Does that mean I can write off the expense of this Cruise by calling it a working vacation?
Going on a Disney Cruise is a bit of a sensory overload. There is so much to do, see, hear, taste, smell, and experience that it can be a bit overwhelming. I decided to concentrate in two areas: 1. Try to enjoy it all through my grandchildren's eyes and 2. Soak up as much of the fabulous Disney Magic in art, music and dance to possibly utilize later in my own productions.
The Cast Members (as the workers on board ship were called) tried their best to make our experience magical. They were always right there serving us. I think that because of COVID restrictions, there were many fewer guest passengers than normal. So, the Cast Members possibly had too little to do, and we reaped the benefits. They truly gave us the Red Carpet treatment.
Each evening our Host (the guy who took care of our rooms) made the most fantastic origami animals from our towels and left chocolates on our beds. The kids were delighted. Our wait staff people also did magic tricks and made the children origami animals folded to look like cranes, frogs, dolls, or even a plane that could drop paper bombs. One waiter even drew a sketch of my Grandson. (It was really quite good.) We had to socially distance so much, we hardly interacted with other guests. The Host and Wait Staff became our best friends on board. It was these personal touches that meant the most to us.
The shows we saw were excellent. I just felt so bad for the entertainers who were playing to socially distanced audience. If I had been on stage I would have thought that we were dead. But we were trying our best to laugh and clap and be a good audience. It's just not the same energy as when the house is packed.
I have to say, though, that I came away with a lot of great ideas about staging, choreography, costuming, scenic art, special effects, and even puppetry. Too bad I never have the matching budget to do all of the fantastic things Disney can do. Oh well, I can dream can't I.
I took along my sketch book and filled it with drawings. As a creative person, I was fighting a little to keep from being too discouraged seeing all of that top-notch art all around me. I decided I needed to get inspired instead. So, I took time to complete the storyboards for two new picture books.
Does that mean I can write off the expense of this Cruise by calling it a working vacation?
Autumn days. Fall colors. The crispness in the air. School starting for the kids. I have always loved the changes in the seasons.
I am happy to see that somewhere Elementary School Chorus must be happening. With the pandemic still heavily present among us, I have been happily surprised to see that some of my Fun Songs for Kids have still been purchased. I assume for Children's Choruses around the country.
The three big winners so far this Fall have been "Jingle Bells for 2-Part Children," "Let Kindness Begin with Me" and "For This is Halloween."
"Jingle Bells" has been a perennial favorite for years. That's not surprising. "Let Kindness Begin with Me" has such a timely message and is so fun to sing for Children's Chorus that it is not very surprising it has been chosen, either. But I am always amazed at how well "For This is Halloween" does every year.
"For This is Halloween" began as a little finger play song somebody showed me once. She didn't know where it came from. We were doing a big Fall Festival and needed various "booths" to entertain the masses in areas around the perimeter of the gym and in classrooms around the facility. She asked me if I could do a Singing Room.
I had to come up with a bunch of songs that could entertain small groups, young and old, for ten minutes at a time. The songs had to be short, fun, active, and Halloween themed (but NOT scary!). We sang this one and a few others like "We are Out to Scare You" that worked perfectly.
Then another year, I decided to use "For This is Halloween" in a Fall school chorus performance. I added some extra interludes and utilized paper puppets on sticks of Halloween characters for the kids to hold up. Turned out so cute and the kids loved singing it.
When singing the song "Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer," the members of my family might suddenly break into a surprising finish. You see, we grew up singing a Janie Thompson arrangement of that song. That means, it had a "Janie Ending." When you are lucky enough to grow up in a performing family, you really can't sing any song straight. It's gotta have all of the right stuff including the flashy ending!
What is a "Janie Ending" you ask? Well, growing up, I just knew that whenever my aunt Janie taught us a song to sing, it was so much more fun than the regular version we might sing in school or hear on the radio. Janie made a song magical. The songs always included a memorable ending, usually jazzy or flashy, or big or just awesome.
(No, we didn't always use jazz hands! ... Ok, sometimes we just had to! )
It wasn't until much later in my life that I learned that a "Janie Ending" had an actual Musical term: TAG ENDING. It really just meant that some musical ideas included in the song were extended or repeated with flourish to create a memorable finish. I learned that composers and arrangers commonly used them. That made sense to me and also gave me a few frustrations.
