Composers who aren't great musicians?

Alex Kulak2
Broadway Legend
joined:9/11/16
Broadway Legend
joined:
9/11/16
Composers who aren't great musicians?#1
Posted: 2/5/17 at 11:21am

What are some examples of musical theatre composers who aren't very musically proficient? Some examples I can think of:
 

1. Richard O'Brien (Rocky Horror): Admits he's not a great musician, which he claims suits his style of writing fun, uncomplicated songs

2. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton): His demos for songs are usually made from rap beat software, rather than recording himself playing the piano

3. Lionel Bart (Oliver!): He never learned how to read or write music, so he would hum the melodies to the orchestrator, who would transcribe it into musical notation.

haterobics Profile Photohaterobics Profile Photo
haterobics
Broadway Legend
joined:3/29/14
Broadway Legend
joined:
3/29/14
Composers who aren't great musicians?#2
Posted: 2/5/17 at 11:24am

Alex Kulak2 said: "2. Lin-Manuel Miranda (Hamilton): His demos for songs are usually made from rap beat software, rather than recording himself playing the piano"

Is rapping over a beat non-musical? I mean, that is often the end result of what he is doing...

ljay889 Profile Photoljay889 Profile Photo
ljay889
Broadway Legend
joined:8/4/04
Broadway Legend
joined:
8/4/04
Composers who aren't great musicians?#3
Posted: 2/5/17 at 11:38am

Mel Brooks, the most famous I can think of who fits this criteria.

gypsy101 Profile Photogypsy101 Profile Photo
gypsy101
Broadway Legend
joined:1/22/13
Broadway Legend
joined:
1/22/13
Composers who aren't great musicians?#4
Posted: 2/5/17 at 11:39am

i think they mean he's not proficient at playing any instruments

"Contentment, it seems, simply happens. It appears accompanied by no bravos and no tears."
trpguyy
Broadway Legend
joined:2/25/05
Broadway Legend
joined:
2/25/05
Composers who aren't great musicians?#5
Posted: 2/5/17 at 12:06pm

I don't believe a lack of proficiency in playing an instrument or reading/writing notated music disqualifies someone from being a "great musician." I contend that anyone who is capable of composing a musical, especially one with commercial success, is a great musician. 

trpguyy
Broadway Legend
joined:2/25/05
Broadway Legend
joined:
2/25/05
Composers who aren't great musicians?#6
Posted: 2/5/17 at 12:10pm

But to continue on the spirit of the original examples:

Irving Berlin did not learn to read music, and only played piano in the key of F# (on the black keys). He had a special transposing piano, where the action is moveable, so that he could play what he wanted on the black keys and it would sound in the desired key. 

dramamama611 Profile Photodramamama611 Profile Photo
dramamama611
Broadway Legend
joined:12/4/07
Broadway Legend
joined:
12/4/07
Composers who aren't great musicians?#7
Posted: 2/5/17 at 12:39pm

Definitely think the op meant not a great instrumentalist.

If we're not having fun, then why are we doing it? These are DISCUSSION boards, not mutual admiration boards. Discussion only occurs when we are willing to hear what others are thinking, regardless of whether it is alignment to our own thoughts.
ILuv2shop531
Broadway Star
joined:7/12/07
Broadway Star
joined:
7/12/07
Composers who aren't great musicians?#8
Posted: 2/5/17 at 1:48pm

Bob Merrill famously was known to not be able to read music or play an instrument and would compose his music on a child's Xylophone!

Dollypop
Broadway Legend
joined:5/15/03
Broadway Legend
joined:
5/15/03
Composers who aren't great musicians?#9
Posted: 2/5/17 at 5:10pm

Irving Berlin's transposing piano is kept in a alcove in the ASAP offices on W 64th Street

"Long live God!" (GODSPELL)
Updated On: 2/5/17 at 05:10 PM
MichelleCraig Profile PhotoMichelleCraig Profile Photo
MichelleCraig
Broadway Star
joined:5/28/14
Broadway Star
joined:
5/28/14
Composers who aren't great musicians?#10
Posted: 2/5/17 at 6:27pm

Does it really matter? I don't think so. It's all about the end product.

Mr. Nowack Profile PhotoMr. Nowack Profile Photo
Mr. Nowack
Broadway Legend
joined:2/2/14
Broadway Legend
joined:
2/2/14
Composers who aren't great musicians?#11
Posted: 2/6/17 at 10:32am

How fascinating.

