Artistic Project: Music for Dance, Dance Industrial Revolution
My name is Greer Baxter and I’m a 4th year TAPS minor from New York City. I was a creative writing major with a concentration in poetry and my primary artistic interest is songwriting. I’m a member of Off-Off Campus improv and sketch comedy group – here I also found a tremendous love for comedy and ensemble performing.
For my BA artistic project, I wrote the music for Off-Off Campus’s second original comedy musical. We wrote our first musical his past fall and I wrote the music for that one as well. After the success and tremendous joy in that experience, we decided we wanted to try again – taking what we learned from the first musical and challenging ourselves to do even better. I have been writing music since I was very young. It started as little jazz compositions on the piano when I was 5 and around age 14, I started writing pop songs and developing my lyric writing skills.
During the summers for 15 years, I attended and later taught at a musical theater workshop where I eventually wrote the closing numbers for the original musicals that we performed at the end of the 5 weeks. In college, I started writing more and developing my style in earnest. From the first brainstorming session where the group figured out the general theme, plot, and setting, I had about 3 weeks to write the music. When we decided on a musical with the main character being orphans working in an industrial revolution factory that makes labor manuals, I was presented with the task of making a subject matter that is not intuitively funny, funny through melody and lyrics. I knew I had to lean heavily on tropes of musical theater and of the specific topics at hand in order to make it campy enough to allow the audience to laugh. I also knew I had to make 6 completely distinct songs that were not reminiscent of the previous musical. This time was different for a number of reasons: I was involved in the book and lyric writing heavily from the start, and I had to come into each rehearsal with the melody of each song written. I played the group the melodies with “la de da’s” on top so they could envision how the lyrics would fit in, and from there we wrote the lyrics.
As far as the songwriting process for these songs, I typically started with a theme or a title. For each song, we discussed theme and buzz words and I took it from there. The opening song was to be about how the orphans working in the factory put up with absurd conditions without understanding just how ridiculous they were. I titled it “That’s Just How It Is” and wrote a melody from there. I wanted to make it somber and sardonic in melody. To do so, I used almost all minor chords and classic musical theater “walk-ups” on piano. This coupled with the incongruous lyrics was the clue that allowed the audience to laugh (and laugh they did!). The second song was the song where the orphans – for the first time ever – read the labor manuals and discover they are being mistreated, that orphans have rights, and that there’s a whole world out there waiting for them to explore. I wanted it to be punchy and upbeat. I started with the melody and sang the line “Hey, did you know?” on top which led us to the lyric pattern for the rest of the song: the orphans would keep asking each other if they knew x or y about orphans and factory worker rights. The song was called “I Never Knew” and the chorus lists all the things they never knew – some of it being misinformation and some of it being things everyone should know.