In the Service of Clarity

You may know that my favorite composer is Stephen Sondheim. My husband even gave me an autographed picture of him for my birthday (thanks to the family of Gary Lorenz, who apparently didn’t appreciate what their family member had and sold it on eBay).

“Something appealing…”

Sondheim has written two books on his lyrics (he meant to write one, but realized that it would be so heavy that people wouldn’t be able to pick it up, let alone put it down). They are Finishing the Hat (2010) and Look, I Made a Hat (2011). Both titles are from the song “Finishing the hat” from the musical Sunday in the Park with George (1984).

I admit that I haven’t gotten to the second one yet. They’re both on my coffee table right now. They’re nearly as big as my coffee table. That’s probably why they’re called “coffee table books.”

In these books, Sondheim analyzes the lyric he wrote for his own musicals, as well as those written by other composers (Jule Styne, Leonard Bernstein, Richard Rodgers). The first one also delves into an analysis of lyricists who came before him and are now all dead. Sometimes they’re a bit critical. Sometimes I don’t agree with him.

His analyses of a lyric’s efficacy (his own and others) is through the prism of three qualities:

  1. Less is more
  2. God is in the details
  3. Content dictates form

“And all of these are in the service of one thing: Clarity.”

I also read another book called You are a Badass at Making Money: Master the Mindset of Wealth by Jen Sincero (the book is better than its title), which approaches making a [good] living while being a creative person. At one point, she refers to a “Cocktail of Creation,” which has these characteristics:

  • Belief
  • Clarity [that sounds familiar]
  • Focus
  • Faith
  • Urgency
  • Decisive action
  • Tenacity
  • Gratitude

I thought there was a certain similarity in these thoughts, particularly as they involve clarity as part of creation. And I’m striving for all of this in my own performing and my teaching, and the way I live my life. And I do it with Stephen smiling over my shoulder on my Zoom calls.

What’s in your cocktail of creation? Are you in the service of clarity? If not, how can you get there?

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Published by Mezzoid Voice Studio

Christine Thomas-O'Meally, a mezzo soprano and voice teacher currently based in the Baltimore-DC area, has performed everything from the motets of J.S. Bach to the melodies of Irving Berlin to the minimalism of Philip Glass. As an opera singer and actress, she has appeared with companies such as Charm City Players, Spotlighters Theatre, Chicago Opera Theater, Opera Theater of Northern Virginia, Opera North, the Washington Savoyards, In Tandem Theatre, Windfall Theater, The Young Victorian Theater of Baltimore, and Skylight Opera Theatre. She created the role of The Woman in Red in Dominick Argento’s Dream of Valentino in its world premiere with the Washington Opera and Mary Pickersgill in O'er the Ramparts at its world premiere during the Bicentennial of Battle of Baltimore at the Community College of Baltimore County. Other roles include Mrs. Paroo in Music Man, Mother Abbess in Sound of Music, Dorabella in Cosi Fan Tutte, Marcellina in Le Nozze di Figaro, both Hansel and the Witch in Hansel & Gretel, and many roles in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas. Her performance as the Housekeeper in Man of La Mancha was honored with a WATCH award nomination. Ms. Thomas-O'Meally received an M.M. in vocal performance from the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore. She regularly attends master classes and workshops in both performance and vocal pedagogy, and is certified in all three Levels of Somatic Voicework™ The LoVetri Method. Her students have performed on national and international tours of Broadway productions, at prestigious conservatories, and in regional theater throughout the country.

2 thoughts on “In the Service of Clarity

  1. You’ve made me want to finish Finishing the Hat (ha-ha). I should treat it more as a reference volume than something to be read straight through. And one of my dogs (Tobi the greyhound, I think) chewed off a corner of it while it was on the lower shelf of the coffee table.

    What’s in my creative cocktail? I like the things Jen Sincero suggests. And while a few dashes of bitters are great in a Manhattan, I need to leave the bitters of self-doubt and hyper-self-criticism out of my cocktail!

    1. The biggest problem I had with that first book, in particular, was that he speaks so much about clarity, but I found the font to be almost impossible to read. It was kind of a weird gray/beige color and it was so small!

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