"The commitment by the actor in the singer." That's what makes a good song great. That's what evokes a response from the audience. And that's the focus of this episode...The Actor in The Singer.
Scattershot Symphony is presented by Watchfire Music. Learn more about this episode at their website watchfiremusic.com
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The Music of Peter Link
People ask me, “Why “Symphony? You’re not a classical composer.”
Well, Wikipedia defines “Symphony” as:
an extended musical composition
most often written by composers for orchestra –
often presented in several movements.
And so, I bring you the music of a lifetime of composition –
often presented in several movements.
That’s the nature of these podcasts –
a scattershot look, at a lifetime of music …
From a variety of genres;
Pop, Rock, R&B, Reggae, Gospel, Musical Theater, Funk, Inspirational and ...
... whatever ...
Basically the music we all grew up on
All from the labyrinthine (la·br·in·thn) mind of composer, Peter Link
So, strap on them headphones.
We’re 90% music with just a smattering of commentary.
And for god sakes,
Turn it up!
This week being the fourth episode of this podcast series, I’m supposed to tell you who I am and why I’m doing this. I prefer to let the music do the talkin’. However, if you need to know more about me, please visit Wikipedia.com – Peter Link.
This episode is entitled “The Actor In The Singer.”
Phlutterphase Hang Music Cue
I’ve always loved a great singer. (I married three of them.). Each of them were extraordinary singers endowed with powerful instruments, but what made them extra-ordinary was an innate ability to get inside the lyric of a song and live it. Their greatness lie not in the instrument of their voice, but rather in the commitment to each precious moment of the song — simply put, the commitment by the actor in the singer.
What separates the great ones from the good ones is not the instrument, but rather the way they use it. Judy Garland had a fine instrument, but, let’s face it, she knocked it out of the park with her incredible connection with each moment. Her daughter Liza was not particularly blessed with the greatest instrument, but could still send an audience to the rafters with her thorough commitment to the subtext of the song.
The subtext — the energy beneath the text, the underlying commitment to each dramatic moment of the song. An understanding of and the ability to play the subtext results in the ability to live the song.
Wife Julia, has both a fine instrument and a real understanding of the life inside the music. Finding that life for each singer takes a real process. It goes far beyond learning the tune and the words of a song. It is the work of the actor in the singer. And it is that process that we’ll investigate today.
Julia sang for 7 years every Sunday morning at a mega church in Boston. She would take the train back and forth each weekend. Late one Sunday night when she came home she told me a story of a sweet encounter on the train that she had. I immediately grabbed a pen and paper and began to jot down some of her phrases and the gist of her story.
Even though she had lived this first song that we’ll hear today, she had to re-find it once the song was written. She had to exercise her process throughout all our rehearsals to be able to complete the experience you’re about to hear.
For most people, singing a song is pretty much a matter of learning the words and the notes of the melody, but what the great ones do is to take it far beyond the music and the lyric. That’s what makes us, the audience, weep, or joy, or soar or sigh — the actor in the singer. And so ...
Woman On A Train
The late Tom Tipton, also blessed with a wondrous bass baritone voice, soared above the crowd because he understood the concept of playing the subtext.
Over the years, Tom made over a hundred appearances at Minister Robert Schuller’s Hour Of Power popular weekly television Sunday service at the Chrystal Cathedral. I had the great fortune to get to know this great gentleman, Tom, and produce his “Best of ...” album and also add 4 new songs to his life’s work. One of the songs that I produced arranged and orchestrated was “Goin’ Home”, the much loved traditional with the melody borrowed from Dvorak’s New World Symphony #9.
The day came for Tom to record his vocal. I was in tears most of the time as Tom went through 6 or 7 takes in the studio. First of all, the song is a true beauty, but most of all, what Tom brought to it that day is simply one of the best and most memorable performances of any session I’ve ever run.
That day I will never forget. At the time, Tom was already in his mid-70s, but age was never a factor that day - as you will hear. Rather, Tom simply faced the latter years of his life with an inspired assurance ... that strikes to he heart of us all.
Tom Tipton — Goin’ Home
Jenny Burton grew up a foster child passed from family to family often by people who simply were interested in the money they would receive to raise a foster child. When just a teenager, she met and became devoted to a South Bronx minister who pastored a small but mighty storefront church — The Universal Church Of Truth — one Reverend Josephine Richards. “Rev” as everyone called her, took Jenny into her home and Jenny’s foster child days were over.
There in Rev’s church Jenny sang in the choir and developed her chops. I met Jenny when she was in her twenties and still singin’ in the choir. I immediately recognized her talent and thus started a 40-year professional relationship that continues to this day.
When her surrogate “mother” Rev passed, Jenny wanted to work on a tribute to this wondrous woman. I wrote this next song with that foremost in mind.