Keeping BroadwayWorld Illustrated
ahhrealmonsters
Broadway Legend
joined:9/11/10
Broadway Legend
joined:
9/11/10
Composers who aren't great musicians?#12
Posted: 2/6/17 at 12:24pm

It doesn't matter, per se, but it's interesting. In programs like BMI and NYU, composers need to notate their music. I've worked with composers who notate but are not the best pianists, and they can't play their own accompaniments. There are composers who do not notate, and they generally record themselves singing the parts for someone else to transcribe. The one time I tried to compose, I hired someone to transcribe the vocal line and arrange the piano part. I have some friends composer friends who don't notate, but it doesn't seem to be super common, especially in the BMI & NYU worlds.

GavestonPS Profile PhotoGavestonPS Profile Photo
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
Broadway Legend
joined:
6/10/12
Composers who aren't great musicians?#13
Posted: 2/6/17 at 5:42pm

It matters if you are a lyricist trying to work with the composer in question. This isn't to say some don't hum nice melodies into their tape recorders, but try getting even a simple change from one of them. In my experience, it can be very frustrating.

No different, really, from a playwright or lyricist who can't spell or type. (This is a facetious remark. Of course, everybody can write or type to some extent.)

Updated On: 2/6/17 at 05:42 PM
Gabby Hayes Profile PhotoGabby Hayes Profile Photo
Gabby Hayes
Chorus Member
joined:11/28/16
Chorus Member
joined:
11/28/16
Composers who aren't great musicians?#14
Posted: 2/6/17 at 5:44pm

Paul McCartney

DooWahDiddy Profile PhotoDooWahDiddy Profile Photo
DooWahDiddy
Leading Actor
joined:8/26/08
Leading Actor
joined:
8/26/08
Composers who aren't great musicians?#15
Posted: 2/6/17 at 8:20pm

Wait, what?  Paul McCartney, are you serious?  The guy plays bass, guitar, piano, and God knows what else, and was inventing chords back in the '60s that didn't even exist at the time.  What criteria are you using to call someone a "great musician"? 

For my contribution, I'll submit William Finn.  Love his music to death, but he's kind of a clunky piano player.  His team of arrangers and orchestrators help flesh out his music, and we're all better for it.

Jay Lerner-Z Profile PhotoJay Lerner-Z Profile Photo
Jay Lerner-Z
Broadway Legend
joined:4/4/11
Broadway Legend
joined:
4/4/11
Composers who aren't great musicians?#16
Posted: 2/6/17 at 8:28pm

Paul McCartney famously can't read or write music - which is not to say he's not a great musician.

Sick, pathetic POS
tazber Profile Phototazber Profile Photo
tazber
Broadway Legend
joined:5/10/05
Broadway Legend
joined:
5/10/05
Composers who aren't great musicians?#17
Posted: 2/7/17 at 12:10pm

Harvey Schmidt can't read music.

 

 

....but the world goes 'round
DooWahDiddy Profile PhotoDooWahDiddy Profile Photo
DooWahDiddy
Leading Actor
joined:8/26/08
Leading Actor
joined:
8/26/08
Composers who aren't great musicians?#18
Posted: 2/7/17 at 1:29pm

"Paul McCartney famously can't read or write music - which is not to say he's not a great musician."

Ha, okay.  Looks like we really should have defined our terms when this thread was started; everybody's idea of what makes a great musician is different.  Composers who aren't great musicians?

Sally Durant Plummer Profile PhotoSally Durant Plummer Profile Photo
Sally Durant Plummer
Broadway Legend
joined:8/15/13
Broadway Legend
joined:
8/15/13
Composers who aren't great musicians?#19
Posted: 2/7/17 at 1:52pm

Doesn't Wildhorn need a team of arrangers for his musicals? I recall someone saying that he is greatly helped in the structure department.

Same for Lucy Simon - didn't Tesori really help her with motifs and other arrangement stuff? I wouldn't be surprised if a few melodies in Secret Garden were Tesori's work.

"Sticks and stones, sister. Here, have a Valium." - Patti LuPone, a Memoir
christinelavin Profile Photochristinelavin Profile Photo
christinelavin
Stand-by
joined:5/9/12
Stand-by
joined:
5/9/12
Composers who aren't great musicians?#20
Posted: 2/8/17 at 12:45am

Luciano Pavarotti couldn't read music, but there is no debate he was one of the greatest opera singers ever.

