In the introductory essay he wrote for the first volume of his collected lyrics, Finishing the Hat, Stephen Sondheim cites “three principles necessary for lyric writing” – “Content Dictates Form,” “Less Is More” and “God Is in the Details.” All these, he quickly notes, are “in the service of Clarity, without which nothing else matters.”
Can I get an Amen?
As a songwriter myself (and a “nearly famous” one, at that), I am keenly aware of the time that a lyricist and composer spend “sweating the small stuff.” To quote Big Steve once more, “Every minor detail is a major decision.” I have come to believe that my knowledge of the inner process of songwriting can be valuable to the singing-actor preparing a performance. For me, it is axiomatic that:
A song deserves to be performed with the same attention to detail that went into its creation.
The implications of this are far-reaching. For the savvy performer who embraces this axiom, thoughtful song analysis takes on a new level of importance, but that’s only the beginning. The performer must take an “authorial” role in the creation of his or her performance, and view it as a conscious creation. The crafting of that performance should be an iterative process that includes drafting, testing and revision; this means cultivating the ability to step back and examine the performance, using video and peer feedback as assessment tools. Too often I have seen performers embrace their “first draft” performances as a finished product, or resist the concept of conscious crafting in favor of an improvised approach to behavior that feels more spontaneous (and hence more “real”) but is usually haphazard, albeit occasionally exciting.