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Breaking Through Expectations

What are expectations?

A series of beliefs that people hold towards an event, place, person, situation and yes... even musicals.

What would some musical expectations be?

There will be an I Want song

There will be movement, possibly dancing

I will laugh

I may cry

I will feel good at the end

I will see technology on the stage, either as part of the story or for sets, lighting and projection

There are many others. Expectations however are personal to each of us.

I recently found I was holding myself back due to expectations that I didn't even realize I had.

My first obstacle is the opening number of my Sci-Fi project. My expectation was that it would start out as a solo by an important character and then become a full scale production number with a chorus.

But I couldn't get it right. I tried a hundred ideas, I tried a couple different music styles and none of them seem to "fit" with what I wanted.

Then I happened to catch a clip on YouTube featuring a young high-school age songwriter. He presented his work and I suddenly felt "open". His perspective on a song - any song - had allowed me a fresh look at what I was doing.

I've since been able to look at my opening with a little more scrutiny. I even deleted it from my script entirely for a day or two. But it is now back - a gut instinct. Either way, it's now "exciting" again to work on.

My second obstacle is the I Want song. I wrote it very early on in the project and it has stayed mostly the same. But I've never been fully satisfied with it. It's currently a ballad.

When I compose a song for a character, I have to take into consideration many things about that character:

What is her vocal range

Can she sustain notes or do they need to be staccato

What musical style does she sing in

Expectations again...

I always assumed the I Want song for this project would be a ballad. Even when my gut told me it wasn't right. I now have to force myself to loosen the expectation if I really want to feel like I "nailed it" for this song.

My character is an older woman, 60ish and I had an expectation that she would sing short notes and have a wispy, remembering feel to her song. That's exactly what I wrote, but it's not working and that's because my character is also fiesty and not afraid to say what's on her mind. Wispy and outspoken do not mix. At least not in an current iteration of her song. Back to the drawing board.

My takeaway is this. When you get stuck in your writing, step back and look at your expectations. Maybe they are blocking you from seeing the ultimate format that your writing or composing will land on, and by letting them go, you may discover a fresh perspective that will inspire you to make your work stronger and concise.

Alan Saunders,

Friends told me I was late to the game for writing musicals, even though I've been writing them almost my entire life. so this blog is my journey into writing professionally for the stage.

Check out for how-to articles and resources for writing your own musical for the stage!

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