Wednesday, December 28, 2011

I am currently reading  Look I Made a Hat, by Stephen Sondheim. It is the second volume of an annotated collection of his lyrics; this volume covers 1985 to the present, and includes not only Broadway shows but pieces written for film, and odds and ends such as the song he wrote for Leonard Bernstein's 75th birthday.

Sondheim allows readers inside his mind during the creative process. Even more so than in the first volume, he is talking to those who are – or want to be – artists. The hat makers. His prose is clear and wryly self-reflective, and a joy to read. It is in many ways all that I aspire to as a writer.

This volume allows me to learn the songs I try to sing along to in the car. As a singer I am quite limited, with problems in phrasing, only a mediocre range, and a tendency to sing flat. What I lack in talent, however, I make up in enthusiasm, and many of the songs I love to sing are Sondheim's. As difficult as I find him to sing alone, I can sing along with them if I know the words. I particularly love his patter songs, but the speed at which they are sung often makes discerning the lyrics difficult, at least for me. (Also, lately I have had trouble distinguishing sounds and words, disturbingly so.) The first volume allowed me to learn the words to “Not Getting Married Today” from Company, and even better, “The God-Why-Don't-You-Love-Me-Oh-You-Do-I'll-See-You-Later Blues” from Follies. This volume allows me to learn all the words to “Putting It Together” from Sunday In The Park With George* and “Into the Woods” from Into the Woods.

I find the thoughts for posts springing from his lyrics. I am trying to find the time to put together and polish a post on the care and feeding of muses, and how much one quatrain from “Finishing the Hat” defines the relationship between the two main characters in the First Act of Sunday. (It will also contain a reference to Prince's “Little Red Corvette.” It makes sense in context, I promise.)

There will hopefully be a post about the artistic drive and the ways in which it can be damaged from very early on. I too want to be able to say “Look I Made a Hat,” but all too often put obstacles in my way. Or how maybe what I do here is my art, as well as my passion.

There will also be a post about “A Moment in the Woods” from Into the Woods about what those moments actually mean.

This post is a bookmark, to be sure, but in its own way it is also a love-letter. Mr. Sondheim, you are quite the hat maker.

 *Sondheim also includes the different versions of "Putting It Together" which he has written for various occasions and differing artistic occupations. It is really a song about the cost of Art, not the price of art. Of course, the entire musical is about that.

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