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Talent Paper

Talent Paper

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Published by Scott Anthony Joy

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Published by: Scott Anthony Joy on Oct 20, 2013
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An In-Depth Look at “TALENT” from Road Show Scott Joy Stephen Sondheim is often regarded as the most complex

and intricate writer in the musical theatre. Aside from the challenges of his melodic lines and rhythms, his music is rich with strong imagery that the listener often isn’t aware of because of the strong marriage of the music and the lyrics. The song “Talent” which was part of a show first entitled “Wise Guys”, then “Bounce”, and in its final incarnation “Road Show”, was written in the twenty-first century when many considered Sondheim over-the-hill and is a perfect example that even with age, Sondheim has not lost his sense of precision, or his brilliance. It comes early in the second act and serves as an introduction to the character of Hollis. The show is about two brothers named Willy and Addison Mizner who undergo many failed business ventures in their lives and the rocky relationship that they have. At this point in the play, Addison has started to make a name for himself in architecture and is traveling to Florida on a train because there has been a significant boom in land development. It is on that train that he meets Hollis Bessemer, the son of a wealthy industrialist who has been cut-off from his father because he does not desire to entire the family business, as he is stricken with a love for art. The form of the song is A-B-A-C-B. The A section begins with this driving pulse of quarter notes which is present throughout the entire song. This pulse represents Hollis’s nonstop determination to succeed and make something of himself, and also to prove to his father that he can make it without his money. Also, in a more literal sense, it represents the sound and feel of the train where the song is taking place. When Hollis starts singing the lines “looking at paintings, going to plays…,” both the melody line and the accompaniment start rising which signifies a swelling of excitement and mimics the thought pattern of Hollis where this discovery of his love for art is building. At the end of that section the pulse is hit twice at a loud and blaring volume, kind of like trumpets going off in his head about his love of art, and in the latter part of the song his idea for this colony. The B section grows to be more legato and lush, which contrasts with the fast and staccato feel of the A section. However, underneath the flowing strings that pulse remains signifying Hollis’s determination even through his discovery of not being good enough to pursue a life as an artist, “just enough talent to know that I hadn’t the talent.” The accompaniment creates a lot of images for Hollis of the wonderful and important works of art that he will never be able to create. He sees them in his head, and in their majesty which is reflected in the music, it takes a slightly saddened tone as he realizes that he just isn’t good enough to create these things, which is why the pulse stops, for a moment, when he decides to “put my dreams and my selfesteem to rest.” Immediately after this moment, the pulse returns to as it was during the first A section for this second A section. One way to look at this is that Hollis has come out of his own thoughts and his own story to talk to Addison whom he has dialogue with in this section. In the other realm of thought, Hollis has gone up and up with his interest and his dreams in art, but the realization of his lack of the necessary talent has brought him back down to the same level where he must re-evaluate and find a new path (which is what this section is about). The driving pulse

He then comes up with the idea of the artist colony in Palm Beach. full of musical imagery. The climax of this chaotic sequence is a high note which may be Hollis reaching the highest point of the highest building in his colony.reflects his continued determination to be a success. Hollis sings a unique line “And my father can go stick it up his ass!” which completely breaks form and ends on a high note that soars above the rest of the song. Sondheim is a genius in that he can capture an entire novel’s worth of ideas and emotion in one lyric. as well as the pulse of the train. and creates an impeccably strong sense of character where the content of what he has to say at this moment dictates the musical form (one of Sondheim’s golden rules of writing). Then the music resolves back into the B section. The music creates the colony as a large scale and grandiose paradise. It is the perfect introduction to the character of Hollis and provides a deep understanding of his background and of what he wants in a two-and-a-half minute song that could not be achieved in a normal section of dialogue. as is evident in “Talent. Except for that driving pulse. the accompaniment gives a sense of a controlled chaos going on inside of Hollis’s head as he literally constructs this colony in his mind. which is musically identical to the one before it. the music breaks out of the form and returns briefly to the pulse heard at the beginning of the A section signifying Hollis’s determination to take this finished idea of his to Florida and make it a reality. The rise also mimics the rise of his excitement over this prospect. and Hollis’s lyrics reflect how proud he’ll be of this place and of how he will have finally found his calling in life. like he is looking at a finished painting. Then for the very last part of the song. which is all over the map. and his passion for this place for him to put his love for art into is in the music which reflects that passion with full and resonant chords. is Hollis building these buildings and organizing what will go where.” . The song is rich. And for the last line of the song. as this desire to prove his father wrong soars over all other sources of inspiration in this project of his. This next C section is completely unlike anything we have heard in the song. which creates the same swelling as in the first A section as he becomes excited with the idea and the vision of this colony. though it will have to be in a different vain. or one chord progression. This is where Hollis lets his adrenaline subside in order to take a full look at the colony he has created in his head/will create in Florida and feel a majestic and proud sense of accomplishment. The step by step rise and fall of the accompaniment.

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