Georgia’s Blog

The Promise of Light

In addition to the musical theater tunes that probably led you to this site, there is, it turns out, other music of mine out in the world. When I was in high school I sang in my church choir. I had been the piano accompanist for various church choirs since I was fourteen, and I grew to be the accompanist at times for the chorus at my school, and ultimately for the All-State (Tennessee) choir festival, the TN Gay Men’s Chorus, and the Rye (NY) Country Day School choir on their international tours of Japan and Italy. I have been breathing choral music, especially sacred pieces, since I was a kid. Once I got to college I really didn’t have time to commit to being in a choir, and I found I missed it. I’m an okay singer on my own, but I’m great in an alto section.

I suppose it was inevitable that I would eventually start writing choral music, even though my main focus turned long ago to writing for the musical theater. Of course, there are huge amounts of choral writing in the work I do for the theater, and a basic understanding of the human voice is key in both disciplines. I have always said what interests me most as a writer is figuring out how to use music and text to convey an emotion or tell a story, and the abilities to do that exist in both fields.

I discovered the poet Christina Rossetti when I was a sophomore at Vanderbilt, and I loved her poems so much. She was so passionate, so soulful. She captured such a sense of longing and emptiness, yet managed to celebrate her spirituality, too. I set her poem “Echo” for women’s chorus that year in school and asked a bunch of my female voice-major friends to form a chorus to sing it on a recital for me. I didn’t realize at the time how hard it was, and even though in my ear it’s melodic and significant, the music I wrote at that point in my life doesn’t really bear any resemblance to the music I write now. I think in college we often write things that are difficult just because we feel we have something to prove.

A few years later I came back to Ms. Rossetti and I set another poem of hers, “A Better Resurrection.” My friend and colleague Reverend Jay Wegman, who was at the time serving at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine, said if I finished it he would program it, and I believe we premiered it on my 30th birthday in that most gorgeous space in New York City. Last year Walton Music published the sheet music and my career as a choral music composer was launched. You can hear a recording of the piece here.

Walton Music has just released their 2007-2008 catalog and included in their offering is a new choral piece I wrote with lyricist Len Schiff (a collaborator of mine from NYU grad school days). The piece is called “The Promise Of Light” and it was our attempt (after many tries) to write something secular and yet still reverent about the December holiday season. Here are Len’s beautiful lyrics, and you can hear a recording of the piece here.

AUGUST WAS YOUR SWEETEST MONTH,
BEAUTIFUL AND BRIGHT;
SEPTEMBER BURNED,
OCTOBER TURNED
INTO NOVEMBER’S NIGHT.
SO YOU WRAP YOURSELF IN WOOL AND DOWN
AND DECEMBER DONS HER MIDNIGHT GOWN
WITH A SNOWY CAPE AND A STARRY CROWN
AND YOU SETTLE IN FOR WINTER.

WINTER’S HEART IS COLD AND DARK,
BITTER AND SEVERE,
BUT WHEN THE SHROUDS
OF SNOW AND CLOUDS
DEPART, THE MOON IS NEAR.
AND YOUR FACE IS WASHED IN SILVER BEAMS,
THE SIDEWALKS SHINE LIKE FROZEN STREAMS
AND THE STREETLAMPS GLOW, AND THE CITY DREAMS…

SO BLOW WIND
AND FALL THE SNOW
YOU WILL WALK INTO THE NIGHT.
YOU’LL SPREAD YOUR ARMS
AND TIP YOUR FACE
TOWARDS THE GRACE AND THE PROMISE
OF LIGHT.

LONELY AS A PILGRIM
IN A COUNTRY FAR FROM HOME
LOOKING FOR SALVATION
IN A TOWN OF STEEL AND CHROME,
YOU NEED INDIGO AND VIOLET SKIES,
YOU NEED POOLS OF MOONLIGHT IN YOUR EYES
FOR THE SUN TO SET; FOR YOUR SOUL TO RISE.

AND SO YOU CLIMB
ON STREAMS OF FREEZING AIR
OVER TREES, OVER BUILDINGS
OVER CARE…

SO BLOW WIND
AND FALL THE SNOW
YOU WILL SOAR INTO THE NIGHT
YOU’LL SPREAD YOUR ARMS
AND SET YOUR COURSE
TOWARDS THE SOURCE AND THE PROMISE
OF LIGHT.

