No Song is Safe From Us

No Song Is Safe From Us - The NYFOS Blog
 |  Steven Blier

When I planned “Red, White, and Blues” I thought I was making a light summer entertainment: 10 French songs, 10 American songs, encore, done. A pitcher of musical sangria. Then I started working on the program, and got a little carried way with visions of sugarplums. “Wouldn’t it be great to do the aria from ‘Mme Chrysanthème’? Gosh, this is the time everyone needs to hear ‘Awaiting You’! Oh, we’re by the water, we should do ‘J’attends un navire’!” The result is that my light repast is more like a five-course meal catered by Lutèce.




 |  Steven Blier

Thursday is the last day I can really work on the songs and push the cast to take risks. On Friday our water breaks as we do our first work-through. Reassurance is the name of the game. On Saturday, contractions start as we have our dress rehearsal. We retreat to our corners. And we deliver the baby on Sunday.




 |  Steven Blier

Unlike some coaches I’ve observed, I don’t tend to start my work by manipulating the surface of the music. Sure, I can be a maniac on the first day about language, because those kinds of errors do need to be nipped in the bud. They take days to repair. But I try not to pick away at musical minutia at the beginning.




 |  Steven Blier

The first day of a project is always fraught with excitement and fear and questions—how prepared will everyone be? Is this program any good? Will all my practicing hang in there in the heat of the moment, or am I going to be a total klutz? But this year’s NYFOS@North Fork residency had more unknowns than usual because I’d hired two people I didn’t really know.




 |  Steven Blier

When I was planning the FSH gala with Amanda Bottoms and Dimitri Katotakis, they both mentioned that they’d recently sung “Too Many Mornings” from Sondheim’s Follies. For some reason, I initially resisted. Too hackneyed? off-topic? I don’t know. About two weeks later I woke up and changed my mind. I am glad I did.




 |  Steven Blier

I know of two perfect songs: Fauré’s “En sourdine,” and Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark.” Paul Verlaine was the poet for the first of them, and Johnny Mercer the lyricist for the second. Please don’t ask me to explain what makes them perfect, or even why I think they might be better than other wonderful songs. After all, there is plenty of “great” music I don’t enjoy, and even more non-great music that lifts my heart. Greatness and perfection aren’t really in my lexicon, except when it comes to “En sourdine” and “Skylark.” It’s something I feel in my hands and in my soul when I play them.




 |  Steven Blier

Art, like medical research, thrives on creative, talented people. But it also thrives on open-hearted patrons, some of whom can be as visionary (in their own way) as their beneficiaries. For this week’s FSH Dystrophy fundraiser, I grabbed a recent song by Stephen Sondheim, “Talent.”




 |  Steven Blier

To close the benefit program this week I grabbed a song Amanda Bottoms offered: “Sing Happy,” from the 1965 Flora the Red Menace. The musical is famous for a few things: it marked the first collaboration of composer John Kander and lyricist Fred Ebb, who would soon go on to write Cabaret, Chicago, and a raft of Broadway hits; it won a Tony for Liza Minelli, who was making her Broadway debut at age 19; and it was a flop. Like many Kander and Ebb works, Flora had a politically ambitious premise, but its director George Abbott came from a more traditional theatrical ethos. He was a giant, but not the right giant for this problematic material.




 |  Steven Blier

I write from my perch in Long Island, but when this hits the web this I shall be in San Francisco doing double duty: teaching at San Francisco Opera’s Merola program, and preparing a concert for a Saturday-night fundraiser. For the last few years I’ve been offering a 45-minute show at a San Francisco benefit for FSH Dystrophy research. Being an FSH-er myself, these concerts are very meaningful to me. I’m playing for keeps.