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).
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:
- Less is more
- God is in the details
- 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:
- Clarity [that sounds familiar]
- Decisive action
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?