Category Archives: Personal

“Have A Little Faith” – Taking Stock on Day 70

Troop 194Day 70 of Project 194 has arrived, and that inspires me to do a little taking stock. After all, 70 days means ten weeks of posting a song a day. How’s it going, you ask?

I’m tempted to start with the numbers, but Project 194 isn’t about numbers, it’s about faith, and love, and other things that aren’t always measurable and quantifiable.

Elizabeth Gilbert (the author of The Signature of All Things as well as another little book you may have heard of called Eat Pray Love) showed up in my Facebook feed this morning with this fourteenth-century Sufi poem:

Even after all this time,
The Sun never says to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with a love like that.
It lights the whole sky.

There’s a part of me that feels, after forty years of setting words to music (and vice versa) and sharing my creations with the world, like I’m owed something. Acclaim. Attention. Remuneration. Respect. I’ve gotten enough recognition to keep me going, but when I’m honest with myself, I realize I don’t do it for the recognition. I do it because I have to. Just like the sun’s nature is to shine, it is my nature to make songs, and having made them, it seems wrong to keep them hidden away.

“No man lights a lamp and sets it in a hidden place or under a bushel but over a lamp stand, that those who enter may see its light.” That’s a Gospel truth (and the seed of a Godspell lyric). I began Project 194 as a way to let my light shine, and it is gratifying to hear from those who have seen its brightness.

This is the perfect moment for a reprise of “Have A Little Faith,” the song from A Tiny Miracle that I posted fifty days ago on Day 24 of Project 194.

Google Analytic statsNow for the numbers: Google Analytics tells me there have been close to 400 sessions where someone spent a meaningful amount of time on the site, an average of over seven minutes per session. That adds up to 48 hours – two full days, round the clock – of people on the site, listening to my tunes. It’s a far cry from the streaming statistics of a hit song like Uptown Funk, but considering my intention, I feel a glow of accomplishment when I consider these stats.

One of the more surprising facts I gleaned from Google Analytics is the international profile of my readers. Obviously, most of my visitors come from the US, but any guesses about the country with the second-largest number of visitors? Brazil, of all places, with more than twice as many sessions as the third-place United Kingdom! Bom dia, Brazil!

The site has also generated a bit of coverage, including the Philadelphia arts blog Phindie.com and the industry site musicalwriters.com. It’s been great to be noticed by these outside sites, and I hope to get more coverage like this as the marathon continues. After all, I’m only a little more than third of the way through my 194 days, and there’s a lot more songs every bit as good as the ones I’ve posted already.

If you’ve enjoyed your visits here, tell a friend to check out project194.com or post a favorite page on Facebook or Twitter. I’m grateful to everyone who visits and keeps the music playing!

Hello (Day 35)

HelloThis is another selection that I performed at last Saturday’s salon. “Hello” was written in 1985, the year that D’Arcy and I moved to Syracuse with our infant son Alex, and it’s a song of self-introduction. (Feel free to admire the snazzy two-camera edit on this video! I’m a DIY Spielberg, baby!) More about the song below.


Continue reading

Hear My Song! (Day 32)

From deep, deep within me, a song begins to grow.
My feelings fight to find a voice.
I sing because I have no choice.
Hear my song.

I spoke from the heart when I wrote this lyric. Indeed, I find that writing songs gives me a reliable way to speak from my heart, a way to find a voice for my feelings. Last night, a dozen of my friends gathered at my home to celebrate the successful first month of Project 194, and I sang four of my songs for them. Continue reading

The Last Thirty Years, or Saturn Returns (with apologies to Adam and JRB)

Above my desk hangs a poster commemorating the “premiere season” of the American Music Theater Festival, bearing the dates June 27 – July 15, 1984.

That year, I was a young man in the midst of what astrologers call the “Saturn return,” a coming-of-age that occurs between the ages of 27 and 29, coinciding with time it takes the planet Saturn to make one full circuit in its travels around the sun.

