Lately, I’ve been doing a lot of work on the score for The Distant Bells. I wrote the first song for Bells about a year and a half ago. Of course, I put that song in my trunk awhile back, but I digress. At this point, working on the score is an interesting combination of writing brand new songs for brand new moments and rewriting and retooling old songs which still fit, but not quite as well as they used to. When you first begin writing a show, it’s all new. And when you get to previews – if you get to previews – then, though you may be rewriting like mad, it’s almost all “old”.
In between those two fence posts though, it’s a mixed bag. I’m almost always working on old and new things at the same time. It’s a constant battle as to which I love or hate more – sometimes old beats new and sometimes the other way around. And sometimes they both lose to the Wii in the other room…but I digress!
When I’m working on an old song – rewriting, revising or retooling it – it can be very exciting. It is a wonderful feeling when I feel that I’m “almost there” or that I just have “one more piece of the puzzle” before I can put my pencil down, play through the last section and take a satisfying drink of my international coffee. Then there are the times where rewriting a song feels like I’m walking into a run-down fixer upper of a house when I really want to see the brand new shiny place across the street.
When I’m working on a new song – well, that can be very exciting too! Finally tackling a new moment in the show that has been crying out for a song is what it’s all about. Of course, writing new material isn’t all joy and rapture. Sometimes, an idea is all I need. I crack “the nut” and the musical and lyrical ideas start to flow. Inspiration hits and a song seems to write itself. Ok, that almost never happens. It would be nice if it did, but… Don’t get me wrong, an idea is important. But an idea on its own is like a friend with ADHD who gives you remodeling suggestions. Sure his comments about “knocking down that wall” might give you something to think about, but he’s nowhere to be found when you start swinging your sledge hammer!
So, back to rewriting the old material. The idea is already there and I’ve fleshed it out – and that’s nice. But the old material also comes with the baggage of what the song already is or once was or maybe could be.
Back to the new stuff! It’s exciting to ponder what the “in” for a moment or a song might be. The possibilities are exciting and good and pure and hopeful and frustrating and scary and annoying!
Suddenly I have the strongest urge to call Carrie Fisher and tell her I know how she feels…
But, such is the glamorous life of a writer – or at least this writer. I dunno, maybe other writers get up in the morning and trip over their pianos and toe-stub out a song by accident…but I doubt it…