All posts for the month February, 2014

Here I am going to skip an entire decade, the 1970’s. I can imagine there may be a lot of people who would like to skip the 1970’s but maybe for other reasons.

Throughout most of that ten year period I was living in Britain where I met my lovely wife to be. I also spent a day with George Harrison and became friendly with Arthur Brown. Yes, the Arthur Brown of the Crazy World and Fire.

(Don’t you hate name droppers? Okay, I’ll stop now.)

For a number of reasons I eventually became tired of pop music and lay down my guitar to learn how to compose ‘serious contemporary concert music’.

So, let’s skip all that.

You never know where saying “yes” to something will get you. We have now leap-frogged to the mid 1980’s and I am living in Boise, Idaho. A local theatre director asked me to be musical director and conductor for a production of Sweeney Todd. “Sweeney who?” I replied.

(Actually I knew who the dude was I just didn’t know it was a piece of musical theater since I hated musicals and did everything I could do to avoid them.)

She finally wore me down.  I agreed and ended up having a pretty good time. The end of this little tale is that the artistic director of the Idaho Shakespeare Festival attended and apparently impressed with my efforts, hired me to score the next season of plays. It turned into a six year gig.

Guess what one of the plays that first year was? If you’re you thinking Othello you’d be right.

Unfortunately none of the Othello music got saved but since it’s high time to share some music with you, I’ll post some excerpts from other shows.

First, here is an overture for a production of Macbeth. This show was set in some contemporary South or Central American country with Macbeth portrayed as  a military dictator. Obviously a revolution has to take place and the ancient indian culture provides the supernatural magic.

Next is part of an overture to Troillus and Cressida. This show had glam-rock spandex clad Trojans fighting the denim clad biker-gang Greeks.

Last is music for a crazy chase scene from strange, cartoon-like, Arabic-Commedia dell’arte version of The Comedy of Errors. Very goofy but fun.

In the next post we will finally arrive at the beginning of Sweet Willow.

The music on this page was never intended to last longer than the run of the production. It was all quickly recorded under the guns of deadlines back in the stone-age of audio tape, some of it of medium to low quality. Unfortunately some degradation had occurred prior to transferral to a digital format.

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We are now arriving at the beginning of Sweet Willow although at this point the show had no name.

It is 1991 and it is the last year I worked with the Idaho Shakespeare Festival.

The season was a disaster.

The Artistic Director had either been fired or quit (can’t remember which) and no one was running the festival. Somehow the plays got rehearsed and up but it still feels like a miracle that anything got staged that year. One of the shows got shut down due to full frontal male nudity.

Can you imagine full frontal male nudity on an outdoor stage in Boise, Idaho?

The production in question was Wedekind’s Spring Awakening. I thought it was a good show and was pleased with the music I had composed for it but local church groups and a young Republican firebrand Attorney General made sure we awakened nowhere no-how. Like I said the season was a disaster.

I was now living in Seattle and commuting to Boise for the festival. The night before I was due to return home I couldn’t sleep.

A sound kept running through my head.

It was the sound of the baritone saxophone. I  was hearing some of those great old R&B horn lines playing and replaying in my mind’s ear over and over and over and…you get the idea. The next logical step for me was to think, “Hey, wouldn’t it be cool to write something that used a baritone sax?”

What could it be? What could it be?

A song? No.

A play? Well, I’ve never written a play but heck, why let that stop you? Okay, a play but what should it be? Shakespeare? Hmmm, maybe.

I began to mentally audition Shakespearean plays that might have musical possibilities. Romeo and Juliet had already been turned into West Side Story, The Comedy of Errors was The Boys from Syracuse, The Taming of the Shrew was Kiss Me Kate. There’s actually quite a list of them. I was sure that the musical genre I wanted to explore was in the blues/jazz, R&B camp.

You know…, baritone saxophone.

What could translate to a gritty, urban blues powered story?

‘Ding’, the bell rang, the light bulb went on and Othello jumped into the ring. Yes, he literally jumped into the ring because I knew instantly that he had to be a boxer.

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All right, some of the pieces for this puzzle had fallen into place. I knew that the show was to be based on Othello, I knew when in time it would take place, I knew the musical genre and I knew the type of world I wanted to portray.

I was pretty excited about this.

