If I Loved You…

 

Rodgers&Hammerstein

Today’s post is inspired by the act of collaboration.

Theater is all about collaboration — as are many forms of music.

I have been part of a musical collaboration with singer Bobbi Carrey for almost 20 years.

The song at the beginning of this blog post — “If I Loved You” — was written by Oscar Hammerstein II and Richard Rodgers for their musical Carousel.

Both Hammerstein and Rodgers had achieved tremendous success working with other collaborators before they joined forces during WWII to create the musical Oklahoma! 

Following the triumph of Oklahoma! they rose to new heights, co-creating a new musical every couple of years — interspersed with producing plays and musicals (such as Annie Get Your Gun) created by others.

And as their extraordinary list of hit shows — including South Pacific, The King and I, Flower Drum Song and The Sound of Music — expanded, they also devoted a considerable amount of time to overseeing touring companies, movie adaptations, and revivals of their work.

It was an extraordinary creative and business collaboration — the fruits of which will continue to be harvested  and celebrated for decades to come!

Collaboration can be a mysterious process — and theirs was not without its challenges.

But they persevered, remained respectful of each other’s gifts, and left an astounding body of work for the rest of us to savor for decades to come.

Pianist/composer/engineer/producer Doug Hammer, singer Bobbi Carrey and I recorded “If I Loved You” — one of their most beautiful ballads — for a CD we put together with exquisite arrangement input (both vocal and instrumental) from Michael Callahan.

Mike wrote the cello part on this recording of “If I Loved You,” for example.

My collaboration with Bobbi, too, has included a variety of challenges — and we have also respectfully persevered

Right now, due to a variety of factors, our collaboration is in a fallow period.

Callahan_Michael

Mike is busy being a music professor at Michigan State as well as an enthusiastic husband and father.

Doug’s career as a composer, producer and touring musician — in addition to being a devoted husband and father of two terrific sons — has meant that he is less available to perform with singers (although regular readers/listeners of this blog know that he is still willing to make music together in his wonderful home studio on the north shore of Boston).

doug-hammer-2017-february-1

Bobbi was working for a while in various parts of Asia — with a home base in Kuala Lumpur.

And I — now that I am making a very modest living as a singer, songwriter and teacher — am (somewhat paradoxically) less available to collaborate with Bobbi than when I had a full-time, non-musical day job.

Will&Bobbi2

Blessedly, recording technology exists so that all of the collaboration we did together has not evaporated without a trace.

 

Here’s a version of “The Little Things You Do Together” that we recorded with Doug playing piano plus a playful string arrangement by Mike.

Stephen Sondheim wrote it for the musical Company, and it paints a slightly different picture of love and marriage (another type of collaboration) than one might find in a Rodgers & Hammerstein show.

I have loved this song ever since my parents bought the cast album — which I listened to again and again and again as a child.

Sondheim knew both Rodgers and Hammerstein very well, having been unofficially adopted into the Hammerstein family when he was a teenager.

Sondheim1

Hammerstein became a role model and mentor for Sondheim as he, too, devoted himself to musical theater and songwriting.

And after Hammerstein died, Sondheim even collaborated as a lyricist with Richard Rodgers on a show called Do I Hear A Waltz? — along with one of Sondheim’s collaborators from West Side Story, librettist Arthur Laurents.

As someone who writes songs, I am always curious to learn more about the lives, practices, and habits of other songwriters.

I forget where I read it (maybe in one of Laurents’ great memoirs? or one of Sondheim’s terrific books about his own creative process?) but I was surprised to learn that Sondheim — with Laurents’ approval and support — transformed chunks of the dialogue  which Laurents wrote for early drafts of the West Side Story libretto into lyrics for certain songs in West Side Story.

And Laurents did not ask for co-credit on the lyrics for these songs,

It was simply part of their generous and respectful collaborative process.

Now Sondheim continues to support, nurture, encourage and inspire new generations of musical-theater-lovers. librettists, songwriters, and performers.

