Part One: What IS a Song Cycle?
"Hmmm... sounds German..."
For those of you who are unfamiliar with this term, I thought a little background info would be helpful before I started talking about the songs themselves...
The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music defines a song cycle as:
"Song-cycle (Ger. Liederkreis). Set of songs grouped into an artistic unity by the composer in a particular order and referring to a particular theme—love, death, jealousy, nature, etc.—or telling a story, or both."
MICHAEL KENNEDY and JOYCE BOURNE. "song-cycle." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of Music. 1996. Encyclopedia.com. http://www.encyclopedia.com/doc/1O76-songcycle.html
Not all musicals are the same. Some are concept musicals, pioneered by Stephen Sondheim and Hal Prince, designed to push a certain agenda, develop an idea, or display a motif or theme, sometimes with a non-linear plot. Others are revues, which rely on a substantial number of established songs from a well-known composer, put together as an extended sample of their style. There are all sorts of variations in musical theater - Dansicals, Choreopoems, etc. - but for my purposes, a song cycle seemed the ideal way to present my music.
"So... it's a song about... a hat?"
Part Two: "Daddy, Where Do Songs Come From?"
Now, for a little history: although song cycles have been around for quite some time, the one that had the biggest impact on me and the development of this show was Songs for a New World, by Jason Robert Brown. Four individuals wove in and out of different places, times, and styles, giving little glimpses into the lives of the characters they created before zooming off to another. The show is a rollercoaster, from tender ballads to hilarious rants to soaring group numbers. But when you first listen to the show, you immediately wonder... "what's the connection?"
"You're welcome, cabarets and college students everywhere."
Slowly but surely, the connections begin to appear. Sometimes they're miniscule, a minor reference here or there, but gradually you pick up sounds, phrases, whole sections of songs that hearken to each other and build into an overlying meaning. As the composer himself says:
"...Songs for a New World was still just going to be a collection of my cabaret and theatre songs, a way to introduce my writing to the world... We had discarded piles of songs - I don't know why they weren't right, but I know they weren't - and new songs had been written to replace them... but I sat down at the piano in the rehearsal room at 1:30 in the morning, and suddenly I knew... It's about one moment. It's about hitting the wall and having to make a choice, or take a stand, or turn around and go back."
"Songs For A New World Recording with Liner notes." www.masterworksbroadway.com/music/songs-for-a-new-world
"Don't forget about Elegies. Or any other awesome thing I've done."
Like Brown, Richard Maltby Jr. and David Shire, William Finn, and so many others, I had a pile of songs sitting around from a variety of shows, some with more promise than others. Whole storylines were tantalizing me, just out of grasp, like random ornaments hung on Charlie Brown's Christmas tree... but I just couldn't seem to get them right. By 2009, I was unsure what to do with them, or whether to continue working on them, at all. I just took them out periodically, tweaked them a bit, and then put them back with their respective shows.
I suppose you could at least stick all that in a drawer.
Part Three: Other Important Stuff, I Guess...
Then I met a fellow by the name of Brian Nash, a truly brilliant pianist who had worked with many people in New York and elsewhere, including Jason Robert Brown. Over coffee, he kindly looked through my music with me and gave me incredibly useful advice on all of it, not the least of which was: "You already have a show here... just get it out there!"
Well... maybe not like that...
Each of the songs in Jonesing are surprises to me. Surprises because, until I put them all together, I had no idea how they could possibly work like that. True, for the most part, they're all stand-alone pieces that tell their own individual story... but one of the hardest things to do is envision how your songs sound out of their original context. Yet here they are, sometimes telling a completely different story than what they were originally intended for.
It still amazes me - three years later - how much has changed, how many things I've accomplished, both with the musical and in my own life, and how I can find something new in each song, each line, each moment. There's always something to discover. There's always a new story to tell, and a new way to tell it.
Good to know if my musical career doesn't work out
I can always go back to my old job...
Whether you're young or old, new to musicals or raised with them, there's something for everyone in this show. In a way, Jonesing is more a summation of everything that's happened to me in the past twenty-eight years of my life, and how my experiences changed and formed my perspective... and my craft. I guess if you're going to have the audacity to name your show after yourself, you'd better be willing to put all of that on the table and show people why!
Stupid Greek myth, what do you know?
Although the full concept recording won't be available until after the November workshop, there's a couple individual songs available to listen to that I've recorded over the years, with the help of some friends. These can be found on both my SoundCloud page:
And on the Myspace for Jonesing:
If your appetite is whetted, please come to the workshop in November, or, if you cannot attend, stay tuned for more info about upcoming events. For now, please enjoy my first free downloadable song: "See Jane..." and look for sheet music and other fun items in the future!