Why am I starting this blog? Did I really have this great need to share my views on the arts in general, music and theater in particular, and my own experience in creating music theater very particularly? Um, actually no, I’ll admit I didn’t have that desperate desire but had and still have rather more ambivalent feelings about writing a blog. However I have a hunch that may change as I dive in to the wild woolly world of “blogging”.
So what gives? Well, I’ll admit outright there are ulterior motives besides “expressing” myself on the www. I am planning to produce a showcase of my most (terrifyingly) ambitious musical “Speakeasy” next year, and it occurred to me that a blog may be a good way to talk about the show and create interest and an audience for it. Then my co-producers basically said, yes you have to do this (and for a while I started backtracking and felt like Michael Keaton in Birdman mumbling something about wanting to just focus on the work and shouldn’t people other than me talk about it and then Emma Stone shouts at me about getting on social media or else I or the work don’t even really exist, and it doesn’t matter anyway, because we are all going to die… OK, I digress, and I need to see that movie again, because I’m sure I have just grossly misrepresented something). Anyhow…
God forbid this is just a blog about “my great new musical – y’all come see it next year, dates to be announced…” How about we expand beyond that, and create something more interesting? People who meet me at dinner parties or some such social gatherings tend to be genuinely interested in my work as a composer, and so me sharing some idiosyncratic stories about music and theater and the arts, from a very personal perspective, might make for an enjoyable way to give and partake on the internet.
I should introduce myself (about time, right, it’s the fourth paragraph already; although, let’s face it, the first readers and maybe always only readers of this are my family and friends who don’t need the introduction): I am a composer of over a dozen theatrically produced musicals and other works. I am many other things too, an actor, a writer, a musician, a director, a producer, a teacher, a whole laundry list of artistic pursuits all of which will likely figure into the writing of this blog. I am also an American who grew up in Germany; I am proud of being an “American Mutt”: part Jewish, part Finnish, part Russian, part Austrian, throw in some Hungarian and some colonial stock and a very small but dearly cherished part Cherokee and you can imagine that I boast a nicely diverse DNA pie chart, well, at least for a Caucasian. I’m also a middle-aged (OK, that I hated typing out), bisexual man married to a lovely man named Ed. We’ve been together 22 years, 18 of them at the same address in Brooklyn, New York. All these bits and more will inform this blog, but first and foremost it will all come back to music, and me being a composer. That will be the main focus of this blog, my experience as a composer, my perspective as a composer, my love of music.
My musical “Speakeasy” will easily take up the greater share of blog entries, at least at the start. It is not the only musical I have written and not the only project I am currently working on, but it will definitely take up most of my energy and focus as I work to ready a showcase production of this rather massive show for next year. Its subtitle should give you an idea what it is about and why there might be so much to say about it: “Speakeasy – the Adventures of John and Jane Allison in the Wonderland”. Yes, our setting is Prohibition, the Roaring Twenties, and yes, it is a riff on Alice and Wonderland, except we have two Alice’s: John and Jane Allison. And less obviously stated, yes, we will be exploring unusual, fantastical realms based in historical fact: the New York Queer subculture of the late 1920’s, early 1930’s.
I usually have no problem getting people interested and excited about “Speakeasy” just by simply mentioning the title and subtitle and describing the basic premise. If we were talking about it, say, at a dinner party, an interesting conversation would be guaranteed. In fact, there is so much to talk about and so many interesting directions to take the conversation, about the history, the music, the story, the sex(!), I could go on forever and given the opportunity I would and though I am generally polite enough to let you get a word in edgewise, I would still probably totally wear you out with all I have to say.
But in this blog, I can take all the interesting bits and bobs about Speakeasy, and about my personal history as a composer, and my personal musings on music and theater and media, and serve them in (hopefully) fun and engrossing little blog posts, with music and pictures and video files and whatnot. I will try to be the interesting dinner party guest who has some unique, enjoyable stories to share. But in cyberspace you needn’t feel trapped by not being able to leave your seat at the dinner table; I won’t wear you out, because you can listen in at will, when you want, for how long you want, and also respond in the comments sections if you like. And so, like at a good dinner party it may even become a really scintillating conversation.
My posts will be organized in several categories. “The Speakeasy Chronicles”, about my musical Speakeasy; “Beginnings”, about my formative experiences as a composer; “Melodies Linger On” where I share personal musings on musical cultural touchstones; “The Teaching Artist” about my work teaching, specifically getting kids to compose and write their own musicals. And as the blog develops, additional categories will surely be added.
So even if “Notes from a Composer” comes into existence because it is (to put it crassly) part of a marketing plan for a musical showcase, before I even post the first piece I am hoping to make it something more: a place to be part of the artistic process, with personal stories and thoughts on composing, with unique perspectives on music and theater and teaching and the arts. A forum offering insight into one artist’s work and idiosyncratic reactions to shared cultural milestones.
PS: You can follow me on Twitter (Ashkenasi@DannyAshkenasi). My co-producers insisted I start tweeting and so I have been having fun exploring that particular world of social outreach and commentary. After two months and approx. 170 tweets I amassed a staggering 12 followers. 12. Yes, that’s twelve… I have written more musicals than I have managed to attract twitter followers…