I’m a composer and lyricist for musical theater. Primarily I write songs and scores, but I also orchestrate for ensembles and work as an arranger and music producer.
I started out as a pianist and worked my way up to vocal coach and music director. Climbing that ladder, I used to think conducting on Broadway was my ultimate goal. Then I did that and thought, “Okay, now what?” I didn’t want to prepare someone else’s work anymore. I wanted to be the maker of the work.
Back in college, one of my teachers worked in summer stock and invited me to come one summer as a rehearsal pianist. I played all of these theater scores in different styles and thought, “Somebody had to write these. I could write these.” So I ended up writing a musical for my thesis.
Writing is more of a long game. For a while I was composing and conducting, but after having kids I didn’t want to be out at night or working all weekend.
I didn’t make any money for a long time. It was a little less scary than it might have been, because I had the babies, so it was kind of assumed I would take a break and not make money for a while. But I still thought, “What have I done?” The investment of those years is really just starting to pay off.
When I was single, I could just write and lose all track of time. I have to be productive more quickly now. It’s harder to take on projects without deadlines. It helps to collaborate, because eventually you have to deliver. If I’m accountable only to myself, that project is likely to get no attention.
My husband is also a composer and has a similar schedule, so together we can juggle responsibilities. We speak the same language; he gets what I’m trying to do. We share connections, help each other. It took some time to figure out how not to be competitive.
Arts activism has become very important to me. I founded Maestra, a community of women composers and music directors in the theater industry. I’d been tapped by playwright Marsha Norman to join the board of the Lilly Awards Foundation, celebrating and supporting women in theater. She wanted me to bring in the musical theater women. I had to really start looking around at the community—who were the finalists for awards, who was being produced off-Bway.
Now Maestra has over 90 members, and we’re starting to make some noise. In the worlds that I run in, people are making an effort to bring in more women and tell more women’s stories. That’s how change happens—people realizing they’re part of the problem.
Interviewed on March 9, 2018