As you will hear, Jenny simply tears it up. The commitment to this particular song probably did not have to take much “process.” All the emotions of a lifetime of gratitude and respect for this pivotal and monumental woman in her life just pours out of her in the song. After all, she lived it and in the session that day, just like Tom, she lives it for all of us to live it with her.
Jenny Burton — I Stand For You
Judy MacLane is a Broadway star who actually played two of the leading roles in the musical Mama Mia on Broadway over a ten-year period — over 4000 performances. How anyone could have done that night after night, eight shows a week is beyond my imagination. It is a staggering accomplishment of commitment.
I worked with Judy before she began that historic run, on a show of mine, Sundown, a musical ending in the gunfight at the OK Corral. Judy played the leading female role. In the next two songs you will see the actor at work. Again, no question, a fine instrument, but, in both instances, with each one dramatically different from the other, it’s Judy’s complete commitment to character that drives each song.
In the first song, Cattle Kate, works to convince a stuck Doc Holiday
that he can change his life and move on from his troubles.
Judy MacLane — You Ain’t No Prisoner
And now in this next song from Sundown, Joe Lutton, another fine singer/actor, playing one of the Clanton/McLaury Gang, sets out to get Cattle Kate, played by Judy, drunk as a skunk so he can seduce her and steal her away from his enemy, Doc Holiday.
Judy MacLane and Joe Lutton — One More Drink
When I was a much younger composer I simply did not know all the things I know now. One of these “things” I paid little attention to way back then was the vocal ranges of songs. I guess I always figured that if I could sing it, just about anybody else could as well. Definitely not true.
In the Broadway musical, King Of Hearts, music by yours truly and lyrics by Jacob Brackman, I wrote THE love song as a two octave song, about 5-6 half steps more rangy than most normal songs that usually want to stay in about an octave and a third. It’s a very beautiful song, if I do say so myself. Trouble was, nobody could sing it. We could never find a young ingenue who had those kind of chops. So, the song was never as effective in the show as it could have been.
Later on in life I finally found a singer who had the chops (the range) to sing it. Luckily, it was my own wife, Julia. The version you’re about to hear is the best it’s ever been sung, but it took a 40-year old very experienced singer to do it.
Then, of course, she had to sound like a 16-year old ingenue who was the character falling in love in the musical. Now there’s an impressive acting challenge to face. It’s a lot easier to be young and sound old, than to be much older ... and sound young. If ya’ don’t believe me, try it some time.
But Julia ... pulls it off with aplomb. Cuz she is ... de bomb.
Julia Wade — from King Of Hearts — Nothing Only Love
Georgia Engel, known best for her comedic roles on both television’s Mary Tyler Moore Show and Everybody Loves Raymond, not to mention her Broadway credits, was a comedic gift to the world. Unfortunately, known best for her squeaky voice and space chicken personality, she was, in fact, truly the consummate actress who was trained as a dancer and sang occasionally on the side. She was not blessed with a strong singing voice, but the terrific actress in her would always get her through.
It just so happened that Georgia and wife, Julia, developed a real friendship through the years. And when it came time to do Julia’s Duets — Woman 2 Woman album, Julia invited Georgia to join her on a song. At first Georgia’s response was, “Oh Jules, I could never sing on the same record with you. I’ll not really a singer.” But Julia insisted and I was assigned the pleasant task of creating a piece of special material for the two of them.
Once Georgia heard the song that I wrote for them, she was all business. In our rehearsals we worked on the comic timing of the moments within the music, we altered a few lyrics to further fit her iconic personality, and I always experienced her as an introspective, but totally savvy consummate actress. Georgia was simply a total pro to work with.
I once heard Stephen Sondheim say that one of the most difficult things to do in the musical theater is to get an audience to really laugh in the middle of a song. He said that the only time he was really successful was in West Side Story’s Gee Officer Krupke. Why is this? Probably because the average music listener doesn’t really listen to or concentrate on the lyrics of a song, choosing instead, to focus more on the music, so the innuendos of comedy get paid little attention.
Georgia was aware of this and so we decided not to go for laughs, but rather settle for character smiles. Georgia could always get boffo character laughs with her daffy character in a scene, but we doubted it in the song.
On the day of the recording, again, she was all business — nervous and somewhat out of her element, — but totally professional. Her instrument was not strong and her studio mic technique inexperienced, but the actor in the singer simply nailed every moment, and when we were through, I knew no one would ever care about her weaker than expected voice. She and Julia carried the day and knocked out a very special moment on the album.
But that’s really for you to decide. Here, give it a listen ...
Julia Wade and Georgia Engel — Ya’ Don’t Hafta Be A Singer To Sing
Julia kicks it off ...