I was lucky enough to see him live at the Met -- I forget which opera it was, but it's one where there's a party scene in the first act where someone sings a song -- I guess you'd call it a cameo part.  That night rumor had it that Pavarotti was going to be the party singer, and sure enough, he was.  

What a treat it was to hear his voice -- part of a huge cast of all technically proficient singers -- but his voice soared above them all. He was born with a gift, that's for sure. 

I wonder if great singers like that who learn parts by ear have an advantage over all the singers who learn by studying the score? 

RippedMan Profile PhotoRippedMan Profile Photo
RippedMan
Broadway Legend
joined:8/14/05
Broadway Legend
joined:
8/14/05
Composers who aren't great musicians?#21
Posted: 2/8/17 at 1:23am

Obviously I'm not accomplished, but I technically can "read" music, but I learn better from just someone playing the song, and then me singing it. Actually happy to hear that so many successful people are the same way. 

Liza's Headband
Broadway Legend
joined:5/28/13
Broadway Legend
joined:
5/28/13
Composers who aren't great musicians?#22
Posted: 2/8/17 at 10:20am

There's a legendary film composer who famously cannot write music; he sings/hums melodies out and a music assistant transcribes them. I cannot seem to recall who that is. 

JennH
Broadway Star
joined:11/14/13
Broadway Star
joined:
11/14/13
Composers who aren't great musicians?#23
Posted: 2/8/17 at 11:53am

christinelavin said: "Luciano Pavarotti couldn't read music, but there is no debate he was one of the greatest opera singers ever.

I was lucky enough to see him live at the Met -- I forget which opera it was, but it's one where there's a party scene in the first act where someone sings a song -- I guess you'd call it a cameo part.  That night rumor had it that Pavarotti was going to be the party singer, and sure enough, he was.  

What a treat it was to hear his voice -- part of a huge cast of all technically proficient singers -- but his voice soared above them all. He was born with a gift, that's for sure. 

I wonder if great singers like that wholearn parts by ear have an advantage over all the singers who learn by studying the score? 


 

"

WHAT NOW....the most well know opera singer known to mankind couldn't read music?? If this is true, I'm scarred for life...plus might as well quit my own career. 

Liza-for whatever reason, why do I recall it being John Williams? I swear I've heard this somewhere, but I could be completely off my rocker. 

I also believe JRB doesn't read, he also just has someone transcribe what's in his head. Which actually would explain a lot as, even thought he "writes" some pretty great songs, they make no musically functional sense. 

I'll be honest in saying I have zilch patience nor a lot of respect for those in the biz who don't read music. Why on gods green earth wouldn't you do yourself as well as everyone around you, that favor? It not only wastes your own time in taking much longer than necessary to learn your stuff and if your working with anyone who does, it wastes their time as well. I almost couldnt care less how good someone is, if they don't read, it shows they didn't take the time and care to learn their own profession. I legit can't think of any other occupation in which not knowing your own profession is acceptable. Sorry, y'all had to get that off my chest. I've just come across this way too often lately and it drives me bananas. 

sweeneytodd2
Featured Actor
joined:10/28/04
Featured Actor
joined:
10/28/04
Composers who aren't great musicians?#24
Posted: 2/8/17 at 11:59am

JennH, JRB may not notate his new scores himself, as it's faster and easier to have an assistant do so, but he is fully capable of reading and writing music. Also, in what way do his songs not make functional sense? He generally writes very tonal music, using pop song forms. 

newintown Profile Photonewintown Profile Photo
newintown
Broadway Legend
joined:3/3/10
Broadway Legend
joined:
3/3/10
Composers who aren't great musicians?#25
Posted: 2/8/17 at 12:01pm

I would guess that most audiences in the US are devoid of much musical education, and for them, technique is elitist, dry, and dull, but inspiration and soul are everything.

Or, as Madame Armfeldt said, this is:

A world where the kings are employers
Where the amateur prevails,
And delicacy fails to pay.


 

As for this: "JRB may not notate his new scores himself, as it's faster and easier to have an assistant do so..."

That's not really true; I don't know anyone who can listen to a new song and transcribe it perfectly off the bat. It's a laborious process.

Updated On: 2/8/17 at 12:01 PM