Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Sing along with Pippin (part 2)

I cannot remember the last time I had so much fun.  Pure singing fun. Pure singing on the cast album of Pippin fun. Pure joining 600 people in the New York Society for Ethical Culture concert hall to sing on the cast album of Pippin fun. SO MUCH FUN!

The call went out last week. Fans of Pippin were invited to sing the big audience participation number, No Time At All, on a cast album recording. They got thousands of responses, and selected people on a first come first served basis.  I was lucky enough to get right in there with my RSVP, as I have previously written about.

I showed up at the Society for Ethical Culture at the time the doors opened, and the place was already packed. The vibe in the room was incredibly sweet—a combination of young giddy musical theater fans and older, well, more restrained musical theater fans. I found a seat with a beautiful young woman (who turned out to be an alto, like me) and waited for things to start.  It was a super good-natured crowd, buzzing with excitement. Really, it's not like there were going to be any disappointments.

Before long, producer Howard Kagen came out and introduced Adam Feldman, who was the MC for the day, which pretty much meant that after a funny and engaging moment, he introduced Charlie Alterman (musical director of Pippin) Nadia DiGiallonardo (music supervisor of Pippin) who were really running the show. Turns out that both Charlie and Nadia, along with many members of the Pippin cast, have the throat gunk that so many people have, so they were literally drinking hot ginger and molasses as they led us through some warm ups and made charming and engaging musical theater jokes.

We sang happy birthday. We sang a couple classic vocal warm-ups, and then a few where Charlie got us to play with pitch dynamic. The thing that was immediately clear is that the entire concept was going to work. This was a room full of people who knew how to follow a conductor, and for 600 people who had never met each other before, we sounded pretty great. Within my ear shot, there were no people who sang off pitch, or hung on to notes that should have been cut off earlier; I think that was pretty much the case for the whole room. So then Charlie brought out Stephen Schwartz, the composer and lyricist of Pippin, to thunderous applause. I'm not a big applauder when a great show has not ended. I am not a fan of the emotional support applause—you know, the one when someone reveals something vulnerable about themselves, and people don't quite know what to do so they applaud. And I'm not usually the person who bursts into applause when someone walks into a room, although I recognize it as a sign of deep respect and honor and I participate, telling myself the whole time that I am applauding their lifetime of achievements, and not the fact that they just walked into a room.

So Stephen Schwartz shows up, and Charlie starts to teach us a line from the song we're going to record, and the first thing that happens is that Stephen disagrees with him on the rhythm of the words "little of." It was a great moment. Charlie said that no, they had agreed to push "little of" and Stephen said that no, it was held back and syncopated, and so they went to the recording of the show we were about to sing along with, and Charlie had been right (of course) and away we went. Here's what we were singing:

We sounded great. I could practically hear the producers' sighs of relief as the audio technicians played back recordings, and discovered that we sounded great. Charlie and Nadia taught us some harmonies. We started singing those. We were still practicing our harmonies, when Andrea Martin (Broadway actress who sings this song in Pippin) breezed into the room in a bright red dress. One of the things I love about Andrea Martin is that she is from Maine. This always helps to remind me that even though people sometimes pretend that all successful New Yorkers are from New York, they really aren't. I mean, they really aren't. Of course I know that, but it's easy to get caught up in, and sometimes it takes a Broadway star from Maine to remind me. So Andrea came on stage and started being a Broadway star—full of self-deprecating humor and public admiration for her co-workers, and to be honest, she mostly got in the way of what we were trying to achieve, because she stood right next to Charlie and moved her arms around in a different pace from his conducting, and I had to mentally tune her out and focus very hard on him, because you see, once they started recording us for real, Charlie was listening to the track in headphones and conducting us, but we weren't listening to the track because they didn't want it to get picked up by the recording mics, and so Andrea's enthusiastic arms were a little distracting.  You can take the girl (me) out of the producing workplace, but you can't take the producer out of the girl.

So we started to record. We did four versions. One in unison. One in our harmonies. Another one with the same harmonies. And finally, an ending to the whole song, which was going to be in unison, but once they realized it all worked, Schwartz composed some harmonies on the spot, and we went for it. I nailed my alto lines, along with my alto neighbor. Before we left, they got us smooshed as far as we could into the center of the hall, which is to say that we were still filling almost the entire hall, and they got the creative team down in front of the audience, and they took a whole bunch of photos, with the intention of putting it in the cast album liner notes. So look out, once the Pippin soundtrack comes out, there will be a tiny silver-haired spec on the aisle of the orchestra, house left, about 10 rows back. That would be me. Smiling, just the way Stephen Schwartz taught us to, to make the vowel sound move forward in our mouths, and sound brighter and happier and like we are ready to just start livin'.

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