Stephen Sondheim at the Festival Hall

It was a rare treat to have had the opportunity to hear Stephen Sondheim in conversation with Jude Kelly at the Festival Hall.  There was a fever of excitement from the packed auditorium as we sat to listen to the words of this funny, endearing and very brilliant man.

Out of the unhappiness of his parents divorce at the age of eleven he discovered a new world with the Hammersteins, a world that changed his, and our lives, for good. He was very clear that although he discusses the work of other songwriters, he does not dish the dirt much and really only says harsh things about himself and people who are dead! He is a very harsh critic of himself, and through his own lyric analysis you discover what it is that really makes a song work.  I left with my signed copy of his book "Finishing the Hat" - his generous words about songwriting to be passed on to us all.

He tells us that there are only three principles necessary for a lyric writer:
Content Dictates Form
Less is More
God is in the Details

and these are all in the service of
without which nothing else matters.

His book is the story of his life through his songs, a scrapbook of pictures and manuscripts, an autobiography, and a detailed analysis of the structure of how songs are made.  I particularly like his notes to us, which are scattered throughout the book, written as the teacher talking to his pupil.  Here is one I rather liked:

"*Curiously enough, rhymes whose endings are spelled differently (for example, "rougher/suffer") are more interesting than those which are spelled the same ("rougher/tougher"), not only to the eye but to the ear, perhaps because the brain subliminally sees them in print and is therefore more surprised when they come along.  "Weary" and "bleary" are a less effective pair than "weary" and "eerie" or even "weary" and "leery," not to mention "weary" and "hara-kiri."


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