Some Small Things

Hey there hi there ho there,

I’ve got a whole bunch of stuff in this week’s Metro that I think you should read.

First, here are some calendar blurbs. These are probably the best I’ve done so far:

Goodbye Elliott, appearing Jan 22 at the Refuge in Cupertino:

So, big confession here: I love Degrassi: The Next Generation. I wasn’t even in the target audience when I started watching it, as a common guilty pleasure between some friends of mine in my later years of high school. Whereas the rest of them grew up and moved on some time ago, I haven’t. The entire original cast has timed out and graduated; replaced by a new generation of high schoolers with, somehow, an entirely new mess of trouble to get into. Goodbye Elliott is the kind of perpetually pleasant, endless-summer music that teen shows cue up to. And why shouldn’t these guys sound like an antidepressant haze? They’re young. They’re from Hawaii. Right now, life’s all about school being out, hanging with friends, and hoping to catch the eye of a certain girl (all paraphrased from actual lyrics). If the Beach Boys actually practiced what they preached, they’d be Goodbye Elliott.

…and Reason To Rebel, Jan 21 at the Caravan:

Be careful when Googling this band. One slip of the mouse and you’ll end up on Amazon.com, wondering how you got to the listing for a real bodice-ripper of a romance novel, entitled A Reason to Rebel. I’m not necessarily saying this happened to me. I’m just saying…be careful. I can’t imagine fans of one taking an interest in the other. Reason to Rebel is like a slightly less coherent version of System of a Down, all spastic and screaming and alluding to political and social injustices every now and then. Reason To Rebel are fond of weed, the female form, and, judging by the frequent use of Carlin’s Dirty Seven in their lyrics, the First Amendment. Having conquered Southern California, the band is wandering up north to the Caravan. Maybe they’ll sign a few copies of A Reason To Rebel afterwards. Wait, I’m logged into Amazon on this computer, aren’t I? Damn it, this is going to throw off my recommendations for months…

(I always forget that formatting goes out the window in the calendar due to space issues, so I apologize that all of these look like lunatic ramblings.)

And lastly, the big one, an interview with composer Paul Gordon, whose new musical, Daddy Long Legs, premieres at TheatreWorks in Mountain View this week. I’ve done a few interviews for the Metro so far, and this one was by far the best. Really nice guy; had a lot of really interesting information. I think it shows.

THIS WEEK, Palo Alto’s TheatreWorks presents the world premiere of Daddy Long Legs, a new musical based on the novel by Jean Webster. Daddy Long Legs had a long journey to realization, and composer Paul Gordon was there from the beginning. “I had worked with TheatreWorks before,” he says. “John Caird and I had just finished Jane Eyre, and we were looking for a new musical to start on.”

Caird’s wife suggested Daddy Long Legs, a story in the same vein as Emma and Jane Eyre, two novels that TheatreWorks had adapted for the stage in the past. “In the United States, most people are familiar with Daddy Long Legs through the Fred Astaire movie,” says Gordon. Cairns’ wife, who grew up in Japan, where the book is very popular, knew a different Daddy Long Legs.

Daddy Long Legs is the story of Jerusha Abbott, an orphan sent to college by a mysterious benefactor, whom she nicknames Daddy Long Legs. The American film, produced in 1955, was made near the end of Fred Astaire’s career. The film was made almost solely as a vehicle for Astaire, who was in his mid-50s at time of its release. His co-star, Leslie Caron, was 30 years younger and spoke with a French accent, clashing with her character’s American roots. “We’re extremely faithful to the book,” Gordon says. “We’ve brought it back down so that the age discrepancy isn’t nearly as great.”

Gordon has previously worked with TheatreWorks on similar projects, scoring the musicals Jane Eyre, based on the Brontë classic, and Emma, modeled after the Jane Austen work. “The music is different from what I wrote for Emma and Jane Eyre; I tried to make it a little more contemporary,” says Gordon. In Jane Eyre and Emma, he adds, “the songs sort of went along with the scenes.” Gordon says there are more “stand-alone” numbers in Daddy Long Legs. “It has a little more of my own personal influences in it. You can hear Sondheim, but you can also hear the Beatles.”

The TheatreWorks performances are the second stop in a co-premiere with theaters in Cincinnati and Ventura. Daddy Long Legs is being performed with a six-piece orchestra containing a violin, cello and piano alongside the drums, bass and a guitar. “I was trying to do more contemporary, pop songwriting,” says Gordon of his score. “But mostly I was just trying to write good songs.”

