Everybody Says Don’t…

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!

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11 thoughts on “Everybody Says Don’t…

  1. Hi Will–

    I’m so happy to hear that you’re doing music 100% now, including songwriting and teaching little kids! Maybe we could go to an open mic together sometime. Happy spring!

    Melinda

  2. Will, I have forwarded this to my brother who was just laid off. I told him he should sub “musical soul” with “outdoors soul”. Beautifully written testament to being true to yourself. Thanks!

    • Thanks, Jennie! You are a HUGE and patient part of my transformation, and I think about you almost every day. Sorry to hear about your brother. Being laid off can be a big shock. However, it might lead him to something better… ooo w

    • Thanks! I am grateful to have more time for music, for writing, for riding my bike, for walking, for singing, and for seeing more details of each day as it unfolds. And the children and families I am meeting as a result of Music Together are delightful!

  3. Awesome that you’re a Music Together teacher. (I clicked your link and checked it out–I’m always in favor of education that supports children’s creativity instead of hindering it!) I often wonder what I might have done with music if I had been allowed to be free with it. (I grew up in a very uptight German-Lutheran setting).

    I like that you put both of these songs together. Nice interpretation of the first, and the second has wonderful lyrics. I appreciate that I can understand them. I always figure what’s the point of having lyrics, if the listener can’t understand the singer’s articulation? Why not just skat or niggum? The melody and arrangement show your Sondheim influence. 🙂

    • Thanks for listening, Tracy! I do a lot of reading about songwriters, and I am biased in favor of the days (often pre-microphone and amplified sound) when songs had true rhymes — which, among other things, aid in comprehension of the lyrics.

  4. Sometimes a pink slip is the nudge we need to follow our hearts. I’m glad you’re following yours. I enjoyed the first song–especially the “But I say DO”–but I couldn’t get the second to play. Three times I tried, and all three it moved forward but without sound, skipped to the end and then began again.

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