" song. Most musicals have them... think "I Can't Wait to be King" from The Lion King or "Part of Your World" from The Little Mermaid. Even though it doesn't propel this narrative, I like to think that it sets up the character for a future show. (Don't scoff... most of our patrons have made it an annual event, so setting up one show from another is perfectly legit!)

There's a part in the play where she gets hushed up a couple of times for teasing her brother, this gives her a reason to sing the song. This gives her a reason, too, for being disconnected in the last part of the show. Her father can be a little unfair here, particularly if he knows in the back of his head that Missy has the advantage. His uneven treatment of the kids is a way of leveling the playing field, if you follow the logic. Dad pretty much knows that the girl is more quick-witted than her brother, even if he won't admit it.


SPREAD MY WINGS AND FLY

You'd think my family would see
That big ol' stupid lummox
Ain't good at nothin' much at all
'cept thinkin' of his stomach.

But he's "the boy", and even though
My brother is a slob
He gets respect from all we know
He even gets a job
And I don't think it's fair.
And I don't think it's spite
To say that this is just. not. right.

But...
You won't catch me pouting, or parting with a tear,
You won't hear me sniffle, whine or cry
It may not be tomorrow, it may not be next year,
But I know I'm going to spread my wings and fly.

There's a world out there,
I'm going to see it all!
There are things no one would ever dare
I'm going to dare them all!
I've seen some books and photographs
Of wildebeests and tall giraffes.
Of jungles and of pyramids
That I'd like to appear amid.
Of kangaroos and crocodiles
With pockets and with deadly smiles
Of artists on the River Seine,
Who paint their laughter, joy and pain.
Of duchesses and dukes who preen
And bow before their sov'reign Queen
Of icy huts of Eskimos
Who trade their kisses nose to nose

I'm going to see it all...

But sometimes when I say these things out loud
My Ma and Pappa say that I'm too proud.
They think they can protect me
with rules that are like fences
They say I'll settle down some day
and come back to my senses

But, if I could get a word in
I'd say a fence won't keep a bird in
Someday I'm going to spread my wings and fly!


LYRICAL NOTES

The first verse is a pretty accurate description of the character of the older brother, at least from his sister's point of view; and really from the audience's as well. He's preoccupied with food. The second verse simply expresses her dissatisfaction. It's really the only place in the play where she gets to do that aside from sniping at her brother. Both verses are basically edits of what I said when I described what I wanted the song to say.

The third verse started out as more of me stating what I wanted the song to say, but then I jotted down the line "But I know I'm going to spread my wings and fly," and knew I had the hook. It came to my mind, and rings true to me because the woman who I'm basing this on was a pilot in her youth.

Now I just dive into the "I want" bit. Knowing that she'll be a world traveler, I started listing out the things one might wish to see while adventuring in 1907. By keeping them as rhyming couplets, I can make this verse as long or as short as I wish, and choose to make it just a little bit over-long, as it gives her a chance to start rushing the list excitedly, revealing her passion. "I'm going to see it all..." applies the brakes to this headlong dash.

And this allows me to fall back to the obstacle (Ma and Pappa, and their provincial expectations for their "little girl"), and to set up the "fences" metaphor so that I can deliver the final three lines, which I absolutely adore.
But, if I could get a word in
I'd say a fence won't keep a bird in
Someday I'm going to spread my wings and fly!
In those three lines, we hark back to the "Hush up!" that prompted the song in the first place; we refute the "fences" metaphor, and we re-assert a bright future, which is a recurring theme in the play. And hopefully, it turns a character who's "just there" into one who you care about, and will recognize fondly when she makes her return appearance next year.



Saturday, May 21, 2016

A JOB FOR ME

For this Summer's Boogaloo production.

This is the opening number. It's not really an overture, but it's an introduction to characters we'll see later in the play. It serves to set the tone of the play as well. In 1907, Union was a bustling boomtown that had gone from about 500 residents to nearly 10,000 in the space of a couple of years. In other productions set in later times, we focused on the drudgery of working in the mills, and their institutional nature, but not here. This is a time in which recruiters actively scoured the countryside for workers, offering what was at the time top-dollar wages. And the folks were ecstatic to have the steady employment.

Here we meet a family of mountaineers who've left the Appalachians for work; the people of Union County who regularly rode the short line to Union and Buffalo mills; a pair of con men who will figure prominently in the script; "hospitality ladies" who see to lunches and lodging; and the Stationmaster.