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I Wrote This: The Man Behind The Music, [X]Press Magazine

My very last story for my student publication at San Francisco State University. Farewell, 3rd floor Humanities! It’s been a good run.

If you’re in the city, pick up the print version, or check out the digital edition at http://www.sopdigitaledition.com/xpressmag/. There are pictures and stuff.

http://xpress.sfsu.edu/archives/magazine/014251.html

  It is lit like a desk: a reading light skims the top of the console. Daily, David Hegarty punches in and sits down to work, staring fixedly at the documents in front of him, just a cog in a big, big machine. He has been doing this job for the last thirty-one years. And he would not have it any other way.

Patrons of the Castro Theatre in San Francisco have come to expect one thing with their classic movies – a musical introduction by David Hegarty. He comes and goes quietly before almost every evening show. A few minutes before the movie begins, he emerges from behind a black curtain and takes his seat at The Mighty Wurlitzer, the theatre’s in-house organ. He strikes a chord, and suddenly the entire building seems to turn on.

The Castro is closed today, so he is sitting in front of the organ in complete darkness. The only light is the one above the organ console, and the faint shadows of cars on Castro Street creeping through the open door at the back of the theatre. “I don’t have the key to turn the lights on in the house,” he says.

He is a small man – not tiny, but in comparison to the Wurlitzer, anyone can seem diminutive. He is quiet and humble. Everything he says is just barely above a whisper, almost as if he is afraid to disturb the sanctity of a silent, dark theatre.

“I find the organ works best with Broadway; show tunes,” he says, flipping a few switches and drifting into a song. The organ in front of him has four steep tiers of keys, surrounded by a circular panel filled with a dizzying array of buttons and toggle switches. After receiving a degree in Organ Performance and a Master’s in music, he knows his way around a theatre organ. Even when he is surrounded by pitch black that morning, he is snapping switches and pressing buttons like a NASA engineer.

The sound The Mighty Wurlitzer makes has a dreamy, ghostly quality to it, only made dreamier and ghostlier by the dark. The keyboards he plays are connected to a towering collection of pipes on either side of the theater by huge tubes that run under the stage. Hegarty is still captivated by the noise it produces after thirty-one years. Sometimes he will begin a song to demonstrate the settings on the machine, and disappear for minutes at a time.

There was a time when theatre organs were everywhere – before sound was introduced in the twenties, movie houses were built around them. Now, the Bay Area is the last organ outpost before hitting the Pacific. The Stanford Theatre in Palo Alto and both
The Paramount and The Grand Lake in Oakland still have working theatre organs that get regular use. Hegarty has played them all.

Known primarily as the man behind the music at the Castro Theatre, Hegarty has been the head organist since 1978. From his work at the Castro, he has emerged as the go-to guy for the theatre organ in San Francisco. His only job is to play and teach the organ. “I mostly play in churches, and theatres like this one,” he says. “Sometimes I’m hired out for parties and whatnot.”

Hegarty migrated from the Midwest thirty years ago. He was working full-time as a composer in his native Michigan when he decided to leave for California. “I came out here in 1976. It was a nice excuse to get away from those Michigan winters,” he says, allowing himself to crack a smile. “Also, this is just such a colorful place to live.”
He also considers himself a ‘film music historian,’ something that propelled him into the theatre organ world. “I greatly admire the film composers of the early twentieth century,” he says. In Hollywood’s infancy, composers from Eastern Europe began fleeing to the United States to escape Nazi terror. “Many of them settled in Hollywood, and began contributing scores to films.”

Every night, Hegarty deals directly with the ghosts of these composers. It is his job to decide the pre-show playlist. “If it’s a movie that has famous music, there are certain songs I need to play,” he says. “I will rent the movie, listen to the music, and write it out.” Sometimes it’s not so clear. “Often times there are movies that have very little music, or music that isn’t recognizable to people,” he says. “I try to find a link between the movie and the music. If I can’t, there are always great standards that I know people enjoy – Cole Porter and such.”

As soon as he got to San Francisco, he began looking up “influential people” in the Bay Area organ community. Now, some say, he is one of them. He is the only organ instructor in Northern California. He currently teaches seven students, one of which comes all the way from Reno to work with him. “There are no real academic programs for the organ, you just listen to organists that you admire,” he says. “You never really stop learning. It’s a genre of its own – you learn it over time.”

Hegarty is a very lucky man. He has found a way to spend his entire adult life getting paid to do something he loves. Hegarty is a fixture at The Castro–he has been there so long that some people take him for granted. “They come to expect me. Sometimes I get a crowd that isn’t as appreciative, but when I get a good, lively audience, it’s really quite a thrill.”