Thursday, August 8, 2013

The Imaginary Revue Grows


I know you've been anxiously waiting for those piano/vocal arrangements I told you about at the June concert.  Sorry.  Things have changed.  It's still all pretend, but my shrink has convinced me to Pretend Big.  So I have.

Originally, I considered putting the public domain music I found and arranged into a vaudeville show with two pianos.  Two pianos were not out of the question as accompaniment in smaller towns on the vaudeville circuit and I've done enough duo piano and duet arrangements that it made sense to score it that way.  But then I started to think that a vaudeville show would be somewhat limited.  To do it right, there'd have to be some comedy routines and a juggler or dog act.  That reduces the music to 6 to 8 people singing and/or dancing for 10 to 15 minutes each.  And while I enjoy arranging for pianos, I decided that I've already done that.

Thus, things changed.  I started grouping songs so there'd be a sequence of ragtime songs and not-ragtime songs, song and dance, inventions (songs about cars, telephones and movies), The Great War, prohibition, music from theater (George Cohan, Jerome Kern, Eubie Blake, and a song by the great female impressionist of his day, Julian Eltinge), blues and such.  For a reason that now escapes me, I borrowed some books on orchestrating.  I found one called "The Sound of Broadway Music," not so much a how to as a book about the legendary orchestrators.  And then, behold, "The Complete Idiot's Guide to Arranging and Orchestrating."  Well.  The title said it all.  And it was quite good.  Thorough and I didn't feel I needed a master's to get started.  

And with that, the concept of the evening changed, so that now it's kind of "Ain't Misbehavin'" but bigger.  I want 8 singers (4/4), at least two each to be dancers, but all of them are expected to be able to at least move with music.  Since this is a pretend production, I also want the swings and understudies to be part of the few large production numbers (like they are in the opening audition of "A Chorus Line").  

The orchestra needs 14 (or 15) musicians and a conductor.  The major disappointment is that I've limited myself to 4 violins and a plucked string bass.  String bass occasionally doubles on tuba.  One of  the violinists doubles on viola to give the limited section a little mellowness.  Two trumpets and a trombone.  Alto and tenor sax, clarinet, and flute, with flute also doubling on oboe.  The piano wafts from not being necessary to being an essential part of the number.  (The fights with the producer have been infuriating.  I'd love a larger pit orchestra, with more strings and more brass; additional musicians cost additional bucks, of course, so the producer is dragging his heels.)  (I can't tell the shrink that because he'd want to know who the producer is.  "Oh.  It's the other voice in my head."  He sometimes takes me too seriously as it is.)  We're negotiating over whether to have a drummer and percussionist or just a drummer.  (It's somewhat moot because, after all this time, I still can't figure out how to create the drum set stuff, but I put drum set and percussion lines on the score, just in case it comes to me.)

I really, truly do understand that none of this will see the light of day (or the light of a music stand).  Ain't nobody in Harrisburg who'll put on a show that doesn't already have a New York reputation.  But orchestrating is fascinating.  I've done a few very small ensembles, but this is cool...writing with the same musicians in mind and trying to think of neat things to have them do while not overpowering the singer.  When to use everybody and when to use just the piano.  My shrink assures me I'm not nuts.  I like his attitude, but at times I wonder.  This hasn't become an obsession, but it's been a great way to spend evenings.

Hope summer is going well for you.  Take good care.


Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Dirt Racin'

After my parents got tired of going to Rocky Springs Park every Saturday night (see below), they decided it was time to make one of my father's dreams come true...own and race a stock car.  Every weekend we lugged the car (usually a 1930 or '31 Ford coupe) on the top of a large flatbed and trundled off to Lincoln Speedway (near Hanover, PA) on Friday nights, Lancaster Speedway on Saturday nights, and Mason-Dixon Speedway (near Rising Sun, MD) on Sunday afternoons.  The US may have had NASCAR, but WE had the Penn-Mar Racing Association.  My father, my uncle and two of my father's friends were the mechanics.  We hired drivers.  The first was not aggressive and was replaced by a far better (and much more handsome) driver.  By the 5th year, we had captured #1 in the championship rankings, which apparently was the goal because we never raced again.

Our farm bordered on a cemetery.  The leftover dirt from the graves was piled on our property with my father's permission (he ultimately gave a great deal of land to the cemetery, so the dirt piling was no big deal).  Racing fever pretty much bit a lot of the kids in Gap.  And one day, while mowing the yard, I had The Vision:  we'd convert the dirt piles into a race track for kids.  So we did.  With help, we sort-of leveled the mounds into a reasonable oval, although one turn was higher than the other.  This had its advantage when going downhill in that one didn't have to work to get to the next turn; on the other hand, one huffed and puffed up the hill after a few laps.

And so we raced.  Bikes, tricycles, wagons and scooters.  The aunt of one of the racers made a complete set of flags.  The flag person stood where a dead bush bordering the cemetery had been pulled out.  It was on the downhill straightaway, slightly above the racers.  The gravedigger was a little miffed at first, because he wasn't sure where to put the dirt leftover from the graves (people were still dying...rather inconsiderately, from my point of view).  That problem was soon solved and two summers were spent racing around the track whenever we all felt like it.  Two summers in hot afternoons.  Everyone was then invited to a cooling dip in our farm pond afterward.

In this litigious, child-proofed age, would such a thing still be possible?