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.

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