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Simply Sondheim Forum

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Fresh Face
Fresh Face

Joined: Thu Dec 25, 2008 10:20 pm
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Location: George Town Tasmania Australia
Current Obsession: writing, reading and research
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In an interview in July 2005, when he was 75, Stephen Sondheim said: “Poets generally make poor lyric writers.”(1) Sondheim, perhaps the best-known artist in the American musical theatre, with its niche status, made the point that this is generally the case because the language of music is too rich. Musical lyrics are over-enriched in order to drown listeners in words and sound. At the same time the lyrics have to breathe and give the audience's ear a chance to understand what's going on. This is particularly true in the theatre where you not only have the music, but you've got choreography, costume, story, acting, orchestra, a whole team of people trying to bring an experience to an audience. There's a lot for an audience to take in. “The whole idea of poetry in contrast,” Sondheim emphasized, “is denseness, concision, abutment of images.....You can't do that when you've got music going on and expecting the audience to take it in. –Ron Price with thanks to 1Stephen Sondheim, “Interview,” Academy of Achievement, Internet Site, 5/8/07.

(1) For perhaps thirty years, from 1962 to 1992, when I played the guitar for therapy and sing-alongs, I tried to write lyrics. But I never felt even remotely successful. During those years I would never have called myself a poet, not remotely. But in the last 20 years(1991-2011), the assignation, the label, poet or prose-poet has become one I have become increasingly comfortable with. This is especially the case since retiring from FT work in 1999, PT work in 2003 and most volunteer/casual work in 2005.

Although there is a certain music in my words, my writing, I do not associate my words with music, with lyrics or even, for that matter, with performance poetry. Attending a poetry reading has, for me, as much in common with reading a poem on the page as reading a screenplay has to do with seeing a movie. A poem performed in public is one thing; reading a poem in private is another.

One can’t be too self-critical
when you’re writing it down,
as you say, Stephen. You’ve
got to let it flow and tidy it up
later. And you can’t let those
critics, well-meaning friends,
that panoply and pageantry of
people at varied assignations--
with words on how to do things
better, how not to do things—
who don’t like what you do,
put you in some sardine-can,
some fishbowl of examination.

As you say, Stephen, it’s best to try
to use muscles you haven't used before,
that's the fun of writing—building on
what’s there; although, I must say,
I often go over territory I’m familiar
with in a new take--in the process
of exploration one always learns.(1)

(1) Stephen Sondheim quoted by Robert Berkvist, “Stephen Sondheim Takes a Stab at Grand Guignol,” New York Times on the Web, February 25, 1979.
Ron Price
5 August 2007

married for 46 years, a teacher for 35, a writer and editor for 14, and a Baha'i for 54(in 2013)

Last edited by RonPrice on Fri Feb 08, 2013 12:44 am, edited 1 time in total.

Sat Sep 03, 2011 5:45 am
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Fresh Face
Fresh Face

Joined: Thu Dec 25, 2008 10:20 pm
Posts: 11
Location: George Town Tasmania Australia
Current Obsession: writing, reading and research
Main Role: Fan
Post Re: USING NEW MUSCLES: Sondheim
More on Sondheim.....Ron Price

In the generation that was born as the Baha’i Administrative Order was taking its first shaping in those hiatus years 1917 to 1937, the years before the implementation of the first teaching Plan in 1937, Stephen Sondheim was, arguably, considered as the greatest Broadway composer and lyricist. Born in 1930, Sondheim’s first significant work was for West Side Story in 1957. A song from Sondheim’s repertoire that had the biggest impact on me was Send In The Clowns which premiered with the musical ‘A Little Night Music’ in 1973.

I think I first heard that song in Melbourne in 1975. The story this song was based on was originally set in Sweden in 1900 and Send In The Clowns was sung “as two former lovers once again split up.”(1) At the time, my own personal life seemed a perfect analogue for this song. This prose-poem explores my life, Sondheim’s work and the Baha’i Faith in my teens and before. -Ron Price with thanks to (1) “The Songs of Shirley Bassey: Send In The Clowns,” Internet Site, January 2005.

Your beautiful writing, Stephen,
may not have been so accessible,
but it was there for my generation,
the first in this final, this tenth stage
of history right from your delights--
West Side Story and A Funny Thing
Happened On The Way To The Forum
in those years when I was getting
warmed up for this pioneering life.

I was getting a kick start in Ontario
back at the beginning of this dream,
when a tiny seed was planted,
when minor virtues were garnered
in that sweeter time and those now
nurtured imperfections are not seen
as so epically egregious to embarrass
the seraphim ruefully yawning
at their mention, nor will that shame,
as once I thought, topple the cities
and arrest the sun’s daily climb.(1)

(1) Thanks to Roger White, “Lines From A Battlefield,” Another Song Another Season, George Ronald, Oxford, 1979, p.111.

Ron Price
23/1/'05 to 8/2/'13.

married for 46 years, a teacher for 35, a writer and editor for 14, and a Baha'i for 54(in 2013)

Fri Feb 08, 2013 12:44 am
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