I have a good friend in LA who works in film and TV and I wanted to share this news with him. To my great surprise he said, “Come down to LA and we’ll put a screenplay together.”

I couldn’t believe my good fortune. It was still 1991, I’d only just thought of the project a month previously and here someone, a someone who’s a friend and who also happens to be a little bit connected, is interested enough to take the time to help write a screenplay with me. What good fortune.

My fantasy wheels began to spin over-time. I became ‘concerned’ that some big shot celebrity that I didn’t care for would want to be in this great movie. Ha!

How would I negotiate a contract that would leave me with some control? Another big Ha!

What would I wear when I went up to receive my Oscar? Ha, ha, ha, ho, ho ho!

As yet there was no script, no songs nor any music beginning to percolate.

What did I have? Hmm…,I had a hazy idea of a something based on Othello and the sound of the baritone sax and I wasn’t even too sure about the bari anymore.

The trip did not go well.

My friend ended up being too busy to focus on my project (still no name for it) and I was pretty clueless as to how to get started. (Where were the Screenplay for Dummies books back then?)

A week went by.

My wife and I had very little money in those days. I was still trying to land on my feet employment-wise due to our recent move to Seattle. Fortunately I could stay with my sister in L.A. and not rack up hotel bills…BUT…,

…somehow in the general confusion, I lost my return trip air ticket. This is unusual for me as I’m not an airhead when it comes to keeping track of expensive items.

Enough is enough. I know when to throw in the towel. There were too many bad omens.

Did I try to stick it out? You bet. I even went as far as applying for a job as one of those keyboard-demo dudes who used to stand out in front of the mall music stores trying to catch people’s eyes as they walk by in order to entice them into the shop to purchase an electronic keyboard that they will never play. I got the job but couldn’t make myself take it.

Sometimes you just have to know when to retreat and regroup.

My friend generously gave me the money to buy a return ticket. I’m still grateful.

There was one positive thing that occurred however. It was the composition of This Magic Night, a song that will later appear in Act 1, scene 3.  As yet there’s no demo of it that I care to share.

There will be music from the show in the next post.

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After the L.A. debacle it took me a while to get back on track.

How did I lose that ticket? Damn!

For awhile I didn’t get a chance to think about Sweet Willow (it still did not have a name yet) due to a commission I received from a local performance group called The Rainier Chamber Winds. I re-scored an older work of mine for them that was originally composed to simulate a game of Russian Roulette. The piece consists of five movements. At the end of each, someone has to ‘pull the trigger’ on the ‘gun’. The triggered gun can be almost anything. Examples: several inflated lunch bags and one with flour in it, a series of balloons and one filled with water, etc. You get the idea. (maybe)

The piece ends when the ‘gun’ goes off irrespective of whether all the movements have been heard. It was composed for a five day festival in the UK. What was fun about the idea is that the performers and the audiences would never know if they would get to play or hear the work in its entirety. We thought it would encourage listeners to return for repeat performances.

Where is this going? I’ll tell you. The Chamber Winds wanted to perform it without the chance element but still wanted to keep the ‘loaded gun’ idea. It was going to be performed for a series of children’s concerts. An actor was hired to dress like a clown, silently play with a large inflated balloon during each of the five movements then at the very end, he breaks the balloon. The performances went well but kids cried every time the balloon went bang.

What does this have to do with Sweet Willow? I’m getting there, be patient.

I became friendly with the actor who performed as the mime. His name is Paul Prappas. He turned out to also be a gifted playwright and musician. Somehow I managed to convince him that working on this show was a good idea. He took the leap of faith and we began working  like the two mad men we are. Paul wrote the first book, all five or six or seven (at some point I lost count) versions of it.

A theatre connection of mine put us in contact with a New York producer. We began to get positive feedback on our efforts.

Alas, that connection fell through when some bozo pal of the New York producer told him our show was no good.

Hmm, he seemed to like it fine prior to asking his pal.

Well, amid the weeping and the gnashing of teeth we bravely set out to storm every port. Now the story becomes all too familiar to anyone who has ever tried to publish a book, get a play produced or do anything that requires cold calls. We begin to collect rejection notices, lots of them.

Still, like our immensely talented but underdog boxer Odelle Brown in this next musical excerpt, we soldiered on.

Ringside: the opening number of Sweet Willow.

Many thanks here to the voice over talents of Adrian D. Cameron and Mathew Houot .

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