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Remembering Carol Hall  

Carol Hall
Carol Hall photographed by Walter Kurtz

Remembering Carol Hall  

The Dramatists Guild mourns the passing of Carol Hall, our friend, colleague, and lifetime Council Member.

Guild President Doug Wright says, “I’ve always felt a special kinship with Carol Hall, who was a member of the Dramatists Guild for 40 years and served on our Council for 23; we’re both Texans who fled our home state in search of more liberal politics and the lure of Broadway. We even attended the same high school, and for years our photos were side by side on the Alumni wall. Carol’s southwestern roots paid off handsomely when she wrote the score to the landmark musical The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas. That show was a bawdy, down-home delight, but Carol also possessed a lyrical, even wistful, sensibility, as evidenced by her nuanced adaptation of Truman Capote‘s famous short story A Christmas Memory. Carol was generous to her fellow writers, and endowed the aptly named Music Hall at the Dramatists Guild Foundation so that young composers might always have a place to do their work. She was truly a member of our family, and we will miss her.”  

The January/February 2005 issue of The Dramatist was dedicated to women composers, and featured the following essay written by Carol:

My mother was a trained musician who had not followed her own dreams but whose fondest hope was that I would become the concert pianist she had not been. There was a lot of pressure about that (my mother can be said to have been the classical-music version of Mama Rose), but at least I got good training and learned the discipline of regular practice. However, at the time that I was learning all of Bach’s Two-Part Inventions, I also remember using my allowance to buy the sheet music to “How Are Things in Glocca Morra” and wondering what those little symbls like “E7” and “F dim” meant, above the notes. They seemed like a secret code to a magical world.

I saw a lot of theatre and heard a lot of music in Dallas. There was a particularly wonderful theater, the Margo Jones, which premiered many of Tennessee Williams’ works as well as those of new young writers. This was in the 1950s, so it was very unusual for anyone to do that. I remember they did a musical that used only two pianos and had a chorus of six people (this is before The Fantasticks). It was called Horatio. I was breathless over the freshness and invention of it, and greatly influenced by its originality. Years later, after I came to New York, I learned from Sheldon Harnick that it had been one of his first shows.

I write both music and lyrics, but I also enjoy collaborating (doing either one) with other people. It’s fun and it stretches me and gets me out of my own habits. No matter which task I am working on, if it’s a theatre piece I first steep myself in the music of the era in which the story takes place. There are other considerations though. For instance, in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, I knew I wanted to use the regional language of the Texas characters for lyrics, but I did not want to write a “country” score, which I thought would be much too limited harmonically to carry a story for two hours. So, I would listen to Grand Ole Opry for about ten minutes, and then I’d put on Aaron Copland to clear my head.

I find that most people don’t know how to talk about music. In both the BMI and the ASCAP Workshops there is endless discussion of lyrics and very little about the music. I guess people don’t know how to say, “Perhaps you shouldn’t have used the diminished seventh chord there”… but perhaps you shouldn’t have!

I have not perceived bias against me as a woman composer, but I seem to have another problem that may have to do with being from “The South.” I find it very difficult to be assertive when I am fighting for my ideas in a meeting. Somehow the ghost of my Southern granny is whispering in my ear that I’m not “ladylike,” and [I’m singing] “Can’t we all just get along?”