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.”
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.
I just finished scoring a presentation film for the Everglades Foundation that taught me a lesson in the value of leverage. This foundation is working to solve an environmental catastrophe: Florida’s Everglades are being destroyed by algae, fed by the run-off from fertilizers flowing into the watershed. It is a far larger problem than this tiny foundation could ever hope to fix using known methods—the cost would run into the billions of dollars. So instead, they offered a $10 million prize called The Water Prize to anyone who could find an innovative and affordable alternate solution. Groups of scientists from all over the world began approaching the problem from many angles. And the amazing thing is, I really think that it is going to work! This little film only covers the beginning of this process, but there is more. I was proud to contribute a few hopeful musical themes to this effort. I can’t wait to see how it ends.