Writing clever new lyrics to existing songs? Sure, I can do that.
By Jen Littlefield (Writer/Choreographer)
It is July, hot and sweaty July, and I'm sitting in my moderately air-conditioned apartment with my thesaurus, rhyming dictionary, melody gallery, and lyric vault. All in the name of parody lyrics. "Changing lyrics," you say, "how hard can that be? Just think of some funny words to replace the words that are already there, and bam - parody song." Oh my friend, you have so much more to learn…
Every summer I teach at a musical theater camp for four weeks in Westchester. The kids come for three hours a day (6-10 in the morning, 11-15 in the afternoon) and we teach them how to be comfortable onstage, to improv, to say their lines and project, and eventually the songs and dialog for their own 30 minute show we present at the end of camp. These shows are written by the faculty but with suggestions and sometimes even direct help from the students. When camp is done, they will have a video and original cast recordings of the show they performed in and helped to write. It's kind of amazing.
This summer, for the older kids, we decided to do a revue-style show of taking familiar songs and putting them in unfamiliar places or singing them to or about totally different subjects. This has now transformed into a morning news show where all the stories have a song to go with them such as the FEMA president singing Be Prepared at a press conference about a huge kitchen-sink storm, a Tsunadocaine about to hit all of America. Or a story about an impending pork crisis caused by pig farmers who have become attached to their pigs and are reluctant to slaughter them. They all sing Sunrise, Sunset, even the pigs. It's fun and funny and so much harder than you think it's going to be.
Parody lyrics require you to take an already existing melody, matched with an already existing rhyme scheme and find other words that fit both of these requirements, fit the subject you're singing about, and hopefully make people laugh. And we haven't even talked about scansion. "What is scansion?" you ask. Well, I'll tell you - it's the emphasis of words matching up with the emphasis of notes in the melody within the meter, or number syllables allowed in the line. Yeah, it's that complicated. And if you're not careful, you'll put the wrong emPHAsis on the wrong SylLABle, and everything just starts to sound weird. There are people who are very good at it (Forbidden Broadway, Andrew Byrne, and many Drag Queens) and when it's funny, it's really funny. But man is it hard to get to funny.
So wish me luck in this endeavor, Crazytown (I still have two songs to go), and if they turn out better than not sucking, maybe I'll post a few at the end of the month.
JEN LITTLEFIELD is a freelance choreographer and writer with a few steady teaching gigs at Pace University and Concordia Conservatory. As she's come to discover, freelance is code for constantly working, so she is also a single gal who has moved to the Upper East Side and plans to meet all the straight men she can. They've been so rare in her life... www.jenlittlefield.com
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