The main reason I chose this song is because I love civil war songs.
They're so pure, and unfussy and innocent.
They're a really great 'sorbet' for your ear when you're just cracked out on too much contemporary musical theatre, etc.
I fell in love and really gained an appreciation for Civil War tunes when I did a musical years ago called Reunion. Not only was it my first experience really diving into this genre and it was also my very first (of many) experiences at the glorious GOODSPEED OPERA HOUSE and with the brilliant resident musical director, Michael O'Flaherty.
Michael, to this day is hands down-
one of my favorite musical directors of all time. Not only does he have impeccable musical taste, but the way he encourages sometimes firmly, sometimes gently an entire company to get on board is really akin to a religious experience.
The bonus to doing Reunion with Michael was not only getting chance to sing some absolutely glorious music, but to also sing the shit kicking arrangements done by Michael himself.
Now, the thing about Civil War music is that every Civil War song is pretty much the same chord pattern over and over. Just like every negro spiritual is based on the pentatonic scale (all the black keys on the piano), Civil War music has a similarly distinct pattern. Ergo, most Civil War songs sound exactly the same when played straight.
The kicker is...that this score had almost 30 songs in it.
AND they were all pretty much from the same ten year period since our show plot-wise revolved around Abraham Lincoln and his presidency.
So just imagine for a second, the overwhelming job that Michael O'Flaherty had to do to make all THIRTY of these songs sound DIFFERENT from each other. And not only different but theatrically and dramatically appropriate to wherever they were in the show and the storytelling.
Chew on that for a second...
ps, his work was genius.
We were a cast of 6-
2 women, 4 men.
funny side story-
So I was one of two women and I was 'the white woman'. Right? So, one night after the show there was some sort of reception in the lobby for subscribers or something and I'm walking around chatting and these two lovely old ladies come up to me and said,
"Oh my God! The show! I LOVED the show! LOVED it! Now...which one were you?"
There were so many songs from this show that I absolutely loved singing and listening to...
as a matter of fact, if you dig Lincoln and Civil War tunes you should check out the website for the show at http://www.civilwarmusical.com/. I think you can also still buy the CD we made of it...not sure.
There was one song that absolutely just killed me every night.
It was so beautifully laid out not only by Michael but by our book writer Jack Kyrieleison that the dialogue seamlessly wove in and out of the music and vice versa, it was like....
weaving a tapestry every night.
No joke- it was audible sewing.
You singers out there know what I'm talking about, right?
Everything's gotta be perfectly timed so that the dialogue can go right into the vocal-
but you can't let on that it's pre-planned, it's got to be organic so...
you have to just trust and just sew one stitch at a time...
can' t keep ahead of it, and you can't drag it...
that's what keeps it alive, eh?
And there was the most delicious acapella section.
Oh God, just DELICIOUS.
And when you're in a nice tight ensemble with some kick ass singers...
there is nothing we love more than a sweet acapella section.
It's like...a Vulcan mind meld kind of thing.
You have to raise those antennae in the back of your head so you can be in everyone else's minds at the same time.
it's definitely a team sport, acapella singing.
sorry, music geek moment.
the main reason i chose this song is because it's fucking awesome-
and Michael did such a beautiful arrangement, i wanted to see if it was possible to make my own version of it.
and the second reason, i'm not gonna lie-
is because it's free.
It's obviously written before 1929 or whatever the public domain cut off date is...
i don't have to pay a mechanical license on it.
Obviously now....my quandary is this:
How do i pull off an arrangement written for 4 men and 2 women?
I mean, how the fuck am i going to do that.
since this piece had so much underscoring and dialogue all the way through-
the actual arrangement is in reality, not complete lyrically.
There's a piece of this verse, and then dialogue and then a piece of this chorus, etc.
how can i make this song lyrically complete-
and yet maintain the integrity of the arrangement's 'tapestry feel' that i fell in love with.
So fuck the challenge.
Let's do this thing.
First, I email Michael to see if he's cool with me using his arrangement as a foundation to build my own and he, being awesome, said 'sure' . So I pull it out my Reunion score, and look for what I remember was....an...arrangement?
I don't remember it looking like this.
I'm totally dating myself but this was a while ago and...
kinda way before printing charts out in Finale was as easy as fracturing your ankle in Billy Elliot......wwhhaaattttt?
Maddeningly, the chart I have is practically unreadable.
it's chicken scratch.
it's actually chicken puke that a chicken then scratched right before he took a little chicken crap on it.
and I know there's no 'clean copy' anywhere so i don't even bother to ask O'Flaherty for it.
Well....the vocals are kinda legible, so I'll start there.
The bass goes way below my range...
I didn't think it would go that far below my range (an octave up, of course).
that will be some finagling.
if i change too much because i have a uterus, will it just ruin the whole thing?
thanks a lot.
I decide, since the acapalla part is by far my favorite-
to start there-
I cut it down to 4 parts and lay down some dummy tracks experimenting with harmonies.
If it sounds like total ass, then I'll chuck the whole piece.
There's no point in my doing this, unless i can share with you all my favorite part which is the acapella section.
I lay down 4 tracks (soprano, alto, tenor, bass).
oohhhhhhhhhhhhhhh, I'm already falling in love again with Michael's work.
it's like finding an old book covered in dust and with that first swipe, you see the title in the gold lettering underneath....
i sound like total shit but...
ohhhhhhhhhhh hello dear friend.
I tweak the tenor and bass because the alto and sop i can easily sing...
since them's the girlie parts.
i listen back.
tweak some more...
this may actually be working...?
please oh please oh please....
tweak some more....
there it is.
the Vulcan mind meld sound.
or as Andy the bf calls it, 'The O Brother Where Art Tho' sound.
i'm TOTALLY doing this arrangement if it kills me.
death by arrangement...not the worst way to go, i guess.
I work backwards in the vocals-
if i can figure out how to sew the vocals up into some sort of....
i don't even have more than one solid verse so...
and i don't know the rest of the lyrics.
i dig into my music and pull out a civil war music book-
(yes, i already had one...shut up) and find the rest of them.
within about 2 hours I've gotten all the vocals sewn up tight.
i've even added an entirely new lyrical verse that wasn't even in the original arrangement because it's just so....pretty.
so pretty, the poetry.
Now it's time to think about the instruments.
All acoustic obviously.
It's a period piece.
I lay down a dummy piano track to go with the vocals and....
when i play it all down the first time-
even tho my vocals are just atrocious really...
i get chills from the music.
from the harmonies and the notes.
i feel like....I've found money in my pocket or something.
this is obviously going to take me days tho.
this is going to be a slight 'beast'.
I need to orchestrate for violin, cello at least.
Regardless, this piece deserves a fresher brain so I need to sleep.
ok my loves.