A JOB FOR ME

[MOUNTAIN FAMILY]
The man from the Union Mill came by
He said he got a job for me!
Said he built him a mill house five miles high
And he got a job for me!
My fam’ly will be welcome there
They’re buildin’ me a mansion with room to spare
I even heared they got plumbin’ there!
And they got a job for me!

[TOWNSFOLK]
They’s  people rollin’ in from miles around
‘Cause they got a job for me!
I never seen such a busy town!
With plenty of jobs for me!
My fortunes will be gotten
In that friendly land of cotton
I’m gonna be on Easy Street
‘Cause they got a job for me!

[ALL]
So we’re all aboard a southbound train
And possibly we’ll never see
These rollin’ hills again.
There’s a land of opportunity
Prac-ti-cal-ly beggin’ me to
Plant myself and settle down
Nevermore to roam
So now I’m makin’ Union my new home!

[CON MEN]
Look at the money just walkin’ around!
Oh, the possibilities!
Y’know, we could get rich in this little town
Oh, the possibilities!
We’ll just sell ‘em whatever they think they need
So long as we can make it for chicken feed
That’s just good business, don’t call it greed!
Oh, the possibilities!

[HOSPITALITY LADIES]
Just sit right back and rest a spell
Enjoy the hospitality!
Our sandwiches will ring your bell
Enjoy the hospitality!
Our sweet tea tastes like it was blessed!
So sit right down and be our guest
The food here is the very best
Enjoy the hospitality!

[STATIONMASTER]
So welcome to our friendly town
We hope you’re going to cozy up
And want to settle down
It’s a land of opportunity
Filled with possibility
Enjoy the hospitality
And put away your fear
If you’re like me you’re gonna like it here!



LYRICAL NOTES

The lyrics keep hitting on the theme of each verse, notably, jobs and opportunity. The hospitality ladies are doing their job... today, the City of Union's motto is "City of Hospitality".

Note that there's a bit of exaggeration in the mountaineers' verse; a staple of Appalachian storytelling. That mill is taller than anything they've ever seen that wasn't made by God. Speaking of which, they're not getting just a house, but a mansion; which is Biblical allusion to their expectation of a little slice of Heaven. By the way, it's a fact that the mills did provide housing. I myself lived in one of the mill houses on Mill Hill. It wasn't situated on a street... rather, the front door opened onto a small walkway that lead straight to the mill itself.

(Note: I'm pretty sure that my friend Edric will cringe at the fact that the "Easy Street" line doesn't rhyme with "cotton". Not all of us are perfect. :) )

Even the con men are struck by opportunity. And by placing the hatching of their scheme here in the opening song, we can go straight into it later, without a lot of to-do. They're con men... selling "snake oil" is what they do.

The Stationmaster's verse calls back to each of the previous verses, in part because it gets reprised at the end of the play as the closing number:

[TOWNSFOLK]
So welcome to our friendly town
We hope you’re going to cozy up
And want to settle down
It’s a land of opportunity
Filled with possibility
Enjoy the hospitality
And put away your fear
If you’re like me you’re gonna like it here!


MUSICAL NOTES

It's just simple. It starts with a train whistle, and with a snare drum approximation of the chugga-chugga of a railroad train, joined by a musical motif that keeps it moving. The only tricky part was coming up with something that could be "sung" by absolutely anybody, regardless of vocal ability. You'd think it rare to cast people who can't sing in a musical, and you'd be wrong. It's the most common thing in theater.

I'm writing songs for a musical.

You can buy this on Amazon
Since the year 2001. every year in Union, SC we do an original play that recounts the stories passed on by the residents of the county. The last several shows were penned by Dr. Daniel O'Shields.

Last Summer we did a murder mystery ("Murder on Apple Road"), and I did a pre-recorded number for the opening curtain, "We Haven't Got a Clue". This year's show is set in 1907, and relates the interconnected tales of several people who temporarily inhabit the Union station of the now-defunct Union-Buffalo short line. At this point in time, Union's cotton mills were just getting into full swing. It was a boomtown, with people pouring in for the work. Those mills were the town's main source of employment until they were shut down in the 1990s and their operations moved overseas.

A friend of mine, having heard the plot, quipped that this is the Play In Which Absolutely Everything Happens. She's right.

I'll post info about the songs as I'm writing them, including some notes about my writing process.

At the moment there are five numbers:

  1. A Job For Me
  2. Sisters
  3. Spread My Wings and Fly
  4. My Kind of Man
The fifth number is sort of a surprise, and it's very short.