That's when I learned that the published version of a song will undoubtedly NOT include the fancy fun stuff that I expected, including a TAG ENDING. And the songs were regularly simplified for the piano and put in un-singable keys. So frustrating!
In her younger years, Janie, also, was frustrated that the printed piano music of songs she heard played on the radio were never anything like what she actually heard on the radio. She would listen intently over and over to the songs so she could replicate the "real" versions to accompany herself and others as they sang. This helped her become very skilled at playing for herself to sing. Later, she used those skills to create her own arrangements of popular songs. And true to form, she created many memorable TAG ENDINGS.
You may call them TAG ENDINGS, but we still call them "Janie Endings."
Here is another song with a jazzy "Janie Ending" Jingle Bells.
Over the years I have been quite aware that I haven't been as diligent in my study of Music Theory as I ought. Sure, I passed all of my classes in College, but I confess that my ear is faster than my brain. Where I have learned to write melodies and accompaniments that may use advanced devices, I have not had the patience to analyze these processes according to the formal language of Music Theory. For me, the music just has to sound right. I have been gratified however when I get flattering feedback that my music has genius. The approach may be a bit primitive, but the outcome sounds like I know what I'm doing. Hmm....that's a point to ponder.
Those of you who have studied the works of the Great Masters, do you also remember learning that they just wrote what they liked and many regularly broke the rules as they went along?
What a comforting notion. They wrote what they liked according to their understanding and sensibilities. Or in other words, they created music that sounded good to their ears regardless of what the academics said was correct.
Plenty of the great Masters surely had a wonderful command of the language of Music Theory. Still, some of the best music that has been passed down to us comes through musicians who couldn't personally even write it down. After all, music is a heavenly gift. Musicians have always made music throughout our long history. Music Theory developed along the way as a system to help musicians notate their music and let them communicate their ideas to others as well as preserve it for future generations. Music Theory is a language. It is not the music.
This holds true in the world of Musical Theater, too. Styles and fashions come and go. Composers are always looking for inspiration and who knows where that inspiration will take them.
Take the music of Alan Menken for example. In writing "Pocohantas," he clearly used influences from Native American instruments, motifs and tonalities. For "Beauty and the Beast," "The Little Mermaid," "Tangled," and others, he followed traditional American Musical Theater song forms such as the production number, soliloquy, love duet, novelty song, reprise, and finale to support plot development and resolution. For "Hercules," he used styles of American pop songs through the ages such as Gospel and 1960's rock and roll. That's just one prolific composer. There are so many other examples.
In writing my Children's Musicals, I have tried to hunt for musical inspiration that would best fit the stories. In "Stone Soup" I wanted music that sounded like the 1800's American Westward movement. Both "Momotaro" and "A Successor to the Throne" needed music using Oriental pentatonic tonality. For "Parizade's Quest," it had to have music that evoked ancient Persia. For "The Tale of the Three Billy Goats Gruff" I borrowed melodic motifs from Edvard Grieg. I researched Old English Pantomime circa 1600 and typical styles of Renaissance music especially Nursery Rhymes for "The Adventures of Dick Whittington." And, I took a page out of Alan Menken's playbook for "Never Cry Wolf" by using some pop music of the decades for inspiration even though the story is set in ancient Greece.
Don't think I ever once worried about Music Theory when writing these songs. My training and study shows, I suppose, but the music just had to sound right. Guess I am more primitive than genius level.
While my daughter and her family were visiting me this week, we exchanged a lot of ideas. They are very good at finding unusual (at least to Grandma) books and videos. I happened to be talking about one of my shows they might produce as a summer camp next year, and they said how similar that story is to a story that was referenced in a Japanese video they watched. I had said the musical was based on a famous Japanese folktale that is known in Japan as "Momotaro, the Peach Pit Boy." All their ears perked up and they said, "That's in 'My Neighbors, the Yamadas!'"
So, we had go directly to spend the afternoon watching some of the episodes. The animation is quite unique. It is beautifully simple art, quite impressionistic, almost like a comic strip. Cute stories and interesting music. The reference to Momotaro, though, was very brief. It was in an episode explaining how the couple got their two children. It was not the full story of "Momotaro."
