Tools of the Trade: Composers Talk High-Tech and Low-Tech
Artwork featuring the body of a small string instrument, affixed with metal scraps and tools

JAY ALAN ZIMMERMAN:  So, I want to get a little peek into your workspace. Do you have a workspace; do you have many workspaces? And if you do, let’s talk about the physical things: What are the instruments that you have there? What is your basic set-up? What are your physical essentials for creating?

CURTIS MOORE:  I’m a singer/composer, and I’m mostly doing songwriting when I’m writing, and sometimes I’m doing scoring work. I work primarily in my own studio space, with Logic as my tool of choice. I used to write with just pencil and paper, and then I switched to writing directly into Finale for many years and doing it on piano. I do almost all of my work right in Logic, so I’m writing the songs and making the demos as I’m writing it, and I’ll go back later and write the score out later after I sort of put the songs together.

I primarily play keyboard, but I also play some guitar and some percussion. I play some reed instruments. I would say 90 percent of the time, though, what I’m doing is all in the box, meaning I’m just using sample libraries that I’m composing on when I’m writing songs for demos and things like that.

MASI ASARE:  My primary workspace is a digital piano that connects MIDI, and the MIDI connects into my laptop so that I can easily do notation. It’s a Kawai. I don’t remember the make. I went to the piano store and played them all, and I picked the one that had the best action for me, the way the keys come up. The cables connect from the digital piano to this box, it’s a Scarlett Focusrite, and then that connects into the laptop. The MIDI and/or the audio goes into the box and then the box goes into the laptop.

I also have a beautiful drum over here that I ordered from Ghana, although I don’t play this drum very well. I have another instrument that’s in New York, it’s called a prempensua, which is kind of like a bass thumb piano. It’s similar in shape to a cajon. You sit on top of it, and it has these bamboo keys, and it’s also a percussive instrument that is so beautiful. And so those are used in one piece I have that has an African percussion ensemble.

But I usually sit at the piano to sing. Like Curtis, I usually create the song first and then transcribe it. I do use Logic, although I’m a little bit of a Logic novice, and I use Finale for my software, for my music notation.

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  There’s a huge overlap of what you all do and exactly how I do it, too. I have a “real” upright piano that was my first baby, my first big purchase as a composer when I was 23, that I still have in my living room, and that is my primary compositional tool that I love, and I feel like we go way back. But when the house is full of people or I’m feeling shy, then I have my digital piano in my office that I can listen to with headphones and not bother people. I’m also a singer, so I usually compose with my voice just walking around, singing a lyric. I also play the guitar really poorly, and so I have an acoustic guitar. I maybe know about six chords, but I use that sometimes to compose because as a pianist you tend to go back to the same things, and I feel composing off a guitar I can get stronger melodies because I can’t rely on fancy playing.

In my office I use Digital Performer, which is really old-school, but it’s my DAW of choice that I learned on, and it’s kept up with all of the changes in operating systems on Macs through the years. I originally started all of my notation on Mosaic but that died years ago. I’m a Mark of the Unicorn girl, so almost all of my stuff is from MOTU. I switched over to Finale because it just seemed like the industry standard. I compose first, and then I usually play it into Digital Performer, listen back to it, and then export a MIDI file out of that for Finale, and then edit in Finale. I think that’s about it.

RONA SIDDIQUI:  I also overlap with everything you all are saying about your workstations. At home I have a Yamaha P95 with a MIDI into my laptop—my MacBook Pro—and I’m writing generally straight into Logic now, like Curtis is saying. I also like to shake myself up and get myself out of my norms, so I have a piano in my living room. I also have a guitar which I play very badly, a ukulele which I play very badly, I now have an accordion, which I’m really, really bad at, and you know I have a harmonium and lots and lots of drums, which I love; I’m kind of a percussion nut. I have these things called Boomwhackers, which are super fun. They’re long tubes that are different sizes, so they have different pitches, and you hit them on the ground and sometimes I write on those, which is silly and fun.