Gertrude Stein writes of this transition in her 1904 novel Fernhurst, written at the time of her own “Saturn return:”

It happens often in the twenty-ninth year of a life that all the forces that have been engaged through the years of childhood, adolescence and youth in confused and ferocious combat range themselves in ordered ranks – one is uncertain of one’s aims, meaning and power during these years of tumultuous growth when aspiration has no relation to fulfillment and one plungers here and there with energy and misdirection during the storm and stress of the making of a personality until at last we reach the twenty-ninth year the straight and narrow gate-way of maturity and life with was all uproar and confusion narrows down to form and purpose and we exchange a great dim possibility for a small hard reality.

Decades later, composer and lyricist Adam Guettel would write a song entitled “Saturn Returns,” and that song provided the first title for a work that would later become known as “Myths and Hymns” when it was produced at the Prince Music Theater in 2002. The end of his 20’s gave Guettel an opportunity to reflect, and inspired this work’s title. “SATURN RETURNS refers to the completion of Saturn’s 28-year cycle around the sun,” his program note explains. “It is thought to be, for many of us, a time of profound reassessment. What have I done with this first cycle of my life? Who have I become?”

I don’t know what I hunger for,
I don’t know why I feel the hunger more
And more with every passing day…

In 1984, I felt “the hunger,” both personally and professionally. As a composer and lyricist, I had tried my hand at writing for the musical stage on several occasions, creating three original musicals, including one called “Assassins” that was produced at Theater Express in Pittsburgh in 1979, and another called “B.G.D.F.” which I self-produced in New York City in a 1983 showcase production. It was exciting to see and hear the work I’d imagined brought to life on the stage, but my work had received little attention, and I remained hungry, filled with a passionate desire to create original musical theater.

It should come as no surprise, then, that I was thrilled to discover a new producing organization had been established in Philadelphia, just up the interstate from my then-home in Wilmington, Delaware, called the American Music Theater Festival, “in search of a new vision of American musical theater.” I recognized the Festival’s founders, Marjorie Samoff and Eric Salzman, as kindred spirits, and offered my services in support of the launch of their daring venture.

At the time I am presently writing this, it is the summer of 2014, thirty years later. Saturn has taken another lap around the sun, and in the midst of my second “Saturn return,” I find myself in the midst of another time of reassessment. In the years since 1984, I penned another seven musicals, helped establish the musical theater training program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia, climbed the academic ladder to the rank of Professor, spent a number of years at the forefront of an international organization of musical theater pedagogues, and somehow found time to be a husband and raise two remarkable sons (one of whom is in the midst of his first “Saturn return”).

During that time, I found myself at the American Music Theater Festival (which became the Prince Music Theater in 1999) on countless occasions in a variety of roles: composer, lyricist, director, music director and, with great frequency, audience member. AMTF brought guest artists like Adam Guettel, Ricky Ian Gordon, Tina Landau and others to develop new work at my school. The Prince commissioned me to write Gemini the Musical and hired my younger son, Kerry, to perform in several of its shows. Many of my students booked their first professional work at the Prince. In 2009, my school presented a concert version of the musical Follies on the stage at the Prince, with my wife and me in leading roles.

And now the Prince is gone. Not the building, which remains in operation as a kind of performing arts center, presenting music, theater and film attractions. But the Prince as an organization dedicated to a “new vision of American musical theater?” The curtain’s come down on the final act of that ambitious endeavor, and the Prince has exchanged “a great dim possibility for a small hard reality.”

Long ago, I left myself
And now I try to return
As a stranger to a strange land and to the burn.
But the hollow inside me
might be there to guide me home again
back to something sweet…

“Saturday Night” on Sunday and other London adventures

First, apologies to habitues of the Chazzyverse who may have wondered what ever happened to your esteemed author. Work-related duties have made it hard – nay, obviously impossible – to find even a spare minute to post. But never fear – travel has once more stirred the writer’s impulse in me!

