Category Archives: School

Day 114: Three-Thirteen

[Full disclosure: this post is actually being written on Day 115, April 25, but I failed to post yesterday on Day 114 and I’m catching up. I feel like this makes my “one post every day” claim a little bit fraudulent, but really, does it make a difference? Really, does it? I think the only one who experiences these posts as a daily sequential phenomenon is me, the one doing the posting. For the rest of the world, Project 194 has become a web of days and works linked together via the Internet. Leave me a comment if you have a thought about that.]

Today’s post might have been more numerologically appropriate yesterday, on Day 113 [well, not yesterday; see the disclaimer above]. 313 South Broad Street was the address of a building I worked in for many years, and the University of the Arts’ Ira Brind School of Theater Arts was housed there until 1999. Empty for years, the lot became the site of a pop-up park and beer garden last year. I wrote this song for a show we produced to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the Brind School (we called it “SOTA” in those days) in 2003, when the demolition of 313 was a fairly recent memory for everyone. This past weekend, the two buildings next door (309 and 311 S. Broad) were also torn down, as the site is being prepared for a massive construction project, a hotel/apartment tower that will be one of Philly’s tallest buildings. It’s a shock to be able to look south on Broad from the intersection of Broad and Spruce and see the entire side of the Broad Street Ministry’s church!

The singers on this track include Tallia Brinson and Jeremiah Downes, and Jeff Kern is the arranger and conductor.

Tonight we’re here to celebrate the anniversary
Of how our program started back in 1983.
It was 313 South Broad Street,
That’s where it all began.
Try to remember or imagine if you can:

The day that you arrived there,
It all seemed strange and new,
But somehow, you survived there,
You spread your wings and flew!
And the place became your home away from home
With a cast of friends like none you’d ever known.
It’s a memory that still seems fresh and green
When you think about your time at three thirteen

Three Thirteen,
That’s where you made a start of it.
Three Thirteen,
That’s where you learned the art of it.
Three Thirteen,
That’s where you found found the heart of it.
Your life began again at age nineteen
Right there, in Three Thirteen.

Three Thirteen was, among other things, the place where the first workshops of the musical Floyd Collins took place. in 1992. I’ve had occasion in recent classes to wax nostalgic about the days when the American Music Theater Festival was at its most robust, and the way that organization made Philadelphia a national center for exciting musical theater. At UArts, there were works produced in our spaces, like Revelation in the Courthouse Park (1987) and Power Failure (1988), or works presented in the Drake Ballroom like Welfare, based on the Frederick Wiseman documentary with music by Lenny Pickett and the Borneo Horns (1991?) and Ed Shockley’s Bobos, with a score by James McBride (1993). More importantly, there were original works that were developed with our students in the cast, works like Bobos, Floyd Collins and States of Independence. States was composed by Ricky Ian Gordon, and was written and directed by Tina Landau, who also collaborated with Adam Guettel on Floyd. One of the last AMTF projects I recall from 313 was The Wonderful O, a musical based on James Thurber’s 1957 children’s book that came delightfully to life in a staging by Marcia Milgrom Dodge on the stage in the Recital Hall of 313 S. Broad before it eventually ran aground on copyright and collaborator issues.

The fifth floor had buckets for when the ceiling leaked,
The basement had roaches so big you nearly freaked,
You dressed for ballet in a busted bathroom stall
And your room for Acting Studio had holes punched in the wall.
Some rooms were cold and drafty, and some so hot and dry
That in wintertime, you kept the air conditioner on high.
But it wasn’t just asbestos in the air,
You could tell that something special happened there.
Ralph the janitor always tried to keep things clean,
Which was not an easy task in Three Thirteen.

Three Thirteen,
That’s where you made a start of it.
Three Thirteen,
That’s where you learned the art of it.
Three Thirteen,
That’s where you found found the heart of it.
Your life began again at age nineteen
Right there, in Three Thirteen.

I’m typing these lyrics out as I listen to the recording, and it’s gratifying to hear the audience (which included a number of alumni) laugh at this description. The recording also includes tributes to the teachers and other individuals who, like Ralph the Janitor, made the place unforgettable. “Sometimes the work got a little pretentious, but then it dawned on you that this was what a life could be in the arts: spirited colleagues, passionate curiosity and no boundaries.”

Recommended listening for current students who want to connect with the traditions of the school, and for alumni wanting a reminder of why the undergraduate years are so precious. There’s more lyrics, but no more time for typing, so use your ears and enjoy!

A Lover And His Lass, from As You Like It (Day 63)

Today’s Shakespeare jam is the last of the songs I composed for the 1998 UArts production of As You Like It, A Lover And His Lass.

IT was a lover and his lass,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
That o’er the green corn-field did pass,
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Between the acres of the rye,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
These pretty country folks would lie,
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

This carol they began that hour,
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
How that life was but a flower
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

And, therefore, take the present time
With a hey, and a ho, and a hey nonino,
For love is crown`d with the prime
In the spring time, the only pretty ring time,
When birds do sing, hey ding a ding, ding;
Sweet lovers love the spring.

