As a composer I was trained in Classical music. What does that mean? Form, counterpoint, strict harmony and rules, rules, rules. Because I'm a bit obsessive-compulsive and somewhat tight-assed about order and organization, I took to it like nobody's business. It was like being an architect, building from the foundation up and being careful to install the plumbing in a way that made sense while creating something of beauty. No one wants to see the plumbing, one only wants it to work.
Now that I'm working on a musical, I'm having to drop a lot of my training and it isn't easy. You see, my education succeeded in inserting a very large cork up my creative backside and I'm having to work very hard at dislodging it. I keep telling myself, "Be huge! Be bigger than life! Go over the top!" and other such things. What works in the concert hall will not work on the stage.
Traditionally, women composers (I can't believe we still say this; do we still say women doctors or women lawyers?) have been taught to lay low, to write "feminine" music, music that is not bombastic, bold, or in any way sounds like the music that men compose. It has gotten better, of course, but the attitude can still be felt; a lot of people think that women composers are messing around with something that belongs to men and that it's, well, just not as good or as interesting. The thing is, there have always been women who compose music. From Hildegard von Bingen in the 12th century to modern composers like Vivian Kubrick, we have been around, holding our own in a male dominated field, working twice as hard to receive half as much recognition.
Music composition is one of the last bastions of male supremacy. Think about it. When was the last time you saw one of those little white composer busts that was of a woman? I only bring this up to illustrate how easy it was for me to sit quietly at my piano writing "polite" music. Now, however, I am being forced to shed my proverbial cocoon and come out dancing with top hat and cane, with huge gestures and a belting voice. It's a lot of fun. No wonder men have been doing this for so long. This having fun concept is proving to be the most important lesson I'm learning, in fact. What? Composition can be fun? It has always been rewarding for me, even addictive, but fun? Ummm...
As I'm writing this musical, I'm pulling all the stops as it were and rising above my training and education. I'm turning off my mentor's voice and going for the laughs and the applause. Opera is about bowing to the altar of music, while the musical is about bending it into all kinds of absurd shapes and having fun. Composing opera is all about beauty and tradition, about the music; composing a musical is all about entertainment and the audience.