STEPHEN SONDHEIM

Thank you to Sondheim and Laurents and Rodgers and Hammerstein — and all of their scenic, costuming, choreographic, lighting, casting, directorial, production, and performance collaborators — for leaving us an extraordinary body of songs and shows and ideas.

Thank you to Bobbi Carrey, Doug Hammer, Mike Callahan, Jon Lupfer (who did the final mix of our CD at Q Division), Jonathan Wyner (who mastered our CD at M Works), and the musicians who played on it — Mark Carlsen (bass), Jane Hemenway (violin), Mike Monaghan (tenor sax and flute), Gene Roma (drums, percussion), Johann Soults (cello), and Kenny Wenzel (trombone).

Thank you to the internet for the photos of Rodgers, Hammerstein, Sondheim, Callahan, and Hammer.

Thank you to Paul Forlenza for the photos of Bobbi and me.

And thank YOU for reading and listening to this post!

What have YOUR experiences with collaboration taught you?

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26 thoughts on “If I Loved You…

  1. My goodness. You have touched one the roots of my love and passion for music. Long before I was the teenager swept away with the Beatles and R&B, there was my tenth birthday. I went to the theater to see Oklahoma. Rogers and Hammerstein lit the fuse, and they still remain my favorites. I hear one of their songs and I’m reduced to tears. Really. I wish everyone was as lucky as me to hear their music. Thank you, Will

    • You are very welcome, Jennie! How exciting to see Oklahoma at age ten!!! I, too, feel that the shape of my life was deeply influenced by my encounter with Broadway as a 5th-grader (https://amusicalifeonplanetearth.wordpress.com/2016/11/02/magic-to-do/). The more I learn about the lives of the songwriters from the 1910s-1970s, the more I appreciate the weird — sometimes it seems so modest and sometimes it seems so vast — power of a well-crafted song. I’m looking forward to shifting my focus (so far I’ve read memoirs by Carole King and Paul Anka) to the songwriters of the latter half of the 20th century and performing more of their songs as the baby-boomers move in greater numbers into retirement communities which hire people like me to bring one-hour musical programs to their residents… For example, The Beatles were influenced/inspired by Broadway songwriters — recording “Till There Was You” written by Meredith Willson for The Music Man. Hurrah for great songs and great songwriters — especially in the world of theater (since they tend to illuminate a very specific moment/interaction which helps to move the story along)! THANK YOU for listening and then leaving a comment.

      • Wonderful, Will. I love your thinking, and how certain music influences what you to do for others. It takes a very intuitive musician/music teacher to give to others just the right thing. Way to go! I had no idea just how much Carole King contributed to music and songwriting until last year. Our son asked for my old record albums, and we had a weekend of nostalgia (as you can imagine). Listening to “Tapestry” sparked learning more than I knew about Carole King. And, I knew that the Beatles “Till There Was You” was from The Music Man. Interestingly, at the time, no one else made that connection. Hmm… Thank you, Will!

  2. Hi Will, I love this post! The arrangement of “The Little Things You Do Together” is delightful, but “If I Love You” brought tears to my eyes. I’ve always loved that song. I have problems with the story of Carousel, but oh what glorious songs it has!
    I enjoyed reading about the collaboration of composers/lyricists, but also about your own collaborations and friendships.
    For a book coming out in August, I worked for the first time with a co-editor. Though we still have never met and communicated only by e-mail, it turned out to be a great experience, as we had very similar ideas about the topic and the book.

    • Hurrah for a great experience with a co-editor… What is the book coming out in August?! I am delighted that you have shared a comment about the topic of collaboration, because I often feel that the poems you share online might lend themselves (perhaps in the way that Sondheim used Laurents’ dialogue as both a foundation and a jumping off point for some of his lyrics in West Side Story) to being transformed into song lyrics… Thank you for reading and listening to another one of my blog posts!!!

      • One of these days, I hope I’ll get a book of poetry out, but the August book is Rape Cultures and Survivors: An International Perspective.
        I’m not sure what you are asking–you can certainly use my poems as a basis for song lyrics, as long as you credit me. I suppose if you record songs more formally, then we’d have to talk. 🙂 You can always e-mail me at merrildsmith@gmail.com
        And you are quite welcome. It was a lovely post!

