09/06/07 - harold arlen

Today's encore excerpt gives us a glimpse into the creative process - in this case the prolific Harold Arlen, composer of 'Over The Rainbow', 'Stormy Weather' and 'Get Happy':

"In 1933, Billboard heralded ... Arlen as the most prolific composer [in history]. ... Arlen, who eventually wrote the music for eight Broadway shows and thirty films, understood his own talent and served it with humble rigor ...

"To Arlen, the arrival of a song was a sort of blessing. 'You wonder later, in mystery, how it happens,' he said. His daily quest was to find what he called 'the unsought phrase.' 'He tries to be different', [Johnny] Mercer explained. 'He won't let a simple phrase take him where it would ordinarily lead somebody else.' 'When your daemon is in charge do not try to think consciously,' reads a newspaper snippet that Arlen clipped to his journal. 'Drift, wait, and obey.' Arlen was also in the habit of invoking his unconscious through prayer. Before he began his day's work at the piano, he lowered his eyes, brought his hands together, and put himself in a worshipful state of mind—a gesture that bemused his less pious collaborators. 'When he gets to the piano, it's a feeling of witchcraft' [the late lyricist E.Y.] Harburg said of Arlen's ritual. ...

"Oscar Hammerstein, Jr. said, 'You are listening to [Arlen's] sweet and caressing notes, and suddenly the tune flies up and away and you are carried with it. This is thrilling.' "


John Lahr


'Come Rain or Come Shine'


The New Yorker Magazine


September 19, 2005


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