letters to the patronopolis - june 10, 2011

Hi Patronopolis,

Last week, after I wrote you, I met Bethany Joyce (cellist extraordinaire) at my studio to work on the musical. We talked for a while, and then I played her drafts of the first few songs. She’s always very supportive and insightful, and just the process of listening to what I’ve been working on in her presence made the whole thing feel more real to me.

We tried to envision what sort of score the musical needs. What will a director, a band, a group of actor/singers being working from, when it comes time to produce it?

I’ve been reading musical notation since I was a little kid, and there is part of me that loves the world of dotted quarter notes and bass clefs and carefully counted measures. But there’s another part of me that groans at all that. Because it’s just a language, just a set of squiggles and lines, meant to communicate something. Way too often, those squiggles and lines become The Thing, The Music. It makes people weird. They get extremely particular about whether the “t" in some word should land on beat 1.5 or beat 1.75. It can be fun to geek out on stuff like that, but it’s not fun if it gets in the way of actually making music. Which it often does.

Bethany gets it — the value of having the language, and the limitations it presents — which makes her a great person to help me think through how to share what I’m writing. She suggested that we make lead sheets, which are used a lot in the jazz world. A lead sheet gives the melody (in notation) along with the chords. The structure of the song might be loosely indicated. Lyrics may or may not be given. If traditional western musical notation is a photograph, a lead sheet is a pencil sketch.

I’ll want to create something more detailed than a lead sheet  eventually, but since I’m not quite sure what yet, this is a great stepping  stone. It’s a way for the melodies, harmonies, instrumental parts and lyrics  in my head (and in my journal and on my computer) to grow toward  whatever the final score may be. Bethany’s so smart. She’s OK not having the final answer, and she helps me to be more that way too.

We started creating a lead sheet for the first song right away. I got excited, and ran out to my truck to get my phone, so I could take a picture of the process. I was only 20 feet away from the studio, but through the open window, I heard her humming the tune to the first song. She was leaning over the piano, sketching the notes out on the staff, and I felt a rush of gratitude and tenderness. Something was changing, and I was watching it happen. For the first time, I was hearing my song from 20 feet away, played and sung and written down by someone else. The musical was entering another phase of becoming, of being born. Suddenly, I could see myself sitting in the audience, in a theater somewhere, watching and listening to this thing I’m creating, played and sung by a whole team of people…maybe people I know. Maybe people I’ve never met. I want to have that experience!

There’s hardly any artistic project that could be more collaborative than a musical. A posse of writers, directors, choreographers, actors, musicians, designers of sound, lights, costumes, sets and more are all needed to even start the process. Many, many more are needed to complete it. I love this! I love knowing that I’m just one part of the creation process — that I’m making something that will intrinsically involve so many others. It’s scary, sometimes, too though, because of course I don’t know who those others are, where or how or when or if I’ll find them, or how they’ll hold this work I’m doing now. How they’ll bring it to life. If anyone will even want to.

It’s all about trust trust trust. I try not to worry about it too much, and just do my job, now, believing that those people are out there. I’ll find them, or they’ll find me, when the time is right.

But it is so much easier it is to trust that after that afternoon with Bethany. “Look!" The World was saying to me. “Here is a person you love and respect a great deal, sitting right here next to you, humming your song, helping to write it down, applying her mind to the task of bringing this project along." What a gift. Thanks, World.

Thanks, Bethany.

Until next week,



P.S. Forgot to mention some housekeeping details:

- register for Chorus Frogs today if you want to get the $25 discount

- kids going into grades 3 - 5 can audition for Missoula Coyote Choir next week