One grand cliché of being a composer is that it’s straighforward enough to get the first performance of a new work, but damn difficult to get the second. However, some of my favourite experiences have been writing songs that are very much intended never to be done again.
Last night I MC’d a Wallace Arts Trust fundraiser concert for my flatmate, tenor Andrew Grenon. A lot of Andrew’s supporters know me as his piano partner in Politics The Opera, although it’s been a long time since we’ve made one of those videos. Life gets in the way, you see.
Andrew has a sense of humour and is a Song Sale writer-performer, so he asked me to sing my Root Vegetable Opera at his concert. That’s always huge fun, though when I perform it in the company of actual real opera singers I give a mountain of disclaimers about my vocal technique beforehand! Andrew also told me I was free to introduce the concert as I wished… maybe something musico-dramatic?
Two-and-a-half years ago I was fortunate enough to write the opening number for the Chapman Tripp Theatre Awards in Wellington – very much in the style of a Tony Awards opener. That’s a song that has so many specific references to Wellington theatre, film and current events circa 2011 that it will almost certainly never be performed again.
I did something similar for Andrew. The song has so many particular references – e.g. the setting of the concert, the night’s fellow performers, our Grey Lynn flat, his circumstances (heading to the Wales International Academy of Voice), and the country of Wales itself – that it will never be performed again. It’s a one-time bespoke job.
But you know what? Those jobs are bloody fun. You can go as specific as you like, and your song can be tailored exactly for the assembled audience and their context. I get a kick out of making comedy and art out of the timely, specific and the local. That’s no way for a work to appeal to a wide or enduring audience, but I’ve got other material for that. And given that one of my life’s ambitions is to write the opening number for the Tony Awards, I’ve got to take these opportunities to practise the rather niche craft of occasional songs.
I’ve uploaded the sheet music (hang piracy, I’m never going to sell this song for money) and chucked the video on YouTube. Massive thanks to the pianist Claire Caldwell for adding flair to my Sibelius copy-and-paste dots & chord symbols.
Good luck Andrew!