Big River 1For some reason, I thought of the songs of Roger Miller when I faced the challenge of setting this text. My musical tastes have always been wonky, even from my teenage years, and I owned an LP of Roger Miller’s songs. Musical theater types know Roger Miller wrote the songs for Big River (which D’Arcy and I appeared in with Forrest McClendon a few years ago), and music lovers of a certain age may recall King Of The Road, but I got a real kick from his comedy novelty songs like Chug-A-Lug, Doo-Wacka-Doo and You Can’t Roller Skate In A Buffalo Herd. (This, by the way, is the magic of the Internet – that I can think of Roger Miller and be looking at a list of 22 of his albums in no time at all.) My collection of LPs also included Tiny Tim (“Tiptoe Thru the Tulips” was weirdly intriguing to me after I saw Tiny Tim sing it on Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In) and The Bee Gees (actually, pretty mainstream in 1970), along with the discs of Stravinsky and Samuel Barber that I borrowed from the county library. God bless my parents, they never seemed too alarmed by my abnormal musical curiosity. Anyway, the ding-a-ding-ding part of Shakespeare’s text got me thinking about Miller’s playful use of funny sounds and words, and the result is what you hear here. As with the previous demos, you need to supply the proper instrumentation using your imagination – guitar and banjo would be the ideal combination, with a thumping upright bass on 1 and 3.

Getting Stronger Every Day, from Realities (Day 18)

Anna and Alex couldn’t be more unlike one another, but Anna has taken on the challenge of rehabilitating the stubborn, passionate Alex. By the fourth song of Realities, she feels like they’re starting to make some progress. The singers are Deirdre Finnegan and Matt Cloran.

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Project 194, Day 7: The Chase

We’re a week into Project 194, a six-month long festival of songs I’ve written that I’m sharing via the internet, and the response thus far has been really gratifying. It has made me so happy to get my songs out of storage and share them with you!

sylvester-frontToday’s song is actually an instrumental composition called The Chase, which comes from the score for Sylvester and the Magic Pebble. Sylvester is one of two shows I composed for Enchantment Theater Company; the other, Harold and the Purple Crayon, is currently out on its third national tour, and I guarantee you’ll hear some music from that show in the coming weeks. You also may get a preview of new work that I’m composing for them right now, including The Brave Little Tailor, adapted from the tale by the Brothers Grimm, which opens in April.

Is it accurate to call this composition a song? Well, it’s a compact, closed-form composition like a song, but it’s organized a bit differently than a song would be. I actually wrote this as a piece before I knew which scene in Sylvester it’d be used for, but its contrapuntal qualities seemed well suited to a scene in which two police dogs search high and low for the missing donkey Sylvester.

The superb instrumentalists on this recording are Ron Kerber (saxes and flutes), Matt Gallagher (trumpet), Kevin MacConnell (bass) and Lars Halle (drums). All of them are colleagues at UArts, and they were a joy to work with in the studio.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194: Let’s Go (Day 1), What Happened To The Song (Day 2), Have A Little Christmas On Me (Day 3), The Hunk With The Funk (Day 4), Hit Me! (Day 5), I‘m A Show! (Day 6).

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Project 194, Day 5: Hit Me!

Today’s selection is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears! The show: Watch The Birdie. The singer: Alex Keiper, in an excerpt from the 2008 production of my musical revue about contemporary family life. More comments below, after the lyric:

I was a fool to go and drop my defenses
And stick my neck out for a knockout like you
It wasn’t long before I came to my senses
And realized what you were trying to do
You’re not about to see me suffer
You think you’re tough, but, boy, I’m tougher!
Hit me! Hit me harder!
I still don’t feel a thing.
Come on and git me! Hit me harder!
It doesn’t even sting.

The day we met, my world was lit up by lightning
But I discovered I was in for a shock
The way you trifled with my feelings was frightening
You said you cared for me, but that was a crock!
I know you think that I’m a bluffer
But show your stuff! I know I’m tougher!
Hit me! Hit me harder!
I still don’t feel a thing.
Hit me! Hit me harder!
It doesn’t even sting.

You say I’m not the fighting kind
You say the words don’t fit me
But then the truth just hit me
You was wrong, oh so wrong.
Fact is I should have seen it coming
And practiced self-defense.
You were one of the best,
But I’d have never guessed how you’d act up
Til I got smacked up!

Hit me! Hit me harder!
I still don’t feel a thing.
Hit me! Hit me harder!
It doesn’t even sting.

Watch The Birdie is a musical revue that’s had several incarnations over the years. First, there was a three-person version of the show, entirely in song, which I performed with D’Arcy and our friend Gary Pagano, plus Harvey Price on drums, at the Bourse in Philly and Don’t Tell Mama in NYC. Later, I had the idea of mashing up my songs with a collection of short radio plays by Conrad Bishop and Elizabeth Fuller called Family Snapshots, and I produced that version in 1998 as the senior showcase for the UArts musical theater students. This video comes from a later iteration of the show produced by Philly Music Theater Works in 2008.

Hit Me was among the songs added for that version, and Alex sounds great on this material. She’s another former student who’s done well here in Philadelphia over the past few years. In the show, the song is woven into a scene about a stressed-out couple who are at each other’s throats trying to deal with a sick, crying baby. Yeah, been there, done that.

When I started this song, I wasn’t thinking of it as a theater song, but just a straight-ahead rock song using strong, direct language in both words and music. In the bridge, though, I succumbed the influence of Fagen and Becker, two of my favorite pop songsmiths and lads who don’t shy away from harmonic complexity.

For hardcore Chazzyphiles, here’s a real curiosity – the composer’s demo for that song, with a slower tempo and a different instrumentation.

If you missed them, these are the songs already posted on Project 194: Let’s Go (Day 1), What Happened To The Song (Day 2), Have A Little Christmas On Me (Day 3), The Hunk With The Funk (Day 4).

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