When my youngest son was in Kindergarten, he brought home a book from the school library. It was the retelling of a Japanese folktale about a hero. When we read it that night, I was surprised that my little 5-year-old wiggle-wart listened with great interest to the entire book that had very few pictures. Then it occurred to me that this story would make a great Children's Theater piece.
At the time I was preparing to direct a Summer Theater Camp for the 5-8 year old group. I was having a hard time finding a musical that seemed right for our little group. We had a bunch of boys (very unusual for Children's Theater) ages 5-8 and even more girls, most of them very young. I needed a musical theater piece that would keep the attention of the boys and still have something lyrical and beautiful for the girls to love.
The story of Momotaro was perfect. It had a lot of mythical creatures in it as well as the central character that becomes a hero. I introduced it to the children as a SUPERHERO story, kind of like Jackie Chan and Tom Thumb rolled into one.
Tom Thumb because the parents got him in a very unusual way. And Jackie Chan because he defended his village against the evil demons by using Martial Arts.
Jackie Chan was a popular movie actor at the time who was known for his impossible martial arts stunts.
That was all it took to hook the boys. They got on board right away.
The boys loved doing the Martial Arts moves and the girls enjoyed the dances with ribbon wands and the fabric river. They all liked the fantasy feel of this interesting story. I am always amazed at how well this little show is accepted by the audiences.
Enjoy "Momotaro, a Tale of Bravery."
The sweetest thing happened yesterday. Little 4-year-old Avery, who was not actually in our little play, sang and danced the Chicken Family's song for me. She knew the actions and the dance moves, and stayed pretty close to all of the words and the tune. Her impromptu performance tickled my Grandma heart.
She had been to Camp because her mother was helping me, but she never really did any actual rehearsing. But after we dressed her in a cute little yellow costume with feathers around the hemline we couldn't keep her off the stage! She ended up following the little chicks around for the entire performance. Thank goodness her big sister (also a Chick) kept track of her and made sure she stayed in the right areas at least.
Our play, "The Tale of Chicken Licken" turned out so well. I have actually been getting some sweet Thank You notes from some of the cast members. They said how much fun they had during Camp and how much they miss coming. One girl even sent me a drawing she made of all of the cast members. It is so good I have it stuck up on my refrigerator.
We like to have extra activities during Camp for variety and provide time for the director to work with small groups. My daughter made sure the children had cute coloring pages and drawing activities. One of the older boys helped supervise the coloring group. It turns out that he was quite an artist. The project was to learn how to draw a fox, a chicken, a duck, a goose and a turkey. These are characters in our play. His demonstration drawing is also on my fridge. So glad the older kids were willing to help with the younger kids. What a terrific group of young thespians!
"I think my 3-year-old granddaughter has a crush on the Fox."
That's the kind of comment that is really appreciated in children's theater. I don't like to write scary stuff into my scripts. I don't want to scare the little children. So, this go around of Summer Theater Camp, I wrote an expanded part for the obvious "bad guy" where he actually becomes a sympathetic, and funny guy, and perhaps even a heart throb in the eyes of the audience. (After all, I modeled him after Elvis.)
Many years ago now, I was sitting in a darkened theater watching Disney's "Sleeping Beauty" with my 3-year-old sister. She was absolutely terrified by Maleficent and the Dragon. She hid her eyes and covered her ears and buried herself in my lap. I held her as tightly as I could to help her feel safe. To this day, I don't think she likes watching "Sleeping Beauty." Scary stuff, that.
Anyway, I wanted to make "The Tale of Chicken Licken" into a Family-Friendly comedy. So glad I did, and that the 12-year-old actor who played the Fox was so engaging and entertaining. One mom said, "That boy has LEADING MAN written all over him!"
Makes me happy to have delighted the audience with this revised show. Soon I will have this version with the new song available on the website.
Our Friday Dress Rehearsal was pretty dismal. The change in winds brought smoke to our valley that made doing anything outside uncomfortable and downright dangerous. I sent the children home admonishing them to stay indoors and pray that another change in the winds might blow the smoke away for our show today. AND IT DID!!!
Today we had a great show! The children came prepared and were very excited. The 140 people crowded into my backyard also brought a lot of energy and were such a wonderful audience. They clapped and laughed and cheered at all the right places. That helped the children give a very fun performance. It was our best show yet and we had NO TECHNICAL DIFFICULTIES!!! YAY!