Saturday, March 12, 2016

SpinTunes 11 Round 4 Reviews

It's the final round, and this one's a Photo Finish! The challenge:
Photo Finish - Write a song inspired by the Everett Leigh photo below:
The photographer (and subject) of the photo happens to be my brother.

As this is an "inspired by" challenge, with no set lyrical or technical requirements, it's a pure contest of songwriting craft and pretty much anything goes. And listening to the songs it occurred to me, not only that all of the composers belong in this final round, but also that I found it really, really difficult to rank them. They're all excellent! So, being at a loss myself, I turned to my good friend Vizzini for his opinion.

Vizzini is renowned for his blistering sharp wit and refined taste. I found him at a tavern near the outskirts of Florin, sharpening his stiletto. Being Sicilian, he's rarely without it, though he prefers to use his brain and hired muscle. I explained my predicament, offered him my MP3 player and lyric printouts and ordered a round of drinks. Presently the barmaid arrived to pour the wine. I motioned for her to leave the bottle.

Presently Vizzini turned off the player. "They're all very good," he opined.

"I know," I replied. "I guess it must be as hard for you to rank them as it is for me!"

"Inconceivable!" cried Vizzini, "I already know who the winner should be!"

"Really?" I was impressed. "Would you enlighten me?"

"Of course!" he answered. "Let's go through them one at a time, in album order.  We'll start with the first entry, 'The Real Indiana Jones'. Jailhouse Payback, prompted by the appearance of your brother in the photograph, engages in well-defined storytelling concerning the movie character of his title. Within this, he incorporates other features of the photograph... clouds, sky, the sea, and the rocky shore. Coupled with a very catchy tune, infectious beat, and solid performance that includes an impressive guitar solo, clearly this entry must be my favorite!"

"Interesting!", I said. "So this is number one. What's your second choice?"

"Not so fast!" cautioned Vizzini. "I haven't finished describing my first place choice!"

"Alright..." said I, puzzled, "Do continue."

Vizzini continued, "Governing Dynamics' entry, 'Sound On Sound' has a very different feeling, much more melancholy and laid-back. Though the vocals may seem a little more shaky, we have to remember that this is a songwriting competition. And Governing Dynamics went beyond the image of the photograph. He did the sleuthing to learn of the actual location shown in the photograph and incorporated that into his song. That kind of detailed craftsmanship certainly earns him some bonus points. Plus, the guitar work in this number is superb. Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

"So," I ventured, "This is the best of the lot? You're ready to move on to number two?"

"Not even remotely! I'm just getting started! I haven't yet discussed Ominous Ride and 'Rocks And Sky And Water And Sand'! Though the band claims not to be proud of this mix, it's largely due to the same perfectionist attitude I bring to my own work!" Vizzini inspected his stiletto with a slight frown and resumed polishing the razor edge as he continued to speak. "This piece encapsulates the resonant sound that is the signature of Ominous Ride's previous work. It also displays a different kind of songwriting; one based in pure emotion rather than narrative. One image expressed in light prompts others expressed in lyric and sound. This emotion isn't lost even on an intellectual like myself! Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

I sensed a clear pattern. Despite that, I fed the troll. Then I turned back to Vizzini and queried, "I suppose now you're ready to move on?"

"You'd like to think that, wouldn't you! But I'm not some moron who leaves a thought unfinished! There's another entry to consider! Megalodon took a literal left turn with their entry, 'Stout Cortez', winding up on the West Coast instead of the East, describing a sunset instead of a sunrise. Such things are perfectly allowable when the image alone is your prompt. And according to the band, the photo prompt prompted a memory of a poetic prompt to prompt the music and narrative! Inconceivable!" It occurred to me that perhaps that word didn't mean what he thought it meant, but I allowed him to continue, "Megalodon turns this into the story of an explorer on the Western shore of a vast continent. Not only is this highly imaginative, it gets whimsy points for putting your brother in a rubber room. It's also arguably the best produced song of the bunch. Clearly, this entry must be my favorite!"

"But that makes four favorites!" I complained, "How would you rank them?"

"I've already told you what I thought of each song!" snapped Vizzini. "A clever man can hold more than one thought at a time, and a Sicilian never goes back on his word! And that reminds me, I've been employed to kidnap a certain young maiden, and must collect my associates and procure seagoing conveyance. I'm on a tight schedule, so now I must take my leave!"

