Stephen Flaherty and Lynn Ahrens are known for their catchy, beautiful, and very singable musicals, including Ragtime, Once on this Island, Seussical, and Lucky Stiff. Few know, however, that Flaherty and Ahrens have also dipped their toes into the waters of film scoring, and created a magical soundtrack for the 1997 animated film Anastasia. Anastasia is about a young woman with no memory of her childhood who may or may not be the lost Princess Anastasia of the Romanov dynasty. All is revealed at the end of the film, and as the credits roll, today’s prelude, “At the Beginning” is sung. This song goes hand in hand with so many adages and ideas that support today’s message about taking action today for the days to come, looking forward to the future, and beginning a journey.
The second piece played before today’s service was an excerpt from “The Schmuel Song” by the incomparable Jason Robert Brown. Brown’s musical The Last Five Years is a work of genius, following the slow decay of a failed marriage. Cathy and Jamie are a young couple who fall madly in love…and then struggle when Cathy’s career as an actress flounders just as Jamie’s star begins to skyrocket. The musical employs the trick of using contrasting timelines: Cathy’s songs progress from the end of her marriage going backward in time while alternating with Jamie’s songs, which begin with his excitement about the “Shiksa Goddess” he has just fallen for and lead to the end of their shared life together. The only time the singers interact with each other onstage is when their timelines meet in the middle, when Jamie proposes and they are married. At the end of the musical, Cathy is bubbling over with joy and excitement over the handsome new writer who she has just met and sings “Goodbye until tomorrow!”, as Jamie, at the end of the marriage, just simply sings “Goodbye”.
“The Schmuel Song” is a love song in the form of a fairy tale that Jamie has written for Cathy; in this story, there is a magical clock that allows time to freeze and roll backward to allow Schmuel, a humble tailor, to create a masterpiece of a dress that embodies every ambition and artistic ideal he’s ever held. Jamie’s message to Cathy is that if one really wants to do something, they should do it – obstacles be damned! If we wish to plan, build, and fight for our futures, we must find our own magic clock, and use all of our gifts and resources to achieve our goals.
Today’s music for meditation hails from Romania, in honor of our partner church and Rev. Katalin Szas-Cserey. Bartók was inspired by the folk music of Romania and transcribed the music that he loved into six short solo piano works. He later orchestrated this work for a small chamber ensemble, and it was later arranged by Zoltán Székely for violin and piano. There was a time when I felt guilty, as a pianist, for preferring the violin/piano version of this piece to it’s original solo piano form…the earthy fiddle timbre and sliding pitches of the instrument seemed so much freer and untamed compared to the original piano version. I later felt justified when I learned that Bartók had originally heard these melodies being played by gypsy fiddlers – no wonder these melodies seemed more at home on the violin!
And of course, when playing for a Sunday that focuses so much on the future, how could I not end with Alan Silvestri’s theme from Back to the Future? This energetic fanfare to the 1985 science fiction romp seemed to be the perfect ending for an inspiring message as we look forward to the days to come with hope and courage.