Day 3253: Stephen Sondheim

Stephen Sondheim, musical genius and creator of tunes, words, and musicals that have sustained me for decades, died yesterday.

I just took this photo of these books that are always near me:

Those books — “Finishing the Hat” and “Look, I Made a Hat” — contain his lyrics for all his musical numbers and descriptions of his creative process. I love his creations so much that two years ago, my request to Michael for a birthday present was that he just find the blue book, which was packed away in boxes after our last move.

Stephen Sondheim’s music moves me like no others’. I’m sure there are hundreds of blog posts here that feature his music.

Stephen Sondheim’s music has always spoken to me, even when I didn’t know it was him. One of the first songs I chose to sing in front of an audience was “Do I Hear a Waltz” when I was a little kid. Years later, I found out that he had written the lyrics for that. When I was 13 and struggling to physically and emotionally survive heart issues, I was completely captured by a TV production of “Evening Primrose,” which sent me to John Collier‘s incredible short stories. Years later, I found out that Stephen Sondheim had written the lyrics and music for that. When I was dealing with heart problems in 2016, I chose to share this beautiful song from “Evening Primrose” in this blog.

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Before A Little Night Music opened on Broadway in 1973, it came through Boston and I saw it with my beloved late parents, who took me to many, many musicals. I was completely enchanted by all the music, including this:

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Today’s Daily Bitch Calendar mentions clowns!

Honestly, everything is going to evoke Sondheim for me right now.

When I was in my early 20’s, I was part of The Vocal Minority for a local production of Company. Sitting on stage with the musicians, I hit all those high notes and, to this day, the score feels like it’s a part of my mind, body, and soul. Eleven days ago, I saw the latest version of Company on Broadway with my son Aaron, (who appeared, when he was in high school, in a local production of Assassins in the role of John Wilkes Booth).

My cherished, late friend Michelle loved “Being Alive” from that musical, and her partner, Joe, recounted at her memorial how Michelle insisted he listen to that song the night they met. Joe played “Being Alive” for us as we gathered in 2018 to grieve her loss.

Stephen Sondheim, who is no longer being alive on this earthly plane, has helped so many of us in being alive.

One of my most memorable experiences in the theater was seeing the original production of Sweeney Todd on Broadway in 1977. I can still feel the startling whistle blast and see the stage in my mind, as the chorus sang the opening — “The Ballad of Sweeney Todd.”

A few years later, in the early 1980’s, I tried out for a local production of Sweeney Todd, hoping to be in the chorus to sing this amazing music. For days and days after I auditioned, I waited painfully to hear back from the production. I did not get the call and rehearsals began, as I grieved the chance to participate. The day after the first rehearsal, I got a call from the show’s producer. She said, “Ann, why weren’t you at rehearsal last night?” I said, not adjusting to this new information, “I wasn’t there because I didn’t get in.” She said, “What? Nobody called you? Oh no! You’re in!” I was ecstatic, and that was a peak experience of my life, learning and singing that profoundly gorgeous music for months.

Sondheim seemed to focus on and create works that have deeper meanings for me. In the 1980’s, I became obsessed with the Italian film Passione D’Amore. A few years later, Sondheim created the musical Passion based on that film, which includes this incredible song:

One of the reasons I cry and grieve today is that, at the time of his death, Stephen Sondheim was working on a new musical that is based on two films of Luis Buñuel, one of my favorite film directors. I wanted to see and hear that musical, but I also have faith that Sondheim has left us enough.

I could go on and on with more memories about how important Stephen Sondheim’s music has been to me. Instead, I’ll just share images from yesterday, captured before and after I heard the news of his passing.

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Here is “No One is Alone” — the profound Sondheim words and music I shared last night on Twitter:

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No one is alone. To Stephen Sondheim, to all who have interpreted and been moved by his artistry, and — of course! — to you, for sharing this with me, here and now, thank you so much!

Categories: in memoriam, personal growth, photojournalism | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | 18 Comments

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18 thoughts on “Day 3253: Stephen Sondheim

  1. On this day of thought and loss and remembrance, for you, Ann, I thank you for touching me to the soul with this special tale of how Stephen Sondheim so consistently made your life better. His genius truly spanned the world. I tip my head with you right now.

  2. it is a huge loss to so many for so many reasons. I love how he was such a part of your life and clearly will continue to be. I’ve never been able to hear ‘send in the clowns’ without crying, even though I’m terrified of clowns.

  3. I am very moved by your description of how much you loved Stephen Sondheim, and how important his music has been to you your whole life. He is fortunate to leave this world so loved and respected by people who will never forget him and will never stop singing his music.

    Many years ago when my husband was a reporter at the Wall Street Journal, he interviewed Stephen Sondheim and wrote a feature article about him. It was one of his favorite experiences as a journalist.

    I hope you have a day of music today, and. Today and every day.

    • Oops! When I asked my husband for a copy of his article, he said that it was Tom Lehrer, not Stephen Sondheim, that he had interviewed. Sorry! I don’t know how to make corrections on my replies so I’ll just leave it there.

  4. Thank you to that link for Send in the Clowns, sung by Bernadette Peters. That’s one of my favorite songs and she sang it beautifully.

  5. KELLY HARAN

    Thanks Ann for your loving tribute to Stephen Sondheim. SO many great songs. Send in the Clowns makes me teary eyed, Being Alive inspires me and Comedy Tonight makes me smile. And West Side Story- my favorite musical ever! How lucky we all are to be touched by his artistic genius.

  6. I also liked him:

  7. My sophomore year of college the theater department put on “Into The Woods” and while students were allowed one ticket I volunteered to be an usher so I could see it three times. That same year I had a friend who’d break into my room early in the morning and sing “Sweeney Todd! The demon barber of Fleet…Street!” For some reason I didn’t make the connection to “West Side Story” or “Send In the Clowns” which I’d first heard at the end of a documentary about Ernie Kovacs and loved.
    Now, though, I really want to find a production of “Sunday In The Park With George” because I know there must be something magical about the combination of Seurat and Sondheim.

  8. A profound talent. Loved your descriptions of the many ways he and his music touched your life, Ann. He will be sorely missed, but what a legacy he leaves behind! ❤️

  9. Such an amazing talent! I thought of you when I heard he’d passed. Just think of all the young people coming up who have yet to meet him through the legacy of his work, and for decades to come are going to love him as much as we do. ♥

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