I’ve been in the UK for the past 4 days. Thursday, Friday and Saturday I was in the lovely historic city of Bath, attending a conference entitled “‘Putting It Together’: Teaching Musical Theatre in UK Higher Education” at Bath Spa University. There, I had a chance to meet dozens of colleagues from UK musical theater training programs at conservatories and universities. I also did a demonstration of some SAVI exercises and some recruiting for another European conference, to be held in September in Denmark and Germany.

I had debated spending an extra day for an “artist’s date” in London. (The term comes from Julia Cameron’s “The Artist’s Way,” and is a highly-recommended strategy for personal renewal.) It seemed frivolous to prolong my time away from home, and potentially risky to fly back on Monday when I’ve got an important interview back in Philly on Monday night. (Cross your fingers for me on that trip – and that interview!) But the cost to fly back on Sunday was substantially more than I wound up spending to stay in London on Saturday and Sunday night and treat myself to some downtime in one of my favorite (favourite) cities.

The morning dawned bright and sunny, and spring was clearly in the air when I left my hotel, located near the Bayswater tube station just north of Bayswater Road and Kensington Gardens. I headed for the park, and felt magically transported, as I stepped through the gate in the hedge, to an urban oasis. Lots of photos on the Flickrstream if you’re interested in the sights in the park. The Princess Diana Memorial Fountain was a particularly intriguing discovery – not like any fountain I’ve seen, to be sure.

After lunch, I hiked up Piccadilly Circus and Shaftesbury Ave. to the Arts Theatre (home to the English language premiere of Waiting for Godot and Pinter’s The Caretaker, among many others). I knew I wanted to see a show while in London, but I hadn’t bargained on the fact that so many shows take Sunday as their dark day. Nothing at the National or the RSC, and Priscilla the Queen of the Desert (the Musical) was likewise dark, so I selected “Saturday Night,” the only Sondheim musical I’ve never seen. Scholars of SS (or God, as he’s known in these circles) know this to be his earliest work, written before his collaboration with Bernstein and Laurents on West Side Story, the promising debut of a young writer in his 20’s that was never produced due to the death of its original producer. A charming story, indeed, and a very charming score, with a few numbers well known to me (including the title song, What More Do I Need, and So Many People) from jury lists and anthology revues. The songs I hadn’t heard were almost uniformly terrific, and I also loved the Epstein brothers’ smart, wise-cracking book (until the very end, when it gets very deus-ex-machinated). What I didn’t love (alas) was the production, which made two serious errors: (1) the use of a unit set and (2) the use of actor-musicians. Both these choices might be attributable to the need to do the show cheaply, but both seriously diminished the quality of the storytelling. With a single set and a bunch of sax-toting actors, the look and sound of the show lacked variety and visual nuance. The actors struggled bravely with the New York accents, but in a story that hinges on shades of class and economic background, the lead was a bit tone-deaf, a bit too posh and refined. He’s a Park Avenue wannabe, but his roots are definitely Brooklyn, and the dialect is one key to portraying that.

Traveled back to my hotel via tube – four quid, over six bucks, for a subway ride! – and took a quick nap, then decided to take in a movie at the nearby mall multiplex. (In Bayswater, a mall multiplex bears little resemblance to its equivalent in Philly.) The movie that I was most interested in was Duplicity, the thriller-romance written and directed by Tony Gilroy, whose work I enjoyed on The Bourne Identity. A crackerjack movie, full of smart dialog, terrific performances, mind-bending plot twists (I was surprised by the final resolution) and a first-rate score by James Newton Howard.

All that in a day that also provided opportunity for retrospection, and even a bit o’ blogging! Tomorrow morning I’ve just got time for a full English breakfast (rashers, baked beans, the works) then off to Heathrow for the flight home. Like I said before – let’s hope USAirways doesn’t let me down!