The Lyricist’s Corner with David Brush – The Aviatrix
By DAVID BRUSH
THE LYRICIST’S CORNER
A bi-weekly post where we celebrate, break down, learn from and engage with a NEW lyric from the body of 10glo writers and beyond. Twice a month, we will dissect a new MT lyric and work through what makes it tick and what we can learn about the artform and ourselves.
For this week “Lady Bird” from the new musical The Aviatrix
Music By: Casey O’Neil, Lyrics By: Lily Dwoskin
The Aviatrix, told by all femme voices, follows Harriet Quimby, the first American woman to get her pilot’s license and the first woman in the world to fly across the English Channel. We follow Harriet as her constant drive to achieve greatness overtakes her relationships, including her friendship with fellow aviatrix, Matilde Moisant. With a contemporary pop and jazz score, The Aviatrix shares Harriet Quimby’s legacy with a new audience and sings the story of this forgotten American hero. In “Lady Bird”, Harriet sings as she is preparing to take her famous flight across the English Channel.
Lyric sheet can be downloaded here.
First and foremost – the story of ANY aviatrix in musical theatre is far too rare! (In fact, one of the reasons I am so drawn to this lyric is that I am also working on a show featuring an aviatrix.) It’s a fascinating and too often unsung niche of our history.
“Lady Bird” serves in many ways as a personal mantra for Harriet. For this reason, Dwoskin was very intuitive to include repeating phrases like “point straight ahead”. The lyric wastes no time in placing the audience exactly in the middle of a moment. We assume our heroes never struggle with decisions, personal achievements or history-making endeavors. Musical Theatre allows us to explore those moments in ways our history books never can. We are invited into private moments otherwise shielded from the public. This alone can shed light on characters we might not otherwise have (Think “On My Own” from Les Miserables). This may be the greatest tool in a lyricist’s arsenal.
Many pilots will tell you that the relationship with their plane is personal – much like a jockey and a horse. They traverse the skies together – and in this piece, Dwoskin immediately personifies the aircraft in a way that places the audience in the cockpit – not on the ground below. This is key to musical theatre lyric writing. MT happens in the current moment. It is far less exciting to hear what you felt yesterday than it is to hear what you feel RIGHT NOW. The audience can sympathize with yesterday, but we’d prefer to move beyond sympathy to something akin to sharing the experience. Lyrics “of the moment” are the ones that work. (Think “Telephone Wire” from Fun Home).
From a structure perspective – the best advice I ever received was that yes – there are rules – but like most things in life – knowing them is what allows you to break them. The scansion of this piece is endlessly unpredictable – perfectly capturing Harriet’s own feelings at a moment of potential greatness. A standard, easily-defined scan would have been less effective but instead, Dwoskin allows Harriet’s voice to sing with an exciting uneven-ness that better expresses her current emotional state. She recognizes the struggles (“the presence of dangers/the scoffing from strangers”) but moves forward – maybe not despite them, but perhaps because of them. THAT is something we can all root for.
Set against O’Neil’s lush score (and Tanisha Moore’s stunning vocal interpretation), the lyric takes on a new strength. And as the piece arrives to its stunning conclusion, the stage is set for a literal and figurative flight. Historical musicals are always fighting against the truth that at anytime I can Google what happened, so what O’Neil and Dwoskin have done here is allow us into the stuff of the margins – the Google-free truth of living that experience.
THE MOMENT I WISH I HAD WRITTEN
“A mile from Earth / an inch from Death” – Genius line!
If you want to submit your lyrics please follow the steps below:
STEP 1: Create an account and post a video of your song on 10glo.com.
STEP 2: Submit your song and lyric via Twitter with the message “hey @brushetc – please read my lyric!” (and be sure to sure to add #10glolyrics to be considered).
Selected entries will be featured on 10glo News as David Brush – host of The 10glo Show podcast and MT lyricist – breaks down your words and honors the work, the “shine, the bubble, the rise and the fall” that make lyrics the driving energy of the MT experience.
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