most of you know that back in late january - i started a new job at a theatre up in sonora
called stage 3 theatre company, and the job was musical director :D i am SO excited to be at such a great theatre with SUCH AMAZING PEOPLE. i could never EVER say enough about how much i adore this job and these people - so i won't even start. what i would like to talk about today - is how i went about rearranging the entire COWGIRLS: THE MUSICAL score.
it was a big job. let me start at the beginning. when i first got the score and the cd, i was not enchanted. that's not to say the music isn't good. it's just not what i enjoy, and it's very outdated... which is fine. it was written in the 90's and i think it was supposed to be set in the 70's or 80's.... i decided it needed updating, and our director, rocky, agreed with me. so i set about rearranging 21 of the 22 songs in the show. that's right. 21 songs. it was a big job, but it was quite fluid and all the arrangements (save one... but that's another story for another day) came to me quite effortlessly.
the main thing i wanted to do with this score was infuse some soul into it. it was very cut and dry WHITE country. no heart, no soul... just boom chuck's and straight 4 strums. it needed heart. so one by one - i put my stank on it ;D
some of them turned funky, some of them turned pop, some stayed country but more updated.... but one thing they all got - was a little infusion of gospel. i knew i wanted to make the music more meaty with more complex gospel chords - but i am NOT a gospel piano player. so what did i do? research.
and i'd like to share with you a few of the videos i watched in case you are ever in need of beefing up a score, or grasping for chords for a song you're wanting to finish that somehow isn't coming together. learning these chords and integrating them into my regular, daily practice routine has been HUGE for my confidence and for my writing skills. i am currently working on a new show, and learning these chords has changed the entire tone of it.... which is REALLY exciting. it turned from pop into bluegrass into a sort of poppybluegrassgospel hoedown... it's wild, and i am REALLY excited to start sharing it with you, soon :D it's called "felicity" and it's definitely going to be my favorite album yet :D BUT MORE ON THAT LATER.
for now - here is the the video i watched first.
i know i know - it's by a white guy, but i was just looking for a basic starting point, so i wasn't very particular about where i started. and once i started watching - i found out he knew exactly what he was talking about.
that video was great because i needed to start with chords. that progression is one i already gravitate towards, but i go it in a very straight way. the key to gospel is to swing it, so i had to start adding those catch-chords and quick notes - and it instantly changed the feeling of the song. SO COOL. something SO little but so huge :D
next - i poured myself into this guy's videos... kenneth hollins.
once i was completely fascinated by his playing and teaching style - i looked him up.... woah. what a story. also a story for another day :D his videos helped me a lot.... he is a goldmine. if you are looking for help - DEFINITELY check out his youtube channel.
another player that helped me greatly was this man. his style is REALLY beautiful.... even his demonstration of "mary had a little lamb" gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes. IMMEDIATE favorite. i POURED myself into this video, studying exactly what he did... the comment section is filled with people who are like "HELLLLP! WHAT THE HECK ARE YOU DOING?!" hahaha i feel bad for them.... but since i am an ear-player as much as i am a music-reader i had no problem recreating what he was doing...
and if you have seen COWGIRLS, you will DEFINITELY recognize my playing style. i think this is the style i try to emulate the most in the show... and now in my own personal writing style, too. one song in particular called "don't look down" was heavily influenced by this man's style. "don't look down" is performed by leilani who plays "lee" in the show.
the song is GORGEOUS, but it is very very vanilla. leilani is hawaiin and FULL of soul that just POURS out of her, and she brings a LOT of that to her character. so it made ZERO sense to have her sing a very white washed version of the song. so i slowed the song way down and made it more poppy with her just hard strumming the guitar, and then i throw in little gospel licks inbetween her verses. it turned out SO WELL, every night people just cry and cry at this song... it's my favorite in the show, really.... and it's so exciting to take something beautiful and make it beautiful in a different way :D
lastly - i encourage you to check out this youtube channel. it's vey helpful from purely an educational standpoint... since just imitating something doesn't necessarily get the point across - it's important to know history and intention ... and their videos are really great - and this is my favorite :D
i also just watched some of my favorite performances over and over...
like anthony burger's riff on the hallelujah chorus... i can NEVER get enough of this...
it's more poppy than straight gospel, but it's still a brilliant example of taking something very straight and infusing it with heart and soul and excitement... which is what i tried to do with cowgirls :D sidenote - if you were ever in shelly bort presents back in the day - i'm sorry for how many times i made you perform this arrangement, hahahahah. i can't help my obsessions... they just find me and i go with them ;D i think i've staged and performed this version over 20 times in my career :D anthony burger was the jam <3 miss him <3
billy porter's gospel arrangement of "sunday" from sondheim's "sunday in the park with george" is probably my favorite arrangement of all time. ALL TIME. to begin with - sondheim's original needed no help. BUT THEN BILLY PORTER came on board, and blew my head clean off. i remember buying this cd at barnes and noble back in 2005 and i was listening to it in my car on the way home.... and i had to pull over because i started crying so hard. i'll never forget sitting on the side of the road, crying my eyes out - as i listened to this arrangement probably 10 times in a row... and it remains my favorite to this day <3
i hope these help you! educating myself on gospel style was so eye opening and challenging and it has really changed how i play and how i relate to music. one of the best experiences of my whole life! <3
YOU ONLY HAVE ONE MORE WEEKEND TO SEE COWGIRLS THE MUSICAL!!!!
trust me - you don't want to miss it :D it's, without a doubt, the most amazing theatre experience i've ever had... and that is saying a LOT <3