Yesterday I had the pleasure of hearing Alan Menken speak about his career composing music for such classics as “Little Shop of Horrors”, “Beauty and the Beast”, “Little Mermaid” and too many more to mention.
He had some wonderful anecdotes to share. Stories about people he’d collaborated with and about the songs he’d written.
I especially enjoyed the times he hopped over to the piano to give us a taste of one of his songs. I was amazed and impressed that he could recall tunes he’d written over twenty years ago. He is credited for dozens and dozens of songs, how on earth he keeps them in his head I have no idea.
Someone in the audience asked him how he deals with deadlines. His answer was fascinating. He said that he needs deadlines. The more parameters he is given, the better. The worst thing he said would be someone asking him to simply write a “good song” – no details and no due date – that type of open ended request would leave him floundering.
He said that he approaches each job with a fresh set of eyes because each song is unique. When someone asked him if the songs just “come to him” he scoffed. “Inspiration stopped when I was in my twenties,” he said. “What I do is hard. As long as I’m willing to accept that it’s hard I’ll continue to be able to work.” He said the worst thing you can do is expect whatever you do to get easy just because you’ve been doing it for a long time. He stressed the need to deal with the hard work. He didn’t say this exactly but what I took away is that if you get to the point in your career where you think you can coast on your past successes, you’ll find yourself coasting downhill.
There’s no secret to Alan Menken’s two decade long career and his many awards – he is dedicated, willing to work hard and passionate about what he does.
He concluded the talk by playing and singing “Beauty and the Beast.” It’s an afternoon I won’t soon forget!