One of my favorite Stephen Sondheim songs — “Everybody Says Don’t” (on the player embedded above this paragraph) — is from his first official flop, Anyone Can Whistle, which starred Angela Lansbury, Harry Guardino, and Lee Remick on Broadway in 1964 and ran for nine performances.
Among other topics, the plot explored the classic question of who is saner — the folks in a mental hospital or those who are not.
“Everybody Says Don’t” invites us to consider how we make choices.
Many of us make choices based on what other people say or think.
Sometimes this demonstrates a healthy respect for our shared values as human beings — and helps to keep our societies more, rather than less, civil.
Sometimes it’s a way to avoid saying or doing something important — something which might be utterly, uniquely, and profoundly why we are alive here and now on planet earth.
I might have stayed in my non-musical day job as a PR/development/events professional for another 16 years if I hadn’t been laid off.
The job offered me teamwork, camaraderie, shared purpose, a paycheck, respect from my peers, and daily surprises/challenges.
But it was not tapping very deeply into my musical soul.
Now I am devoted to making music for a living — as a performer, a songwriter, and a Music Together teacher.
The sentiment of “Everybody Says Don’t” reminds me of one of the guiding principles of Music Together — that anything a child chooses to do during class is fine and needs to be respected as part of their learning process/style.
A child’s caregiver may want them to sit still and “play” a drum — or a shaker egg, or a triangle, or a set of wooden sticks — in a particular manner.
But their way of soaking up the music in class may involve moving their bodies around the room, sitting in a corner (seemingly disconnected from everything happening in class), or bouncing up and down in someone’s lap.
As long as the child is not endangering themselves or hurting someone else in class, s/he is free to respond to the music in her/his own fashion — which may change from song to song and class to class.
I sometimes imagine the adult caregivers (moms, dads, nannies, grand mothers, grand fathers, au pairs, uncles, aunts and more) as younger versions of themselves — who may have been told somewhere along the line: “don’t sing so loudly,” or “don’t sing out of tune,” or worst of all, “don’t sing — just move your lips.”
One never knows what musical wounds people may be bringing into our classrooms…
As one teacher remarked at the end of a three day Music Together seminar, “90% of our job is showing up with a compassionate heart.”
“Everybody Says Don’t” also reminds me of a song I started writing a couple of years ago called “A Beating Heart.”
I was inspired by a conversation I heard between a new author, Amber Dermont, and Terry Gross on NPR radio about Amber’s debut novel, The Starboard Sea.
Two of the characters in her novel invent the term, “the starboard sea” as a possible metaphor for one’s life mission — the direction one sails in order to discover an authentic, respectful, fulfilling life.
Or at least that’s how I have remembered the definition of “the starboard sea” — and incorporated it into my song.
If you have time to listen to either or both of these songs, lemme know what you think!