If you know of a choir that would enjoy working on this piece, the sheet music is available at sheetmusicplus.com.

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City On Fire


A few nights ago I sat in my living room and watched on TV a fire that was ravaging over 800 acres of land less than four miles from my house. Griffith Park was burning, and while I wasn’t one of the homes right on the perimeter of the park I could see the smoke billowing over the hills above my neighborhood. The smell in the air was reminiscent of old campfires where you used to sit around and toast marshmallows, and if you were lucky someone had brough a guitar and could actually harmonize with you. Only it was magnified by a thousand percent. And not nearly as pleasant. And there were not s’mores at the end.

I’m being flip, but in that scary evening I felt real panic. I now know that a fire’s burning through four miles of city streets is much more difficult than its burning through 800 acres of wild brush. I now understand that, dry though it is in this city right now, the fire would have had to jump a city freeway AND the LA river in order to get to my house. But in the wee small hours of that long night, I was making my list.

You don’t know until you’ve had to make it. But the question is: if you woke up in the middle of the night as someone banged on your door and told you to evacuate because your house was about to catch on fire, what would you take with you?

For, me there were only a few things. Grab the child. Grab the dog. Grab the laptop. In that order. If there’s another second, grab the passports and the birth certificates and the marriage license. If there is really time — an hour or two — there are pieces of original sheet music. Maybe some spare diapers, some bottles of water. Who knows how long we’ll be or where we’ll wind up? And, oddly enough, I thought I might need the cell phone charger because people would be trying to call and what if my cell phone died? And then… that was it. I looked around the house and I couldn’t think of anything else that we couldn’t replace or wouldn’t need immediately.

It was a shocking revelation. We are a country that rewards the accumulation of stuff. I can’t go on a trip without overstuffing a suitcase and worrying that maybe I’ve exceeded the baggage weight limit. And yet, when you really get down to it, it’s just stuff. Books. CDs. Baby’s toys. Exercise gear. Tables. Pots and pans. Clothes.

As midnight rolled around I turned off the TV (reluctantly), locked all the doors and fell asleep in my comfy bed. By morning, the fire was more or less under control and I felt silly that I had been so worried.

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It’s Not Easy Being Green

Here’s the first of many fun facts about me you probably didn’t know. I grew up in a solar house. My father is one of those guys who is good with figuring out how things work, and for about four years in the early eighties he built solar houses with his brother. They started this business together long before it was hip to be green. In the fifth grade I did my science fair project on something called “passive solar design” and I explained all these ways that you can build energy efficiency into the architecture of your house. There are really simple things you can do — like opening the blinds in the morning when the sunlight comes in and closing them at dusk so the day’s accumulated warmth stays inside — that take little effort but actually make a difference. I think I may even have won the science fair that year (which really says more about the lame projects other people did than anything else) and the concepts I outlined in my project have long stuck with me.

I want so much to be a “green” person. I watched “Planet Earth” on the Discovery Channel this week and it blew my mind. It’s not an overtly political show like Al Gore’s movie was; rather it focuses on observing and documenting the cycles of nature. Well, at least this one episode did. You all have probably seen more of this series than I have. In the first ten minutes of this particular episode there’s a scene where a baby caribou gets separated from the mommy caribou and winds up getting eaten by … what was it? … a wolf, I think. I was launched into hysterics. Mommies separated from babies? Babies getting eaten by wolves? It’s too much to handle. I declared myself a vegetarian (I’m not) and swore to start saving up for a hybrid car. This is a crazy world, people.

I’m not prone to these kinds of exaggerations, really. I tend to be very even. People often tell me that I seem calm, chill, balanced. A few nights later I even ordered a steak. But I can’t stop thinking about how little I’m actually doing to preserve what good there is left in the environment. Some comments, you guys — what do you do?

I said I wanted to include in these blogs some things every week that have caught my attention. So here ya go. A look inside the very distractable mind of Georgia Stitt.

1. GreenDimes. Yes, you have to pay to join, but it’s not super expensive and they take you off the mailing lists of all those annoying catalogs that you don’t want. Save a tree.

2. Sleeping Beauty Wakes is a show written by my friends in the band Groovelily and it’s the most moving, magical thing I’ve seen in a long time.