Vizzini began to walk away, then turned back to the table, sweeping the bottle of wine and two goblets into his pack before bustling out of the door.

--==//oOo\\==--

Realizing that I had just wasted an evening and a good bit of coin without being any closer to a solution, I decided to call on my brother for his opinion. After all, he took the photo. It's only fair that he get a say in ranking the songs.

I found him at a tavern near the outskirts of Florence, sharpening the contrast on some images in Photoshop. Being a photographer he's rarely without it, though he prefers to use his brain and in-camera settings. I explained my predicament, offered him my MP3 player and lyric printouts and ordered a round of drinks. Presently our server arrived to pour the sweet tea. I motioned for her to leave the pitcher.

Presently Everett turned off the player. "They're all very good," he opined.

A sense of dread coupled with deja vu began to wash over me. It quickly abated as he continued.  "The poetry in the lyrics for all were easy for me to relate to and I truly liked them a lot. But if I have to rank them, then here are my personal preferences, in order." He slid a piece of paper across the table to me. On it he had written his verdict:
  1. Jailhouse Payback - The Real Indiana Jones
  2. Megalodon - Stout Cortez
  3. Ominous Ride - Rocks And Sky And Water And Sand
  4. Governing Dynamics - Sound On Sound
I turned the paper over and realized it was the bill. When I looked up, Everett was gone.


SHADOWS

Sadly, Vizzini didn't offer an opinion on the shadows, but here are my thoughts:

Jailhouse Payback - Steps And Regrets (Shadow)
To be perfectly honest, of the two entries from Jailhouse Payback, this one is the one that got stuck in my head. It's a lot catchier. Nevertheless the right song was submitted as the official entry, as The Real Indiana Jones captures more of the flavor of photo than this one. It's a little strange to hear "Up on the mountainside" when looking at a photo of the ocean. Lots of banjo goodness in this one, and it's earned a permanent spot in my MP3 player. This sort of song is why I'm a Jailhouse Payback fan.

Boffo Yux Dudes - Sunset (Shadow)
Ooooooh, this is a little darker than we're used to from the Dudes. They went with the 'sunset', and produced a solid ballad of regret. There's still a hint of what I call "BYD Mode" in the chorus, which makes it recognizable as a Boffo Yux Dudes production. I'm a bit distracted by the instrumentation, though. Are these instruments out of tune on purpose, by accident, or is it just my ears? If this were a piano, some of the notes might be found in the cracks between the keys.

Boffo Yux Dudes - The Color Of Invisible Light (Shadow) 
My high school teachers always said, "write what you know," leaving me puzzled as to why they consistently rejected my monographs on serial murder. Nevertheless, this advice seems to have worked out pretty well for the Dudes with their background in broadcast media. The first bar establishes that this tune is going to be in signature "BYD mode" clean through. They're playing to their strength in the same way that the Riddler is playing to his every time he sends Batman a postcard. It usually works out, right? The photographed colors of the sunlit sky led them to this pensive piece that notes that most of the electromagnetic spectrum is factually "invisible light" (which, as a former USAF radio tech, I truly find fascinating). Besides the fact that this has some really nice organ work, there's gotta be a prize for this line alone: "Listen to the song I sing, it’s pulled out of my rectum." I can't argue with that!


Thursday, March 10, 2016

I Made A Clarinet...

Since this pic was taken I've added a bell.
I made a clarinet.

Really it's started out a recorder with a clarinet mouthpiece, but it sounds a lot like a B-flat clarinet. In fact, I was going to make a recorder, but by using the clarinet mouthpiece I saved a lot of trouble getting the fipple (whistle mouthpiece) right. The clarinet mouthpiece and reeds bumped the construction cost from about $5 to $40.

Then it sort of went from being a modified recorder back to being a (keyless) clarinet, as I took a heat gun to a section of pipe to make a bell and added it to the body. Since the body itself is nothing more than a straight piece of CPVC and the mouthpiece and bell are easily transferred, I'm experimenting with different fingering arrangements.

Well... really they're pretty much just a CPVC plumbing pipe cut to lengths, with finger holes drilled in them, but they sound OK. In fact, they sound a lot better than I thought they would. 

After making it, I discovered that the clarinet reed/recorder fingering combination is sometimes called a saxinet.

In making the instrument I made some reference to The Physics of Music and Musical Instruments, by David Lapp to get the tuning right.


Item Picture

written by David Lapp
published by the Wright Center for Science Education Tufts University