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?