3. These are the best slippers in the whole world. Thanks to Barb who gave them to me as a gift a few years ago. Heaven.

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About Alice

I just finished reading the most amazing book called About Alice. Calvin Trillin has been a favorite author of mine since my friend Zack told me about him back when we were both in college. Zack is a writer, an intelligent and likeable guy from Memphis who ran with the same crowd I did in college. Even back then he had a subscription to the New Yorker and I found that incredibly impressive. Zack was a sportswriter for our school paper, and before long I found I had been talked into writing a column for that same paper. I wrote about musical things, usually. I interviewed George Crumb when he came to visit our campus and I made a pilgrimage to Chicago one spring break to a week-long seminar featuring John Cage as the distinguished guest. But in my column, which was truly an editorial in the “Perspectives” section, I also wrote weekly about sorority life or campus politics or interesting people I encountered in the cafeteria. Back in the days before everyone was blogging, I enjoyed having the chance to write about whatever was on my mind. People read my columns, too. I recall once a professor of mine pulled a folded up square of newspaper out of his wallet and quoted my own words back to me. He was challenging me on a point I was trying to make, but what I remember about that moment was that he read my writings even when he didn’t have to.

I loved working in the newsroom among people I suspected would go on to do it for a living. Many of them did. I knew my calling was elsewhere but I really savored the twice-weekly deadines and the general camaraderie of that room. The honest truth is that I think I learned more about writing from that group of my peers than I did in any English class along the way.

I sat on my couch this afternoon reading Calvin Trillin’s shockingly moving book (which should only take an hour or two, it’s such a compact little thing) and twice found myself sobbing. Maybe it’s because I’m a mother now and I look at the world so much through the eyes of children. Maybe it’s because I savor the eloquent and precise ways Trillin puts words together to portray a marriage so intimiate and so nurtured. Maybe it’s because my own husband is out of town and I know he was moved by the book when he read it a few weeks ago. (At the risk of being way too narcissistic, read his blog entry here and tell me you aren’t bowled over, too.) All I know is I can’t recommend it highly enough. How lucky we are.

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Home Calls

Two years ago my husband and I moved to Los Angeles from New York. People ask me all the time why we made such a change, and sometimes I, too, find myself wondering. There seems to be so much more work for me in NY. I have a large circle of friends there, not to mention my collaborators. Mother, mother-in-law, and even mother-like friends are all on the east coast. It’s maddening how much I ache for the relationships I spent years in New York nurturing that now seem like buttons hanging tentatively off a favorite old coat. And yet, after having spent a busy and exciting month in New York, I am so grateful to be home.

Two years ago we packed everything from our apartment and two storage units into a moving van and sent it west. It took three weeks longer than we expected for the van to arrive in sunny Southern California, and by the time our boxes showed up I was so far into my pregnancy that I wasn’t allowed to lift any of them. Slowly we unpacked, making sure the nursery was set up first, and of course the baby arrived well before the house felt ready. But we did it; we made a home. Our first. We built a studio — a dream room that has a grand piano and shelves and shelves of music — which was something we never could have afforded in New York. We bought cars. We got insured. We built a deck.

This morning my daughter, now 18 months, and I spread ourselves out on a blanket in the back yard and I decided to pull some wild grasses up from the flowerbeds. She’s in a phase where she repeats everything I say, so I was teaching her words — “rock” and “dirt” and “weeds.” (She also really likes to say the word “cheese” which is part of how I know she’s actually mine.) We found a roly poly in the mud. She picked him up with her tiny fingers and dropped him on the ground. As expected, he collapsed into a ball. A few seconds later, she squealed with delight as he found his legs and scurried back off under a rock, and I thought, well, this is just it, isn’t it? A lazy hour or two with a baby and a roly poly in your own back yard on your little plot of earth. That’s the American dream. That’s home.

In my writing I find I come back to the concept of “home” over and over again. When I started writing my show The Water, I brought several questions to my collaborators. “What is it about a place that draws people back to it even after destruction? Why do people risk everything to live in areas that are inherently dangerous — coastlines, faultlines, fire-zones, hurricane zones? What makes people leave, and what makes them come back?” We’re working on answering those questions, at least for the sixteen characters in that show.

I’m learning that for me, I need a little bit of both. I need the professional thrill of the work I do in NY, and I’ll happily keep returning for opportunities that excite me. But I’m so grateful for my home, my little haven of quiet in the sunshine where my child can dig in the dirt and I can take a minute to mend the buttons on my coat.

Georgia

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