In our "Meet The Writers" series, we're learning more about the participants of the CMTWC Writer's Workshop. The Writer's Workshop meets every two weeks in Toronto where, under the guidance of head teacher Leslie Arden, participants learn and practice the craft of composition and lyric-writing. Check back every Monday to meet a new writer!
What was your introduction to the theatre?
My introduction to theatre was also my introduction to musical theatre. Les Miserables. My family travelled to Toronto to see it. We were all deeply moved by the show. After that, my sister became a big musical theatre fan, and once I moved to Toronto, I went to quite a few productions with her.
When was the moment you decided to write for the theatre?
I decided to write for the theatre in mid-2015. I was at a talk given by a showrunner of a TV show. She spoke about the importance of one of her show’s episodes, which I later watched. Singer/songwriter India.Arie appeared in that episode. I remembered that I had India’s Acoustic Soul CD from 2001 and how much I enjoyed it and thought about her music from time to time. In a scene in this episode, India was speaking and then off the cuff sang one lyrical line, “I’m not the average girl from your video”, from her hit song, Video. I sang the line back to India (I mean back to the TV). I repeated “vid-e-o”, then immediately turned off the TV, searched for a device to record my own three notes bouncing off those notes, to create the beginning of the first melodic line of my first song ever (which along with songs written after that are part of a musical theatre piece that I’m creating).
A year earlier, in June 2014, I went to my first ever songwriting and performance coaching session held by a mentor of mine, Luther Mallory, who taught me a bit about lyric writing for pop music. It felt like a safe space. I was part of the inner songwriting circle but responsible only for contributing lyrics along with some others during a 15 minute co-writing jam session. I wasn’t there for performance critique since I had no original music at that time. I left the session a bit early to meet my sister to see the musical, Company at Theatre 20. After the show we passed by the front of the stage, and I said to her, “wouldn’t it be something to get a show on stage one day?” It was an odd statement to both of us but maybe that’s when I decided to write for the theatre!
Who is someone's work you admire, and why do you admire it?
I admire the work of Rachel Griffin, a new writer of musical theatre. My admiration goes beyond an appreciation of her music to the overall initiative of her musical, We Have Apples, which addresses the stigma of mental illness. Rachel started the teamnotashamed.com movement.
How do you like to write? What is your process? Where do you find inspiration?
To start writing, I don’t sit at an instrument. I don’t even sit and my voice is my instrument. Most melodies come to me while I’m outside and either standing observing my surroundings or walking. Walking is the most common method for me because my feet start a beat. I mentioned that my first song jumped off a few notes of another song, and several of my melodies are also inspirations of sounds in nature, often birds. I worked off what I understood to be the first two notes in a male cardinal’s call to his female mate. The rest of his call was rapid fast and repetitious banging on one last note many times like machine gun fire. I altered my melody to have more variation among notes, a bouncing yo-yo effect, rather than blasting that same final note.
Melodies come first for me. If we’re talking pop song structure, then for me, chorus melody comes first, followed by verse melody, then the intro. Then I need a musical instrument, a keyboard. I play those sections and then write the bridge and an outro using the keyboard. Following that I need a collaborator for chord arrangements. Sometimes the song goes to my co-writer without lyrics except for the hook. When it goes to him without lyrics I describe to him the character and what I imagine happening on stage at different stages in the song to give him a better picture. So the lyrics come very late to me in my songwriting process. When the melody emerges, I can envision the character and his/her actions on stage during the song. But often lyrics come much later and are challenging for me to write.
What do you want to see more of on stage?
Along with our favourite musicals, new musicals, of course. More opportunities for more performers. Diverse stories and perspectives, although theatre is often ahead of the game on diversity and bringing understanding and acceptance around issues, like We Have Apples is doing now, or like Rent did.
If you had to pick one musical cast recording to be your "desert island record" which would it be?
I love many songs from the musical Rent and it is a musical that spoke to my generation but the desert island scenario is one of my greatest unrealistic fears next to having to abandon Earth for Mars in 2035. So for maximum comfort I would want songs that I know inside out from my childhood in the 70s, the songs of ABBA, making my answer the musical cast recording of Mamma Mia!
Complete this sentence: "I write because..."
…..if I don’t write the music that pops up in my head, it will come back again. A recurring melody is much more welcome in my head than a negative or anxious thought, but like those, I’d like to clear melodies out too.
What's a tip you have about collaboration?
One general tip is getting to know a new collaborator a little bit before starting to work on an assignment. Having a conversation about some of the similar topics in this survey/interview, including interests and experiences in musical theatre, potential approaches to an assignment, and songwriting process.
Why did you join the Writers Workshop?
The songs that I have written over the past two years have received thumbs up from some mentors or collaborators who have experience writing pop/rock. I was unsure if these songs could be restructured and rewritten to have a chance at being contemporary musical theatre compositions. Submitting to the Workshop provided an opportunity to have two of those songs reviewed by a Committee of musical theatre experts. Being accepted into the Workshop means that there may be some potential for my music.
What is your favourite thing about the Writers Workshop?
The best thing about the Workshop is that we are receiving insightful, detailed feedback from acclaimed writers, Leslie Arden and guest instructors. The Workshop gives us the rare chance to be in the room with these experts (thank you Landon and Joseph for that).
Also, for me personally, I don’t have the triple threat skills to pursue a career as a musical theatre performer, so I am inspired by the energy, enthusiasm and raw talent of my fellow Workshop participants each class. A bonus is that this young talented group has the maturity and compassion to be mindful and respectful of my lack of skill and experience in some areas and gently guides me with suggestions when I’m going off course. It is a safe space.
Heidi Stock is Founder of Aspiring Canadian Writers Contests Inc. (ACWC), which recognizes and develops unpublished Canadian writers by providing mentoring opportunities with acclaimed published writers. ACWC launched in 2012 with the Aspiring Canadian Poets Contest. The poetry contest has run on an annual basis since 2012. This year’s contest judge and mentor is Canada’s Parliamentary Poet Laureate, George Elliott Clarke (who is also a librettist). For the past eleven years, Heidi has worked as a fundraiser, helping non-profit organizations find new sources of private sector funding from individuals, foundations, and corporations. Heidi is pleased to be co-writing with singer/songwriter Julian Troiano and working with producer Murray Foster on a future musical production, www.incommonthemusical.com.