• Karen Pauley

Singing Sondheim: Week 8 of Sing Space Challenge

This week I worked on a 16 bar cut of Everybody Says Don't from ANYONE CAN WHISTLE as part of The Sing Space challenge. I have sung quite a few of Sondheim's songs, but I hadn't even heard this one before. ANYONE CAN WHISTLE was not a success as the original Broadway show closed after just 9 performances. The concept of the show does seem rather whimsical, telling the tale of a small American town where the mayoress decides to attract tourists by creating a fake miracle, and somehow these tourists become intermixed with inmates from a rest home for non-conformists.


Everybody Says Don't has been sung in concert and was made popular by Barbra Streisand, though I do find her version rather strange. The song is not easy to sing. It has the speed of a patter song and has some surprisingly tricky intervals to sing. I had to practice singing it a cappella to make sure that I was pitching the piece correctly as I didn't find that the accompaniment that helpful for finding the correct intervals. I was also singing it in the original key, that had been written for the male character Hapgood.


Given that the challenge happens over a week, and that it's something I'm dong in my spare time, it becomes quite obvious that Sondheim is not something you can tackle quickly. There are other styles of music that are much easier and I can easily learn to sing in a short space of time. Singing Sondheim is often compared to performing Shakespeare. I assume that's because both writers had a great understanding of the human condition, and both provide a lot of information in their pieces on how they should be performed. There are times when I don't like how precise Sondheim is his rhythms as I feel that he uses his scores to dictate how every note should be performed and that it might be nice to have left a little bit more freedom to the performer. That being said I also enjoy the complexity and the attention to detail needed to sing his music well.


One example of this detail is a mis-stressed word in the last line - You - which is marked in capitals in the score. Sondheim said:


Mis-stressing is a cardinal sin. I say with pride and sweat that I haven't committed that particular sin often, but "if YOU do them" is a blatant example of it, especially since it serves as the climax of the song. The accent in the musical phrase is on the word "if" while clearly the word that should be accented is "you". The verbal phrase, however, said exactly what I wanted to say and I could find no other way of saying it. -- Finishing The Hat, Collected Lyrics (1954-1981)


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