Monday, February 13, 2017


I JUST FINISHED listening to Stephen Sondheim give a young Jaye Griffiths instruction on how to execute the song, "Send In The Clowns."

Great stuff.

Sondheim focuses on the role of each word in the lyric. Each word having the function of revealing the emotional state of the character, as well as serving to evoke emotion from the listener. One word in the line serves multi faceted functions. One word provides information about the interaction between the environment, the character and the listener.

I recognize Sonheim's purpose here, because it is similar to how I craft narratives. In a narrative, I may have a choice of stating, "It brings a tear to my eye." The fear is that this colloquial expression, may have lost its evocative power by being reduced to a sterile cliché.

The alternative expression would be, "I was nearly brought to tears..." In crafting the narrative sentence, of course, it is not intended to portray the narrator as crying. The act of crying would literally reach a resolve. Crying is resigning to a conclusion. It is the final episode of an emotional wellspring, boiling in an event that the narrator seeks to avoid. The continued boiling of emotions, the description of being on the edge of resolve, evokes a more powerful response from the reader, than it would be to conclude the episode with the act of crying.

Sondheim and I have the same eye in our understanding of the critical function of each word in a narrative or in lyrics to a musical.

Now do not jump all over me, accusing me of being presumptuous by equaling myself to Stephen Sondheim. The fact is that I am a demonstrated genius, who speaks on topics in which genius is based.

In other words, patronize me here, if you feel more comfortable.

In the video clip, Sondheim focuses on Jayes' interpretation of the word, "WELL...maybe next year." Sondheim explains that in song, the word 'Well" should be an "angry separation." Exclaiming in song,
"WELL..." and then coloring the expression, "maybe next year."

These are very subtle literary and lyrical skills to acquire. They require keen insight into language, linguistics and concepts in linguistics.

But, ultimately these are skills which distinguish great work from the very good work of others.
Ray Oliver
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Stephen Sondheim teaches a student from the Guildhall School of Music, London a fragment of 'Send in the Clowns'

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