On August 6th, D23 hosted a conference call with two of Disney's preeminent songwriters, Alan Menken and Richard Sherman. During the course of the call, they answered a variety of questions concerning their music, their mutual admiration, and their upcoming joint concert "Richard M. Sherman and Alan Menken: The Disney Songbook" taking place on Saturday, day 2 of the D23 Expo. Here are some samples of the topics discussed.
The first third of the call was Alan Menken, answering questions by himself.
Question: What is it about Disney music that touches people?
Menken: "For me, it's because they're tied to specific movies...they're not just songs that are slotted in randomly. (In) the Disney Songbook, each song encapsulates the experience of a different movie, a different era, a different character, and a different time in the listener’s life, so I think there's something really special about them. Also, there's no cynicism in the Disney Songbook. It really is a very heartfelt, genuine storytelling that's in these songs, and I think people love that about them."
Question: What's it like to perform before rabid fans?
Menken: "It’s fun, it really is fun. It’s a really powerful shared experience. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it wasn't part of a pleasant ego trip because everything I’m doing they’re reacting to so exuberantly to. It’s kind of great! It’s great fun, really."
Question: Any fanboy nervousness, performing with Richard Sherman?
Menken: "No, not really. Dick is such a nice man. He’s been an extraordinary supportive presence in my life since I first came over to Disney. It's a relationship that he could have felt insecure, competitive but he didn’t. He just was welcoming and generous and warm so I consider Richard Sherman to be a dear friend and I (am) really looking forward to the two of us entertaining people, and then we're going to sit down together and get interviewed together...I have no idea what it will be like, but I presume we're going to have a lot of fun."
In the second third of the call, Richard Sherman joined in and answered questions with Menken.
Question: Was it difficult to pinpoint songs for the concert? What will you be doing?
Sherman: "Do you want to take that first, Alan?"
Menken: "It's always a challenge to pick out just the right material for an audience, and we did have some requests from our hosts (at least I did,) and the way the structure...made it somewhat easy to decide on songs. Maybe the biggest challenge was which of the unknown songs or cut songs do I want to put in, and how do I want to contextualize so it becomes interesting for the audience."
Sherman: "Well the same thing for me, I think. You know, we have so many to choose from, you try to select and we try to do a potpourri, not a complete run-down of every single thing from a film, but just sort of a sampling of various things over the years that I did. So it was kind of a fun thing like looking at all my children and seeing which one I’ll take on an outing."
Menken: "Exactly. I could not agree more...We're just going to be at the piano playing and turning and talking to the audience and just..."
Sherman: "We’ll be our own accompaniment, so to speak. I'll take a turn, and Alan will take a turn, and then we're going to do a kind of special thing, we're going to get together and compare a little bit of our histories, and favorite pieces, our most endearing pieces to us personally, and it’ll be kind of a fun thing, you know."
Menken: "And a little peek at some of our non-Disney things too."
Sherman: "Exactly. We'll touch on a couple of things that put us in the position to work at Disney."
Question: What is your favorite song of each others?
Sherman: "Oh, that's interesting. Alan has written so many gorgeous, gorgeous songs...He's a great melody writer, a wonderful harmony...there's so many..."
Menken: "There's so many. I mean, you have Jungle Book coming up and there are some songs in there that are just amazing. Let me think..."
Sherman: "I don't want to pick just one. There's so many..."
Menken: "You know, you look at Supercalifragilistic, and that's so known--so well known, but that’s really...there couldn’t be an Under the Sea without.Supercalifragilistic. And it's the combination of the exuberance, the rhythm, the cleverness of the lyric, and the catchyness of it...It just gets into your system."
Sherman: "An explosion of emotion."
Menken: "And it set the standard, it set the bar for what Howard and I did."
Sherman: "Thank you so much. I mean, you and Howard particularly wrote so many incredibly gorgeous songs...But one of the songs gets to me more than...I like so many, but I fell in love with Suddenly Seymour, which you wrote for a show way way back before I knew you and everything. It's such a passionate song, a wonderful explosion of emotion. And then I think Part of Your World--gets to me. It really just does. I just love that song. So there's really so many that he's written, if you try to pick one, it's impossible."
Menken: "It's a 'pick one out of a hat' kind of thing."
Sherman: "You know something? We’re both fans of each other and it makes it kind of fun."
Menken: "Yeah, as songwriters, we're fans of the fact that we each have a...Richard has a unique voice that's in common with his work, and he comes through in his work, and I think I come through in my work, and I think that really--each song is just a manifestation of that voice."
Sherman: "Yeah, the feel we have about life, about people, and about music and about what we're trying to say with our gifts. Because you don’t take too many big deep bows for a gift. You're just gifted with that, and it's what you do with it, that's important."
The third and last segment of the call was Richard Sherman by himself.
Question: How do you do that, over and over, making songs that can stick in people's heads?
Sherman: "Well you know, it's a funny thing, but I come from a musical family and my father was a very successful songwriter back in the 30’s and 20's and 40's. His name was Al Sherman, and my Dad wrote very catchy tunes. And I used to listen to all his songs--I loved the way he wrote melodies, that they really grabbed hold of you and they were very definitely something you could take with you. And that was one of the things that I...Fortunately I had musical talent, so I could pick that up, and so I always tried to write something that's fresh and original, and yet very catchy and something that's easily accessible. And so basically, I’m not trying to be 'look how brilliant I am,' I'm trying to be 'look how much fun I am.' There's a difference. And I write fun songs that are kind of as original as they can possibly be, with catchphrases and little stuff. And the lyrics are very much a part of the song...If you have a very catchy idea. And so Bob and I both worked very hard to get the right lyric and the right words, so the melodies can soar."
Question: I applaud your longevity...
Sherman: "There's not much of an alternative, you know."
Question: What's your secret?
Sherman: "I have a good time. I never feel like I’m working...I was blessed...From early on, when I could finally say I made a living as a songwriter, I was always blessed with doing my hobby! My hobby was writing songs! I mean, I would have been happy to do it without getting any money for it...I love writing songs, and I love the challenge of writing different kinds of things, so it was always kind of a fun thing for me, and I guess I owe it to the fact that I have a good time at it. I mean, if I didn’t, I would have retired years ago. But people want my stuff and want my opinions, and my feelings about how something's going to happen, and occasionally they want a song from me, so I'm happy to do it! Sure! And it keeps me going, I'm 85 years old, but I don't feel it--I have my health, Thank God, and I have my enthusiasm. I've always been that way."
Question: What is the main message you would like to get across to Disney fans, through this D23 Expo concert?
Sherman: "Well I think the message the Disney fans already know, but I’ll just say it. There’s a wonderful thing called being positive in your life, as opposed to being negative, let's say 'the upside of the coin.' Both Alan and myself have been blessed with the chore of writing things for very upbeat ideas--they're not depressing, they're not cynical--they're positive, there are strong feelings of goodwill in them. We were both blessed with that, and I think that makes a big difference. I think all the Disney fans will recognize that immediately. There's nothing cynical about our work--none of us.
"Somebody once asked me what was my biggest feeling, and the biggest, most wonderful gratification I get, is the fact that people get joy out of my work. And if that's the case, that's great. They feel good about it, they have a good time and they feel happy about it, and that is...truly my reward."
Richard Sherman and Alan Menken will be performing the Disney Songbook together on Saturday, August 10, 2013 at the D23 Expo. For more information: https://d23.com/d23-expo/
The previous post in this blog was Disney's Planes: The World of Cars Takes Flight.
The next post in this blog is D23 Expo 2013 - Day 1.