Orchestration for strings

A few years ago i saw the Carole King musical, Beautiful.

There’s a scene where she and her husband Gerry Goffin are talking to the Shirelles about a new song they’ve written for them, “Will you love me tomorrow”. The Shirelles were a bit hesitant about the song at first because the demo version they heard sounded “too country”. Carole assures them that when they add orchestration for strings onto the production, it will match their sound and keep their fans happy.

After the Shirelles leave, Carole grabs her coat.

“Where are you going?” her husband asks her.

“To the bookstore, to hopefully buy a book called Orchestration for Strings.”

I thought this was a funny story made up for the musical but apparently it was based on a true story: Carole King did write an orchestration for strings for this song from a text book.

I loved the story of Beautiful because it not only told Carole’s journey from girl genius stock songwriter, wife and mother to independent performer in her own right, it also told the story of a manufactured pop music business. Songwriters working in offices churning out songs for groups and singers to feed the public demand for new music. There is a scene where songwriter characters are talking together and joking about the “new bands” that want to “write their own music.” They all laugh as if such a thing could never happen.

If the first act was all about the hits that Carole and Gerry wrote for other people, the second act was about Carole discovering her own voice and singing her own songs. We see Carole in the studio recording the album that would become the chart-topping Tapestry.

People think pop music is manufactured now but in Beautiful and also the documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, which I saw recently, I realised the extent to which the performers had very little input on the music they were singing or performing. They were essentially puppets of the record company and the producer. In 20 Feet…, Darlene Love talks of how twice she heard her voice being attributed to The Chiffons – the first time when her group The Blossoms recorded “He’s A Rebel” to be released credited to the Chiffons as they were too busy touring to be able to record, and the second time when Phil Spector changed his mind and released the track she recorded, “He’s Sure the Boy I Love”, attributed to the Chiffons.

I love a story with a happy ending, and in Beautiful, Carole is performing to a packed Carnegie Hall in the city where she used to toil as a songwriter for other people. In 20 Feet…, Darlene Love also finally gets the recognition she deserves.

It may take some time to find the outlet, but keep on having confidence in your own voice.

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