3. Create One New Thing Every Week
When I was 15, I was obsessed with Taylor Swift, along with every other girl my age at that time. I was sure I was going to follow in her footsteps and become the next big country singer/songwriter. Though I had to humble myself and let that dream die, writing songs became a hobby and also a type of diary in which I wrote about whatever was going on in my life.
Being a fan of musical theatre as well, I have always wanted to write a complete musical. I decided to start where composing greats, Pasek and Paul, started: with a song cycle; a cohesive repertoire of songs centered on a theme. For a while, I have been entertaining the idea of writing a song cycle based on adoption, and the joy and change, and sometimes hardships, that brings to families. Adoption has changed my family in a very positive way, and so this brainstorming process was very exciting for me.
I recently was privileged to attend a songwriting masterclass with Alan Menken (perks of just having moved near DC). Alan Menken is one of my favorite composers. He basically wrote the soundtrack to my childhood, composing songs for Disney’s Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and so many more, kick-starting what has become known as the Disney renaissance. In his talk, he mentioned that his brainstorms starts by deciding where the song moments in a story will be; when the character can no longer explain what they feel in prose. Before lyrics or tune, a song title is often the first thing he creates. Menken also mentioned that he also thinks of other songs that accomplish the same tones he is trying to convey.
Following his advice, this week’s “Create One New Thing Every Week,” is a song list with a small description and a Spotify playlist I created with songs for inspiration. Enjoy:
Song Cycle Inspiration, a playlist by Lydia Riddle on Spotify
Song Number 1: March 29th
Description: Opening song describes what the mother’s life is like before the adoption. It plays between what she wanted it to be like and what it is actually like. She had made a 10-year plan on her Google calendar. Graduate college, get a job, meet a man, get married (on March 29th; the perfect day for a wedding), buy a house, have three children (does she already know their names?), buy a lake house with a boat. Her real life is much different. Single, a little lonely, commutes on the metro. Happy and busy, but maybe pointless, going through motions. Something is missing. Keep coming back to that date. It’s important to her; because it was supposed to be.
Song Inspiration: “Anybody Have a Map” — Dear Evan Hansen, “Just Another Day” — Next to Normal, “If You Knew My Story” — Bright Star, “I Hope I Get” — Chorus Line
Song Number 2: Love is Impatient
Description: Maybe this song is about the Mother choosing her daughter, the way my Mom and Dad had to choose my brother. What does it mean for love to be something you choose to do? What things will have to change in her life?
Song Inspiration: “I Choose You” — Sara Barailles, “What Baking Can Do,” — Waitress, “Everything Changes” — Waitress
Song Number 3: Waiting Room
Description: Right before meeting her daughter, the Mother is confronted with everything that could go wrong. What if she isn’t ready? Maybe her daughter is lactose intolerant and all she knows how to make is mac and cheese and grilled cheese? What does the waiting have to do with it? Don’t we all think of the worst things that could happen in waiting rooms? Don’t waiting rooms drive us crazy? Who else is in the waiting room? Maybe she comments on how perfect they look haha? Any other single people?
Song Inspiration: “Nothing Short of Wonderful,” — Dogfight, “Getting Married Today” — Company, “I Can Do Better Than That” — Last Five Years
Song Number 4: She Cried the First Time She Saw Me
Description: Often, the moment of meeting the child is not what is expected. What is expected is love and care. What is usually the case is tears and grief. What would it feel like if the child you had been loving and waiting for just wanted to GET AWAY from you? But what is the beauty of the first time you get to comfort your child? What do the orphanage caretakers feel as they hand the child over and the child reaches to be with them, but they cannot take the child back? The first verse is sung by the mother, but the second by the orphanage caretaker who reminisces of the first time she met the child.
Song Inspiration: “Be Here Long,” — Need To Breathe, “Through Smoke,” — Need to Breath, “Stones Under Rushing Water” — Need to Breathe, “Asheville” —Bright Star
Song Number 5: Just Me and You
Description: On the airplane. They start life together. Happy and Bouncy; perhaps a waltz.
Song Inspiration: “For Baby (Bobby)” — John Denver, “Carolina in My Mind,” — James Taylor, “Suddenly,” Les Miserables
Song Number 6: Fit
Description: Daughter begins to realize she looks different after an elementary school assignment asking for her weight when she was born, and her mother cannot give it.
Song Inspiration: “Superboy and the Invisible Girl,” — Next to Normal, “Requiem” — Dear Evan Hansen
Song Number 7: First Steps
Description: Maybe this takes place at the daughter’s first soccer game. Her mom reminisces that although she didn’t see her daughter’s first steps or first word, but she does get to see her first soccer goal, her first time riding a bike without training wheels, her first flip off of the diving board, all things she taught her how to do. How much pride there is in this! Fast forward as she realizes all the other things she will one day see her daughter do! She will graduate. Maybe get married or buy her first house. She’ll need things for that house. Kitchen utensils. Find magic in the mundane things.
Song Inspiration: “When I Grow Up” — Matilda, “Son of Man,” — Tarzan
Song Number 8: Moving out, Moving in
Description: As daughter moves to college, mother feels weight of loss and loneliness settle in again. She reflects on how her life has changed since her daughter came, besides the boy band posters that now hang in her house. The daughter also begins to feel lonely at school and wonders if she will fit in. Perhaps there is a reprise or allusion to “Just Me and You.”
Song Inspiration: “Sun is Gonna Shine Again,” — Bright Star, “Leaving On a Jet Plane” — John Denver
Song Number 9: An Assignment on Culture
Description: The daughter either writes a paper or gives a speech about her cultural background. She talks about her mother, living in a single parent home, leading a normal American life. She feels something lacking in that she never learned about her Chinese cultural background.
Song Inspiration: “Corner of the Sky” — Pippin, “I’m Not That Girl” — Wicked, “When Your Mind’s Made Up,” — Once
Song Number 10: I’m Your Mother, Not Your Friend
Description: Mother and Daughter disagree when Daughter expresses wishes to find out more about her birth mother. Mother doesn’t want to dampen Daughter’s hopes but wants her to know this is highly improbable. This enrages Daughter. Mother feels hurt she would want to find out about another mother when she has raised Daughter all her life.
Song Inspiration: “Why Stay/A Promise” — Next to Normal, “Good For You” — Dear Evan Hansen
Song Number 11: What’s Wrong with Me
Description: The daughter finally deals with feelings of abandonment, wondering what is wrong with her, that her mother left her. Her mother comforts her
Song Inspiration: “She Used to Be Mine” — Waitress, “I Had a Vision” — Bright Star
Song Number 12: Red Thread
Description: On a joint trip to China, they find an old proverb about the red thread and sing about their mismatched family, but how they were providentially meant to be together.
Song Inspiration: “O Love That Will Not Let Me Go,” — Indelible Grace Music, “We Will Feast in the House of Zion,” — Sandra McCracken