And now for something completely different…
In the spring of 2004 I was lucky enough to have my show Paradise Lost presented at the ASCAP Musical Theatre Workshop. The workshop is the brainchild of legendary composer Stephen Schwartz (Wicked, Godspell), and his insights about the creative process were profoundly helpful. He became a great mentor and friend to the show and, I am honored to say, to me personally.
Soon after the workshop I received a call from a major film studio. Stephen had recommended me to them and they wanted to know if I might be interested in writing music for an animated feature. I was incredibly excited, said yes, and took the meeting.
The creative execs with whom I met explained that the studio heads had always wanted to make an epic adventure, a classic animated film based on Kipling’s The White Seal. I have always loved animation (the early Disney films; Looney Tunes; everything Pixar makes) and I couldn’t believe that I might get a chance to work in that grand tradition on such great material.
The White Seal is a beautiful story, classic Kipling, dark and rich and not at all condescending to kids. Best of all, Kipling begins his tale with the mother seal singing softly to her young pup:
Oh! hush thee, my baby, the night is behind us,
And black are the waters that sparkled so green.
The moon, o’er the combers, looks downward to find us
At rest in the hollows that rustle between.
Where billow meets billow, then soft by thy pillow;
Ah, weary wee flipperling, curl at thy ease!
The storm shall not wake thee, nor shark overtake thee,
Asleep in the arms of the slow-swinging seas.
I was struck so deeply by those first beautiful words, and a simple, sweet Disney-esque song just came gushing out of me. I wrote it down as quickly as I could, had my wife record it while I accompanied her at the piano, and then dropped it off at the film studio.
I didn’t hear anything from them for weeks and weeks, and I began to despair. Did they hate it? Was it too melodically complex? Did they even listen to it? Finally, I called them, begging to know the reason that they had rejected my tender little song. “Oh,” said the exec, “we decided to make “Kung Fu Panda” instead.”
So I didn’t do anything with it, just sang it to my baby son every night to get him to go to sleep. (Success rate: less than 50%). And a few years later the excellent community chorus The Towne Singers graciously commissioned this arrangement of it. I’m grateful to them for giving it a new life, especially because it gave me the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do for a long time: write a ‘simple’, relatively easy SATB and piano piece. I designed it so that it could be performed by lots of different choirs, with hardly any splits and very conservative ranges. Here are the first three pages of the piece, which will be in print worldwide this August:
The Seal Lullaby First Draft, Pages 1-3
And I’m excited to announce the world premiere concert, 7:30 p.m. on May 31st 2008 in Pasadena, California. (Tickets available at the door or at the Towne Singers website). It will be at the gorgeous First United Methodist Church (500 E. Colorado Blvd.), and I’ll be in the audience, nervously chewing on my program.