THE WRITER’S BLOCK: More Than Just Sundays
Every time I have performed an evening of my music, I am inevitably asked the same questions:
“What is that from?”
“Why did you write that song?”
“What did you write first, the music or the lyrics?”
“What’s your bank account number?”
Well, the last one only happened once…… But the point is…people ask questions.
So, it hit me. What about a monthly blog that would spotlight one composer discussing one of their songs? The purpose would be to give the viewers of this site some inside information about why a certain composer wrote a certain song – after all, they might be the ones singing the songs in the first place. This might be especially helpful if the songs aren’t from specific shows, but rather exist as stand alone pieces. Even providing a link to the video and sheet music if the reader so desires to check it out. Frequently, performers tell me how helpful it is to have communication with the composer, to gain insight on what it is that the composer intended, so I thought it might be fun to have a place to do that here.
Considering it is a new idea, I’m going to go through one of my own first, and then next month, talk to a different composer. I‘m going to start with a song that I get asked quite a lot about: “More Than Just Sundays.” To give it a bit more structure, rather than randomly giving anecdotes, I am going to structure it around 4 basic questions which, when elaborated on, could help a singer interpret any piece.
- Who? (Who is the character that the composer had in mind?)
- What? (What is this person singing about…what is the character doing?)
- Where? (Where did the composer envision the character being?)
- Why? (Why, was the song written?)
- How? (Talking about the process of writing the song itself)
Monday morning, I could still smell your cologne,
as I lay in bed alone.
Tuesday morning, I wondered how you’d slept,
and if your promise had been kept.
When Wednesday came, I found myself debating,
should I call or go on waiting?,
Hating where my mind began to go.
No, I’d wait for next Sunday.
I’d wait to have one single afternoon.
I hide as I’m told to, til my turn to hold you,
but once the day is through, there is nothing else to do,
except wait for next Sunday, with you.
Thursday evening, I paced up and down the hall.
I barely slept at all.
By Friday morning, I was convinced you’d reconciled,
maybe not for her, but for your child.
If she smiled at you and tempted you to stay,
would you say “No, it has to be this way?”
Should I wait for next Sunday?
Should I wait to have that single afternoon?
Do I believe what I’m told to, unable to hold you?
Afraid of who I’d be,
if I let myself break free?
Would you wait for next Sunday for me?
I’m not asking for the world.
I know you have a beautiful life. With your loyal, loving, trusting wife.
Should I be thinking of her?
Or how you said you never were in love?
Am I wasting my time, accepting that I’m a distraction,
an amusing attraction.
Or am I something more?
Someone worth changing your life for?
Because I can’t keep on going for years without knowing where I stand?
It’s a life that I had never planned.
It’s Saturday, and at last the week is ending.
Should I go on pretending, or tell you what I’ve never said before?
I need more….
I want more than just Sundays.
More than just one single afternoon.
I’m through with the crying, the waiting and lying.
The questioning what is true.
It will no longer do.
I want more than just Sundays……..
So there will be no more Sunday’s.
He’s youngish – 20’s or 30’s. I’ve always seen the character as a bit innocent. Not necessarily naïve, but not a jaded person either. Someone who is insecure, scared, and very much in love. There is a vulnerability that the character has, but existing just underneath is a layer of strength. I think it’s that inner battle between vulnerability and strength that carries him through the song.
In a nutshell, the character is finally deciding to love himself enough to break free. This song ended up having a pretty large arc from the beginning until the end. The character is dealing with a major decision, and only after weighing all of the options can a decision be made. But if I were to answer the dreaded but inevitable question that any musical theatre teacher would ask…”Don’t tell me what the song is about, tell me what you are DOING?”…The answer I would give would be that the character is convincing himself that he is strong enough to make a difficult choice.
When I was writing this song, I pictured this character sitting alone in his room, or apartment, or house, and staring out a window. Because it starts on a Monday morning, I saw sunlight streaming through an empty room. It’s tricky, though, because when I think about the entire song, I see a few different locations throughout…. but THAT is why directors exist. I guess that is the beauty of musical theatre: one person’s idea may not be someone else’s interpretation, and no matter what the original intention was, what ends up being most important is the way in which the performer connects to it.
About four years ago, I was having brunch with a friend of mine. She was in a bad place, because she was in love with a married man. I just listened and let her talk. The more she talked, the more determined she became to make a change. Sometimes familiarity is even stronger than love. So, lunch continued, and we then started talking about how she could only see him once a week on the weekends because of his family. At one point she looked at me and said, “I don’t know… I just know that I need more than Sundays.” (Now, if you are a writer, you will understand what I’m about to say.) On one hand, I wanted to be there 200 percent as a friend, listening. On the OTHER hand, I couldn’t stop thinking about how beautiful More Than Just Sundays struck me as a hook. All I could think about was grabbing a pen and writing it down before I forgot. I refrained and gave her my undivided attention…but then she had to use the restroom. Perfect! So I wrote it down. I kept it in my journal as an idea for a year, and then I was finally inspired to write it. I was doing a concert of my music and I was determined to have a new song for it, so it was good motivation to finally write this song. Sometimes I need to set self-imposed goals for myself; otherwise, I would always find an excuse not to do something. When I started to write it, I was writing for a woman to sing it, but as it evolved I thought that it would be really interesting if the character singing the song were a man. I thought it would put a unique spin on it. So, with that, More Than Just Sundays happened.
My process is always different (and this is why I am so interested to hear other writers describe their process, because I know I am still figuring mine out). With this particular song, I had the title first. Knowing that was a hook I was going to use, I just spent some time finding the way I wanted the character to sing it – the character’s voice that would naturally lead into the next thought. Once I found something I was happy with, I spent a few days writing the story. That is always the most fun for me. It takes awhile, but it is always fascinating to watch a song start to happen. Moving words around until they say exactly what you want in exactly the way you need them to. That’s the hope, anyway. I remember that with this song, once the lyric was done, it didn’t change. The melody definitely came from the lyrics on this one.
Suggestions to a singer:
Even though everything I have said were my thoughts at the time, it doesn’t mean it is the ONLY answer. I firmly believe you have to make a song your own, and connecting to a song is the most important thing. I would also say that even though I talk about why I wrote the song, and the fact that it is a male character, that DOESN’T mean a female can’t sing it. I think the song works both ways. The song is fairly long so you have to make sure that the arc carries through the whole piece. Keep the focus on the story. The notes are there, and aren’t going anywhere. Let the words be the focus, rather than trying to over sing the song.
Okay, thanks for reading and next month I will ask another composer to do the same thing with one of their songs!
Performed by Joshua Dixon at Birdland on 10/31/2011