Wednesday, March 28th, 2012

I just finished reading "Sondheim on Music"- a collection of interviews on craft given by author Mark Horowitz in 2010. I thought I'd share some notes with you.

- Just in case you didn't know, Stephen Sondheim is one of the most celebrated composers and lyricists working in musical theater. His career spans over 50 years with such notable works as "West Side Story" (lyrics only), "Passion", "Into the Woods", "Sunday in the Park with George", "Sweeney Todd", and "Pacific Overtures".

"Oscar Hammerstein used to talk about "thumbtacks" in terms of lyric writing- laying out the carpet, then putting in the other tacks."

"I'm somebody who believes that the heart of music is harmony, as opposed to melody, and that harmonies imply the melody."

"I write only with Blackwing pencils."

"Chord Inversions give something variety while your holding it together with glue (the bass notes). If I want a passage to move- to be liquid- I'll use inversions."

"I think what makes a song last is surprise; to go where you don't expect it too, while still sounding inevitable."

"When you're young and you're trying to make a style for yourself, you decorate the music so that it doesn't sound like anybody else's. Of course, the real point is, if you try to make it sound like everybody else's and it's yours, it'll come out as your own."

"..I would sometimes employ an extra beat if I want the melody to have more breathing space- not for the singer- but for the emotion."

"More often I get a melodic shape in my mind from what I'm writing lyrically. The musicality of the language will suggest the music."

"The older I get, guess what takes the most effort in the world? Simplicity."

"How does a writer develop his/her own style? Keep writing. How do you tell someone to become a grown-up person? You develop. You find your voice."

"When a song is first heard, I want it done exactly the way I intended it; after that, let them do anything they want to with it."

"Lyric writing for me is pure hell."

"I believe that the unconscious is what writes, and that the way to write is to live, eat, and breath it all the time, and when you go to sleep the work is done for you."

"If you prepare your table, the meal is easy to cook."

"I'm so self-conscious about being musically square."

"The 2 minor chord is like a mild version of a 57 chord."

"I often start my lyrics by just making a list- free association of what the song is about. I always use yellow pad lined paper."

"To analyze a Jerome Kern or Harold Arlen tune is not more than a rung below analyzing the Mozart 39th."

"Without craft, I think art is nonsense- its just masturbation. Whereas, with craft, its a form of teaching, which is the noblest profession on the planet."

"An audience can always smell confidence from the stage."

"George Kaufman said,'Take out all the improvements.' In other words, take out everything that isn't necessary."

"If you're going to make a feature of not rhyming- don't rhyme, say, 'home' with 'go'; its got to be so shocking to the ear when you expect that rhyme that, when it comes out, there's no question that its not supposed to rhyme."

"I hate to take your Christmas away, but I'm always honest."

- Read more "Sondheim on Music" by Mark Horowitz, The Scarecrow Press, 2010.

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