Here are some of the pictures of this cute "The Tale of Chicken Licken" Summer Camp 2021 cast. We had a surprise guest artist in our show today. My little 4-year-old granddaughter just needed to be on stage. (She had been here all Camp because her mother was helping me.) So we dressed her in a yellow costume and told everyone she was a canary. See if you can pick her out on the front row. She did the whole show today and even followed a lot of the actions. (Pretty good for not really joining us for any rehearsing.)
I never imagined that one of my songs would be so appropriate for this 2021 Summer of the Olympics. And believe me, as these kids rehearse it, they put their hearts and souls into it --- just like they are going for the Gold!
The little song "Off to the Races" has truly become a hit tune. I have personally directed the show "The Tale of Chicken Licken" several times now, and each time "Off to the Races" emerges as the favorite song of the entire show. In fact, it is so popular that the other characters beyond the Duck Family (who were originally written to sing it by themselves) also demand to sing it in the show. This little song has become a full-blown production number.
Three 7 year old boys play the ducklings with their "parents," two 10-year-olds. They are a hard-working bunch. The boys have decidedly strong tendencies towards physical activity. They enjoy showing off the complicated exercise routine they are learning. One boy can even do push-ups with a hand clap in between. Unbelievable for a 7-year-old! Amazingly, they stick to it and don't complain about the heat or the humidity or how many times they have gone through their number. Way to go, Ducks!
During the 2014 Summer Theater Camp production, one mom told me this cute story. She said that her little 5-year-old daughter, one of the Chicks, was singing the "Off to the Races" song at home, but was having trouble remembering some of the words. The mom tried to help her.
"5K, 10K, or training for the big relay
Bia-tha-lon, Tria-tha-lon, or what the heck a Marathon.
1 - 2 - 3 - 4 GO--------------Ducks!"
Finally, the little girl turned to her mom and said, "I just can't remember the names of those dinosaurs."
Be assured this go around, we thoroughly explained the terms Biathlon, Triathlon, and Marathon. Olympic events. Not dinosaurs.
The Fourth of July fireworks can be so exciting --- especially for the very young or those very in love. I have witnessed firsthand some fantastic fireworks shows and what made them even more exciting was when I was there with the one I loved or I was at a new place experiencing the grandeur for the very first time. Okay, young lovers don't need a lot of help enjoying fireworks. They make their own!
I will never forget being on the Mall in Washington D.C. between the Lincoln Memorial and the Washington Monument one 4th of July in the mid 1970's. I was there visiting a friend who left her baby with her husband just so she could take me to see this once in a lifetime experience. We took the mass transit from her apartment and then walked the rest of the way (I thought it must have been 3-4 miles!). We had to crowd ourselves in with the masses of people who had had the same idea. But it was worth it!
Another memorable 4th of July was when I was performing in a children's trio on a show called "Panorama." My two aunts Janie and Dot Thompson were in charge of directing this huge community production held at the BYU stadium in about 1961. In those days, different Church Stakes were charged with making this show happen for the Provo City celebration. After the show, there were big fireworks. (That tradition is alive and well in today's Freedom Festival at Provo, UT and the Stadium of Fire.)
I remember three parts of that show when I was six years old.
The first was rehearsing with what seemed like hundreds of other children to make our entrance onto the stage. The band played "The March of the Siamese Children" as we came onto the stage and bowed to the audience. I think we were part of a panorama of recent hits from Broadway shows such as "The King and I."
The second part was being in the big finale number and singing the the first verse with Tanya and Cory with the solo spotlight just on us. Then, the number grew bigger and bigger to the grand finish and the standing ovation --- my first Standing "O." Okay, I was just a small part of the number, but it gave me legitimate bragging rights.
The third thing I remembered was that on the show just before our big finale number, a little known group called the Osmond Brothers performed. Later when they became famous, I still had the memory of upstaging them on that Panorama show.
Of course, the best part of any of these shows was being almost directly under the fireworks. I love looking up at the fireworks. It is still exciting to me. Unfortunately, it is harder and harder to get that coveted front row seat for the fireworks. I guess the best way is to be in the show.
My name is Betsy Bailey. I have sung, written and taught music all of my life. I enjoy writing and directing Children's Theater shows. This blog will be directed to topics on creating the magic of Children's Theater. I would love to hear your comments!