Well if you want to live, hear the warning I give,
And don’t you go to Castle Dracula
Young man, lend me an ear, don’t go anywhere near
And please don’t go, sir please don’t go
I write musicals. Musicals for performance by Primary aged children. But I happen to think that even if the music and lyrics are only going to be used in primary schools, the quality of writing in the lyrics (and the music, but that’s another topic) needs to be top quality. The rhyme scheme needs to be consistent, as does the metre. And the lyrics must make sense within the context of the action of the musical.
You’ll see in the excerpt, from my child-friendly version of Dracula above, that there are rhymes within each line – live and give, and ear and near. Quite apart from the fact that this appeals to my sense of form and shape, it also makes the lyrics a darn sight easier for kids to learn!
Dracula! Why does he terrify?
It’s just not fair if I
Can’t sleep when he is near
Dracula! I’m shaking like a leaf
Just thinking of his teeth
He fills me with such fear
In the above example, you’ll see how lyricists often create rhymes by placing short words together to rhyme with a longer word – hence “terrify” and “fair if I”. Stephen Schwartz is perhaps the master of this – countless examples in Wicked show this clever turn of phrase.
We’re off to find the beast
We’re searching everywhere
The undeceased we’ll make deceased
We’re off to find his lair
We’re searching for his nest,
We look for You Know Who
And we won’t rest until our quest
Is absolutely through
Above is another example of rhymes within lines, and also where lines 2 and 4 are rhyming couplets, as are 6 and 8.
In the following example, the rhyming couplets are as follows – A B C B A D C D. In other words, lines 2 and 4 rhyme, lines 6 and 8 rhyme, but in addition, lines 3 and 7 rhyme. These things are planned – they are suggested often by the shape and rhythm of the melody. For example, if lines 3 and 7 have the same rhythm or indeed melody, it feels right to find a rhyme to bring them together.
Fangs aren’t what they used to be
Fangs are just not what they was
It’s hard to find my joie-de-vivre
My bark’s worse than my bite because
Fangs aren’t what they used to be
Oh, Fangs have changed and that’s the truth
It’s hard when folks just don’t believe
In monsters who are long in the tooth.
Enough of the technique. What about the content? Well, when I’m writing a show, I ask myself at every turn, “Does this scene need a song? Could this narrative or dialogue be done more effectively through song?” And I’m always on the look out for some comedy – a chance to turn things slightly on their heads. So in my musical about Snow White, in which she meets a seven a side football team made up of very small people (Little Man United), I thought – what would people say if a baby was named Snow White today?
What a silly thing to go and call the girl Snow White
Like calling her red cherry, or green cheese,
To saddle her with such a silly name, it’s just not right
So spare a little thought for this poor baby please
Oh what silly things these rich celebrities do do
They give their little cherubs silly names
Like Lunar Landing Module Craft or Fifi Trixi Woo
When what they need is normal names like Sue or James.
So what’s in a lyric? Quite a lot of work! It takes thought, and lots of editing. I will often spend hours crafting the lyrics for just one song. Because it’s important. I believe that children deserve the same quality and craftsmanship as work that we would produce for adults.