Finishing the Hat
20 Mar 2012
Inside the Classics

I’m spending most of my offstage time these days either writing/editing the script for next week’s big premiere with Judd, prepping various peripherals for that same show, or thinking about all the elements that I’m either not happy with yet or way behind on. (Oh, I’m also furiously practicing my Acadia part, which – let’s just come right out and say it – is not in the least easy to play.)

Writing a show about how a new piece of music comes to life seems like it ought to be a relatively simple thing for a musician, especially given how generous Judd has been in spending multiple hours talking to me about it. But somehow, striking the right balance between a) digging deep into the compositional nitty gritty of Judd’s process and b) respecting the fact that most listeners prefer there to be at least some degree of mystery in how music engages their emotional core is proving challenging in ways I didn’t expect.

A few weeks ago, the crew over at the endlessly entertaining NPR podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour spent a few minutes lampooning artists/musicians/filmmakers/authors who think that their capital-P Process is the most fascinating subject in the world, to the extent that they frequently create art that is explicitly about the process of creating art. I laughed along with them, yes, but I felt a bit of a sting at the same time, since I, like pretty much every other professional orchestral musician I’ve ever known, have always harbored a fantasy of creating a hit TV drama about the behind-the-scenes lives of orchestral musicians.

But it’s certainly true that most people looking to be entertained of an evening are usually not looking for that entertainment to be built around the subject of how brilliant, talented people labor selflessly to create entertainment for dullards in the general public who will never really appreciate them. That, as they say, is not a winning formula.

Unless, of course, you’re Stephen Sondheim.

That’s from Sondheim’s Sunday in the Park with George, which for my money might be the greatest Broadway musical of all time. It’s unquestionably my favorite work of art on the subject of the creation of works of art. I’ve watched the whole thing straight through twice in the last week, and it even wound up solving one of my scriptwriting problems for next week’s show – namely, how to talk about the dreaded Process without boring everyone to tears. The Sondheim solution? Just talk about finishing the hat…

Simple as that. By the way, you do have your tickets for the Acadia premiere, right? And for the New Amsterdam Showcase at Bryant Lake Bowl the night before? If not, I’m really not above begging you to snap some up – the BLB show is a measly $12 cover, and you can join us at Orchestra Hall for only $20 either night next weekend! It’s going to be a tremendous amount of fun (it’s my understanding that Judd is bringing roughly half of Brooklyn along with him to Minneapolis,) and quite honestly, it’s time we proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that there is a sizable audience in these Cities for great new music. Help us do that, and only good things can follow for all of us who love the Minnesota music scene!

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