As you may know, I’m working with partners to develop a musical about the 19th Amendment, which gave American women the right to vote. In the course of getting the show, 19, ready for full performances, we have played parts of it in all sorts of spaces, but none of them grander than the Great Hall in the Library of Congress, where we were honored to perform for the women of Congress on June 4.
It was memorable. And daunting. The Great Hall is 100% marble. If you are playing a piece for solo flute for a very quiet audience, maybe that space works acoustically. But for an audience of fired-up Congresswomen, led by the redoubtable Nancy Pelosi, I was worried our choral vocal numbers would turn into sonic soup.
Luckily, the sound crew at the LoC has a lot of experience with the logistics of this space. So even though my piano was literally 200 feet from Katie Ganem, who stars as suffragist Alice Paul, it worked! Her voice came floating over the audience, and they could hear every word. The effect was magical and could not have happened in that way in any other building. We’re planning the first full performances of the show this November, with more slated for 2020, the centennial of the Amendment’s ratification.
I have been working on this musical for nearly two years now. It is an important topic. It might be as important today as at any time over the past 100 years. I’m happy to work with the talented Jennifer Schwed and Doug Bradshaw, my creative partners, on this. Last week we performed songs from this show at the Library of Congress. Nancy Pelosi was the keynote speaker for this opening of the exhibit on women’s suffrage. Here are two songs: one of celebration and one of heartbreak. Millicent Scarlett( pictured) plays Ida B. Wells and is a force of nature. She is as compelling an actor/singer as I have ever worked with. Hers is the second song: “Will You Be Here for Me.”
19: A Musical About Women’s Right to Vote at the opening of the “Shall Not Be Denied” exhibit at the Library of Congress, Washington, DC
It is a long drive, but well worth it for us, to play for a crowd of vetted, committed music lovers. Janet Kenworthy has made it one of her life’s missions to build a heavenly musical oasis in the middle of North Carolina. Is there an award for people like this? There should be. I don’t think that my band ever feels so appreciated as we do when we play in this quirky little space in Aberdeen NC. Every ounce, every square inch of this place is dedicated to providing a great concert experience for the audience and the band. A shout out right here to David, our sound engineer, who makes us feel and sound great on stage.
I spend most of my work days writing and recording music, with some work nights devoted to playing and singing. But with my musical-in-progress, 19: The Musical, I have fallen into the role of music director. And since the show is still in the workshop phase—I and my creative partners, lyricist Jennifer Schwed and playwright Doug Bradshaw, are hashing out the script right now—my piano and I constitute the whole orchestra when we perform. That’s pretty straightforward on the ensemble numbers, but when it comes to the solos, things are more fluid. The singer and I might exchange leading and following roles—often within the span of a measure. It makes me remember how much I love the give-and-take of accompanying, the gentle, unspoken flow of tension and release, crescendo and diminuendo, accelerando and ritard, all communicated with the most subtle of gestures. Soprano Millicent Scarlett plays the crusading journalist Ida B. Wells, and she has two solo songs where we are so in sync that it sometimes feels like we are breathing each other’s breaths. In the rest of life, I rarely find it satisfying to completely subsume myself in another’s effort. Ego too often gets in the way. But when accompanying a singer, the melding of mind and purpose is the perfect outcome. Ego dissolves and only music remains.