      • I wasn’t quite sure what, if anything, I was asking as I wrote my previous reply. But I see more clearly after reading your response that I was very indirectly asking how you might feel about someone like me attempting to adapt one (or maybe just parts of one) of your poems into a song. And it seems like you might be OK about that possibility as long as you were clearly credited. Thank you for answering my only-partly-asked question in the affirmative! I will let you know if/when this happens… I tend to have 50+ bits and pieces of unfinished songs — more melodic ideas than lyrical ones — floating around in my brain at any given moment.

      • This reply made me smile. I’m glad I picked up on your indirect question. And I totally understand about the bits and pieces floating about in your head! I usually have several songs playing in my head. If I could write music, I’m sure there would be more.

  3. This is a brilliant post Will…. you really deserve more hits so I’ve shared!

    Songs are lovely, amazing arrangements and your and Bobbi’s voices sound so well together.. Sondheim’s would not sound amiss in a Rock Hudson Doris Day Comedy like the Pyjama Game!

    A good friend of mine Patrick, a composer, loves Sondheim; thinks him a great genius. I think that is probably because he is a musician’s musician. As a pleb, I am afraid I let Sweeney Todd put me off…. though I liked A Little Night Music and this song of course- brilliant lyrics.

    You talk about collaboration and asked to share experiences. Well, you did ask! I don’t write music but Patrick was inspired to write and perform music for characters and scenes from my novel Thomas the Rhymer. Here is the link to the website page: http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/music.php

    Closing lament is an arrangement of Pur Ti Miro from the closing duet in L’incoronazione di Poppea By Monteverdi (though arguably not by Monteverdi). When I was writing the final scenes I based Sylvie and Thomas’ aria on it, with a line from Sweet Embraceable You.
    What could be camper than a fairy queen and her paramour bursting into song before 3 astonished children? Part of the scene and lyrics are here if you are interested! http://www.jackhughesbooks.com/reunited.php

    So there is a collaboration for you: me, Paddy and Monteverdi.
    All my best mate Paul

    • First of all, your wonderfully enthusiastic comments (and willingness to share my post!) are quietly thrilling to read. Sondheim is indeed a musician’s musician (in the sense that the more one understands how music theory works, the more astounded one tends to be by his musical choices), and his skills as a lyricist (and crossword puzzle creator, too!) are off the charts. I recently saw a very humble college production of Sweeney Todd, and the lyrics — at times sublimely clever and at other times deeply heartful — stunned and intoxicated me all over again (having pretty much memorized the entire score when it first came out…) I guess I was inoculated by his genius — and his bittersweet worldview — at a very early age by my parents buying that cast album for Company… I look forward to reading/watching the links you shared regarding YOUR collaborative explorations. Now I am catching up on emails after being away for the weekend, helping my mother empty out and tidy up her home of 40+ years before selling it. THANK YOU for making time to read and listen and respond to (and share!) my latest blog post, Paul!

      • Will, the pleasure is all mine. Your work resonates with me and that is not something one can quantify only treasure. Hope you do get a chance to hear Patrick’s stuff I think you would love it. (It’s gorgeous!) Best regards M8 Paul
        Ps and yes, Not being modest, but I’m too musically thick to understand the sublimity of Sondheim…. Paddy dispaired!

  4. I’m terrible at collaboration! I’m such an introvert and so much want to be captain of my own fate. Two of my best friends, when I was teaching college, were in the theatre department and I would cringe at their stories of working with, and depending on, others on every show. That all having been said, one of my favorite teaching memories was team teaching one special course with one special colleague. You and your friends make beautiful music together, Will!