Crazy Day was a song I wrote and re-wrote for Jenny Burton many times during our four decades of work together. It’s original version’s lyric was too obtuse for my own blood. And so I re-wrote the lyrics four or five times for various productions and sessions over the years ... and finally gave up — sadly, because I always loved the music and the very special piano arrangement developed by our longtime gifted pianist, Alan “Woody” Smallwood. But I just couldn’t seem to get the lyrics up to par with the music.
So, for about 20 years this song, that I really think is in the top 10 songs that I ever wrote, just sat on the shelf.
But finally, I found myself old enough to write it right. Yeah, I finally got it right — and it only took me about 30 years. Then Jenny came in and recorded it for about the 4th time ... and she just ate the song. I really don’t know a better way of saying it. She just ate it up and spit it back out in the session and that’s how it went. Finally it was off the shelf and into the world.
So here is a song that Jenny lived with for years, watched it grow up and mature into a finished moment. So, of course, she would live the song in the studio, in the session. It’s all there in the zeros and ones. And even Julia adds a final touch on the end.
It’s one of my best ... and one of Jenny’s as well.
Jenny Burton — Crazy Day
Every great singer’s process is different. Because each one’s process is the technique of really looking at the song and finding their particular corner on the approach to the song. Every process is different because every singer comes from a different life experience. The smart singer plugs the song into the journey of their own life and then lives it — whether it be in the reality of their past life or simply in the reality of their creative imagination.
In the case of this next song, Jenny Burton’s session happened to be scheduled on the very night that her real mom had been struck down by a hit and run driver on Third Avenue, in NYC. Jenny only made it through two takes, but it was the second take that was the total keeper.
So here is a song that comes directly out of a true life experience. It’s a song that could refer to many different loves, many different moments in life. That night, it’s not hard to imagine just who it was she was singing the song to.
In it, she simply takes the truth of the moment and pours it into the song — or pours the song through it. Jenny was always instinctual above all. That night she let those instincts lead the way.
Jenny Burton — You’re Leaving Me
Our last song for this episode puts it all together. Oddly, it’s a Christmas song.
I first came to New York as a college graduate to attend The Neighborhood Playhouse School Of The Theater because I was interested in becoming a theatrical director ... and I was advised to study acting with Sanford Meisner, one of the two fathers of American Method Acting. This was probably the best piece of advice I ever received in my life.
Two years at the Playhouse, especially with brilliant teacher, Sandy Meisner, absolutely prepared me for a life as a composer. Why? Because it made me get in touch with myself as an artist and taught me how to write music from my soul. I’ve never been what one might call a technical musician. Though I have learned the technical side of it over the years. I guess one might say that I write from the standpoint of the actor in the composer.
Julia Wade, however, started out as much more of a technical singer, studying and majoring in Opera and Classical music in college. She was also blessed with a voice that people have loved for years. But it was, again, the actor in the singer that accelerated her growth over the decades.
At the Neighborhood Playhouse we studied basic acting in the first year and character acting the next. Getting your arms around those two styles is, for any actor, a life’s work.
In this last song Julia shows us the fruition of all her hard work over the years — the ability to tell the truth in imaginary circumstances and the ability to handle the complex character choices that turn her into two different people in the course of this song.
Certainly, we have all wondered at some point in our lives what this moment might be like. Julia helps us live the dream.
Julia Wade — The Night I Met St. Nick
Well, there ya’ have it. Scattershot Symphony. Episode 4
Next, Episode 5 — Sacred Sunday Morning, Volume 1
Don’t worry, we won’t try to dump religion on you. This is an episode for everyone. It’s a look at the more spiritual side of life, knowing that everyone has their own different and personal connection. Perhaps, for each of you, a step inward. We’ll bring you universal songs that, of course, reflect my own personal search. Coming soon in a couple of weeks.
Also, please rate and review us on Apple Podcasts.
And to keep abreast of the latest episode, you can subscribe to Scattershot Symphony from your podcast app of choice.
A lot of the songs you just heard were solo songs that required very few background voices, so this episode’s thankyous are short today.
Here are 5 tremendous talents that I had the great privilege to work with on song after song for many years ...
On I Stand For You
and John James
And a very special nod to the greatness of background vocal arranger
John Danny Madden, my brother in music.
You each brought so much to my music over the years.
Thank You To …
Watchfire Music, Nathan Burgdorff and the entire staff for all your work in producing and promoting this podcast.
A very special thanks also to Stuart Barefoot, our Associate Producer for all your invaluable knowledge and good vibes.
And a posthumous thanks to Ludwig Van Beethoven for your opening 4 bars.
(over playout music)
This podcast is presented with loving care by the staff at Watchfire Music. If you liked what you heard, we got lots more where that came from. In the meantime, you can find the songs you just heard on watchfiremusic.com/podcast. There you can purchase the singles or albums and have access to all the lyrics. Also, there you will find all previous podcasts and future scheduling.
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tell your friends and Stay tuned!