Featured Five, Vol. 15 – Time Does Not Bring Relief

This blog is a part of The Directory of Contemporary Musical Theatre Writers, found online at www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com.

While scrolling through our ever increasing catalog of music on ContemporaryMusicalTheatre.com, David and I realized we had four songs all with the same title: “Time Does Not Bring Relief.” Coincidence? No. Turns out all four songs were written as assignments — 3 for the NYU Tisch Graduate Musical Theatre Writing program, and another for a summer program at the Mannes School of Music. They all set a sonnet by poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, to music. Here is the sonnet:

time does not bring relief

Leonard Bernstein famously said, “To achieve great things, two things are needed: a plan, and not quite enough time.” We asked our four featured writers to tell us about their process:  How did they approached scoring this rich poetry, and what is it like to write “on assignment.”

And yes, dear readers, this “Featured Five” has only four. We owe you one!

Time Does Not Bring Relief

Music by: Carmel Dean
Lyrics: From a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Perfect for: High Belt/Mix
 
 

I wrote “Time Does Not Bring Relief” for my application to NYU back in 2001. Over the next decade I turned to Millay every time I wanted to write a song – her poetry really spoke to me, and I found it challenging and enjoyable to set to music. Once I had about 15 songs I approached Dick Scanlan to direct a reading of this “song cycle” – but thanks to Dick’s great skill as a director and book writer, he discovered a through-line, and a story from Millay’s youth which could be told using these songs. Currently titled “All I Could See’, the piece chronicles Millay in her teenage and young adult years as she writes her first epic poem, “Renascance”, and the infamy she gained when it didn’t win a prestigious national poetry competition, despite everyone around her believing it would (AND the affair she was having with the editor of the magazine!). It’s a coming-of-age story about self discovery, sexuality, and ultimately the sacrifices artists make for their work.

For more information click here.

Time Does Not Bring Relief

Music by: Rona Siddiqui
Lyrics: From a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Perfect for: Legit Mezzo
 

Perfomed by: Sarah Kit Farrell

The setting of Time Does Not Bring Relief by Edna St. Vincent Millay is an assignment for the application process to get into NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program, so really it was my first assignment of many in the program. I loved setting this poem because the theme resonated deeply with me at the time and the music just flowed out. That being said, I let the music be my guide and completely ignored the rhyme scheme of the poem. In my mind, it doesn’t rhyme even though I can clearly see those matching ends of words! I created my own musical structure to suit where I wanted it to go musically since there are no stanzas or divisions in the poem. For that reason, and because the “lyricist” was not present, I felt an abundance of freedom in my composition; perhaps the most freedom I have ever felt. And even though I knew it would be judged, I didn’t care. I only knew it represented my heart in that moment.

Subsequent assignments at NYU proved much more challenging. You are faced with a living breathing lyricist with whom you must collaborate despite potential differences in style, interest, and working habits, and you are sitting in the room with many other talented composers with whom you begin to compare yourself. Add on top of this deadline after deadline, rewrite after rewrite, and you can maybe begin to touch upon the intensity of the program. I thrived in that environment despite and because of the challenges. I learned so much about myself as an artist, I explored so many different genres, and pushed my boundaries so far, that now I see my potential as limitless. I also have a community that supports me and lifelong friends. Every job I have gotten since graduating, as well as the momentum in my writing career are because of my time spent at NYU and for that I am eternally grateful.

For more information click here.

Time Does Not Bring Relief

Music by: Julia Meinwald
Lyrics: From a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Perfect for: Legit Soprano
 
 
 

There must be hundreds of settings of this lovely Edna St. Vincent Millay poem floating around – it’s a required component of the composer application for NYU’s Graduate Musical Theatre Writing Program (or at least it was when I applied).  This was one of my favorite parts of the application: the text has so much raw emotion in it, and the rhyme scheme is really neat, so it was a fun challenge to structure the thing.  I love the formal freedom you get when setting poetry. Without regular song sections to rely on, you have to get a bit more creative with repetition and transitions and things like this.   The great Ricky Ian Gordon taught a class on setting poetry at NYU, and his rule was that each composer had to commit the entire poem to memory before setting pencil to paper (or, er, fingertip to midi controller?) I’ve always found this a really useful way to make sure I’m internalizing the spirit of the poem, and not missing any little subtleties in the language or images.  The truly wonderful Lauren Worsham does a beautiful interpretation of the song – her voice is basically magic.

For more information click here.

Time Does Not Bring Relief

Music by: Jeff Blumenkrantz
Lyrics: From a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Perfect for: Legit Mezzo
 
 

About 18 years ago, I took a Composition course at Mannes School of Music’s summer program. I had never studied, so I thought it would be interesting to see how one taught writing music. One of the assignments was to set a poem, and musical theatre writer that I am, I combed the poetry collections looking for a poet who wrote with structure and rhyme. That’s when I “discovered” Edna St. Vincent Millay, and I believe this poem is the one I used for that class. I went on to set seven of her poems, and I think of them less as art songs than acting pieces. I remember writing this one in a much higher key originally and then lowering it because I wanted it to sound more conversational. There are some weirdly syncopated sections, i.e. “smoke in every lane but” or “quiet place where” which are meant to imply that rushed/halting, push-pull thing that happens when we’re emotional. Sutton Foster recorded it first for my podcast, and then after hearing a jazz-inflected interpretation by Jennifer Brennan-Hondorp, I decided to include it on my new jazz recording, I’ve Been Played: Alysha Umphress Swings Jeff Blumenkrantz. Alysha sings it even lower and gutsier, which I love.

For more information click here.

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Visit www.contemporarymusicaltheatre.com for more information on over 180 contemporary musical theatre writers and 550+ songs, all searchable by voice and song type.

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