This is part [part not set] of 12 in the series 26 Songs

A lot has happened since my last post. We decided to move back to Australia. I then got an opportunity to do an amazing project for work for nine months. We thought about it and decided to go ahead with it. So once again, I am moving. Again. This will make ten years of my life where I have continually moved every 1-2 years. Between this and busy season as the only manager on the job when we had three managers last year and getting Zeke ready for his long trip to Australia, where the poor little guy is in the middle of spending two weeks in quarantine, and selling everything on Craigslist, and packing, and getting movers in, and booking flights, it’s been insanely busy.

I can’t honestly put my finger on why I feel compelled to move. Perhaps it’s because I am easily bored. What’s often a curse as well as a blessing is how excited I get about projects – ideas are born on the spur of a moment and immediately my imagination gives them wings and I instantly see how the future could unfold, and I get really into it and start half a dozen different steps towards that future. And then, a day, a week, a month, a year down the track, I get carried away by another shiny idea and the last project is left undone. Sometimes when I look at my collection of things undone, I feel like my whole life is a series of highly excitable moments.

And while I am once again writing this from a cramped economy class seat on a plane that’s somewhere over the middle of the Pacific Ocean, there are two things that I hope I won’t lose momentum on and leave undone:

  1. Working with the amazing composers of the Composers’ Collective to grow the audience for new music; and
  2. Working with my awesome book writer / lyricist Sarah Guan on our as yet untitled musical about what to choose in life when you have to choose between family, love and your career.

Like how every journey begins with a single step, I often think that the course of our lives can be changed by a single moment. Studying all the great musicals of the past and present and listening to sage advice from their creators, it had always seemed that except for very rare cases, the success of any musical depends on the success of the collaboration between its creators. Rodgers had Hammerstein, Sondheim had a whole series of collaborators, Stephen Flaherty has Lynn Ahrens, the list goes on. And even though all the classes I’ve taken and the books I’ve read go on and on about how important collaboration is, they never talked about how to actually find a collaborator.

There’s a scene from Smash which I love where the characters Tom and Julia are celebrating the anniversary of their first successful production and they compare it to a marriage. And I have to say, that it seems to me that the process so far is very like dating – you think you know what you’re looking for, you have no idea where to find them, and then suddenly out of the blue, you meet your match. Thanks to Dewi introducing us, I’ve found Sarah. And it all happened in a moment, when she was in Manhattan and had some time to kill become our dinner plans, and I asked for her help in figuring out the plot of what I had thrown together for Auditors the Musical. One long conversation later (which was so in-depth that it made us leave late for dinner, miss our subway stop and get lost on our way to the restaurant), we arrived at dinner with a bare bones skeleton of the first act.

Several months on, we are still writing and re-writing the plot and fleshing out the songs and the characters (you may recall that I am a slow writer). But as luck would have it, I met a new friend through my second semester doing composition at Juilliard’s Evening Division, Peter Fedak, who recruited me to join the new Composers’ Collective which he had just founded. Said group was all about putting on new music composed by its members, and so Sarah and I had the opportunity to get one of ours songs played.

But how to choose which song to do from a two act musical? Well, although I have never played it, I’ve always loved the cello. I can get a bit snooty as a pianist, I prefer instruments that have range and versatility – that is, they can play both bass and treble, can produce a huge variety in tone, timbre and sounds (so…instruments like piano, guitar, and…cello).

I think it started from when I read Asturias by Brian Caswell, who had a character called Chrissy, a classical cellist who moonlighted on bass guitar in a rock band. Some of my most favourite chamber pieces involve piano and cello, like Saint-Sean’s Swan and Piazzolla’s Oblivion (I know these are cliche, but they are cliche for a reason!). Not to mention that in Jonathan Dawes composition classes, we’ve consistently had an amazing cellist, Madeleine Bouissou, come in to read our pieces and she plays everything I write (and I write a lot of crazy things) with great verve and enthusiasm.

Oh, and the fact that I am a huge fan of Rob Paravonian and his Pachabel rant:

The Pachabel Rant by Rob Paravonian

Thus, when Sarah and I decided that there had to be a character in our musical who was pursuing a career in music, she had to be a cellist. And so, it was then a no brainer to write the cello and voice duet which is the eleven o’clock number of our show.

Here is the scene:

Here’s the recording from the world premiere at the National Opera America Center, as part of huge inaugural Composers’ Collective Spring 2014 concert. We had some very amazing performers who put this together in a very short time frame with very limited rehearsal, and I wrote a helluva difficult piece.

Moment – music by Deborah Lau and lyrics by Sarah Guan

If you don’t believe me, here’s the score – yes, I am an evil composer who delights in shifting time signatures and fast tempos.

I have to say that I struggled with writing this piece a lot. The main cello theme came to me very easily, but the other elements of the song were trickier, like getting a semi-neo-classical sound to set the stage but not having it feel too out of place in a musical, making sure there is enough subtext to carry the plot (Sarah really had the massive challenge here with the lyrics), trying to bring back bits and pieces of smaller motifs, well, let’s just say that the other piece I found this hard to write was the twelve tone string quartet in sonata form (I promise I will post that later).

Add to that the challenge of having to make this an effective duet for voice and cello without it feeling like everything is just accompaniment for voice was mind boggling – though of course as with everything, it’s already been done by Sondheim (in A Little Night Music):

Later from A Little Night Music by Stephen Sondheim

Anyway, I’m pretty happy with it as an early draft, there are definitely things I would like to rewrite when we get further in the process. And for those who are wondering, yes, I did study a certain movement in a certain Cello Suite in G by Bach for one of the sections since it is easily one of the most recognizable solo cello works ever written.

Now if only I would just get cracking on the rest of huge songs in the show – we set ourselves a super ambitious goal of submitting this for the 2015 New York Musical Theatre Festival and the application deadline is in November. Just a little over four months and counting…

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