    • Your comments, KerryCan, made me laugh out loud as I read them. I am discovering/realizing that I am more of an introvert than I had previously thought (I probably started over-riding my introversion as a small child auditioning for modeling jobs, TV commercials, voiceover work, etc.) I currently approach collaboration with the improv comedy guideline of “always say yes” — because one never knows where an idea may lead… But it is, of course, more challenging to honor this idea/concept/process when one is in a recording studio, paying many dollars per hour to follow what seems like a very misguided suggestion! Some of my regular collaborators have come to learn that when I say “maybe” (in response to a suggestion that I think is going to be a waste of time/money), I actually mean “no.” But whenever possible I DO attempt to honor any/all suggestions/ideas while co-creating with other human beings… Obviously the experience and personalities of the folks with whom one chooses/dares to collaborate will affect the outcome of the process and product. Thank you, as always, for reading and listening!!!

  5. My musical cup runneth over. This post, which honors our collaboration so sweetly and honestly, touched my heart so deeply. I have endless faith that we will make music together, bringing many new revelations to our collaboration. You taught me how to make music in a heart space.

    • Oh, I am glad that you liked this blog post!!! Thank you for reading and listening and commenting. I listened to the entire IF I LOVE YOU CD when I drove to CT this past weekend to help my mother, and it sounded great. Two of your renditions in particular (“Life Story” and “Come In From The Rain”) brought gentle and much-needed tears to my eyes…

  6. In business we would say, “The only ship that won’t sail is a partnership”. Somehow, that doesn’t seem appropriate in music. Even Adele needs collaborations. Your music, what I hear in these offerings, is gorgeous.

    • THANK YOU for taking time (which I know is in short supply after reading your most recent blog post AND your replies to many, many comments) to visit my blog, Jacqui. However, I am not sure if I am understanding the business meaning/connotation of “The only ship that won’t sail is a partnership.” Does this imply that folks in business are wary/suspicious of partnerships, because they often run aground when the partners hold different visions/values? That having one clear leader tends to work better in the business world?

    • Hi, The Book Keeper. Thank you for this honor! I don’t know anything about it, but (I trust) I will find out more by clicking on the link you have included…

  7. Hello Will, The Little Things You Do Together made me smile. It reminded me of the old musicals. I used to play the piano (classical) and then learnt fingered-chords for the keyboard, I make up my own kind of music (I don’t sing). Years ago I’d record and mix on a TEAC 144 Portastudio (my brother ‘borrowed’ it, I haven’t seen it since) and although I have the software and the new kind of keyboard that plugs into the computer, I can’t get my head round to how to use it (I probably need to apply myself better with reading up on it!). It must be fun making music with others. 🙂

    • Hi, Oscar! Was the TEAC 144 Portastudio the kind that used a high-quality cassette tape to make 4 track recordings? Or was it a reel to reel recorder? I do find that the never-ending updates to computer programs (such as GarageBand, which I love) distract me from making music. I have two different versions of it on two different laptops and haven’t updated either one because I don’t want to have to re-learn what I currently know how to do. Working with other people is a great incentive to get out of bed in the morning — although I still do most of my songwriting alone at home (or while camping in the summer). I much prefer to go to a gig with a musical partner (usually a pianist) rather than all alone (with just a ukulele). Hurrah that you make up your own kind of music!!! And thank you for visiting my blog.

      • Yes, it used tapes like the 70s/80s/90s music ones. I believe they were called tdk? I think the Tascam was capable of up to 12 simultaneous tracks although I didn’t record more than 4. I didn’t mind, in fact found it fun, learning to use this analog home studio! I also didn’t mind learning the professional Photoshop and teaching myself basic website coding, it’s just the music software which stops me… Glad to know I’m not the only one. A ukulele sounds fun. 🙂

  8. I love Oklahoma and have seen it from local productions to the West End. But when I was about six we went on a typical English seaside holiday and shared a chalet with another family. Inevitably it rained most days and each morning if it was raining, the other family would sing ‘Oh What a Beautiful Morning’ – I did not get the irony, as it obviously was not a beautiful morning, I thought they had made the song up especially for our holiday. Imagine my surprise years later to discover it came from a famous musical. That was my introduction to Rogers and Hammerstein. I also love Carousel. What a loss if the collaboration had never happened.

    • Yes. Their collaboration has given glorious songs and musical productions to millions (maybe billions!) of human beings here on planet earth. There’s a new book about their collaboration that I am looking forward to reading! Thank YOU for making time to read and listen to my blog.

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