JAY ALAN ZIMMERMAN:  I’ve got to say, this is really, really fun to peek into to your spaces! To be a fly on the wall and hear how you all do this. And to also know it’s kind of messy. I thought I was crazy the way I work. But we all have to go back and forth between singing—if you sing for your ideation phase—and then you’re going to the keyboard, and then you’re going to your laptop. I think for many years I was down on myself, like, “I need to be more professional. I need to sit at a desk and do my work at a desk.” And now I’ve just tried to throw the desk in the garbage, because it’s unnecessary for most of the creation process. I have a lot of old keyboards and synths, a saxophone, a little old hand-pumped harmonium from India, some percussion instruments. And I basically sort of grab whatever works.

For years I had my mother’s grand piano, but there’s no room for it here. I love working on the grand because I can sense more of the vibrations coming through my fingers. I get more distinction from the multiple soundwaves coming at me. But I just recently bought this little kiddie keyboard with full sized keys. Finally, 88 keys. I can only hear below middle C and could only afford the keyboards with 76 keys, so the only part I could hear I didn’t have! So, I’m really excited to have this really cheapo $100 Lexington keyboard thing that splits in half, so I can just take the lower half and use Bluetooth and USB with that. And, of course, I’m using Finale, and I tend to use GarageBand, and they have great piano sounds. I was going to do a separate discussion on the software but we’ve kind of mushed it together because it’s messy, right?

A lot of you mentioned Finale, and part of what we’re doing today is talking about access, and Finale is not free. So, if you use Finale, say if you’ve used other kinds of notation software. I’m also curious, what are your outputs in terms of scores? Do you have to output a lead sheet? Are you outputting fully rendered orchestrations? I know some of you orchestrate. So, for theatre, what do you do in terms of notation?

RONA SIDDIQUI:  It depends on what I’m writing for. So, say I have a demo and I just need a vocalist and a guitarist to lay something down, then it’ll just be a lead sheet, but if I’m orchestrating something for a gala or for an actual show, then of course full score. I like working with other people alongside me, because I feel like at one point I was at the top of the Finale game and now I’m not anymore. I don’t know if any of you have taken Emily Grishman’s classes, the Maestra workshops? She’s so far beyond where I am, and I feel like I’m not in a place in my career to do that, so I’d rather bring on other people to help me.

CURTIS MOORE:  It’s funny you mention Emily Grishman, because I actually used to work for her way back in the day. I was a copyist as one of my jobs early on, and I used to be a very big Finale whiz and have the same exact story. It’s just that I don’t have a lot of time now to do the copy work. I like that stage, and I miss it. I like writing a song and then having to be specific by putting the transcription down. To me that’s part of the writing; that’s a final part. Sometimes you can orchestrate like you say, sometimes you go as far as that, or sometimes just putting an arrangement down, I feel a little better about it.

I’m very lucky to make a living doing what we do, but when I really want to do something that’s my passion project, I often have to do all that myself, because I don’t have the resources. So I go back and in my case will orchestrate, write in Finale, again I probably will go from my demos, which I’ve done in Logic, and then I transfer over to Finale and will do the orchestrations there. So yeah, that’s kind of how I use those things.

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  I go back and forth between Finale and my DAW when creating a demo. I’ll create a Finale form of it, and as I see it on the page I’ll go back, sing the demo, and realize, “Okay, that’s what it looks like, but I like this idea better, or the voice leading is weird and that alto part makes no sense.” I love that by translating it through various mediums, you learn more about it every single time and you refine it a little bit more and make it a little bit tighter, a little bit better.

I will say that in Finale, I am really bad at drum transcription. That is my Achilles heel. I feel like I can understand everything else. I’ve got my cheat sheet book here that tells me about instruments and ranges when I’m doing arranging, but drum set still drives me crazy. So, I’m just putting it out there that I wish I was better at scoring for drums.

RONA SIDDIQUI:  Debbie, speaking of those Maestra workshops, Elena Bonomo did one on scoring out drums, so –

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  She did? Okay.

RONA SIDDIQUI:  Yeah, yeah, yeah.

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  Now I have no excuse. Darn it. [Laughter]

MASI ASARE:  For people [who] don’t know what Maestra is, [it] is an organization that Debbie and Rona and I are all involved with which supports and advocates for women and nonbinary artists who make the music for musical theatre. And there is a whole archive of training programs on the website where you can watch videos and learn some of the skills. I do think it’s worth mentioning that sometimes it can be kind of gendered, like who has the technical knowledge, and not everybody feels like they can get it or feels welcome to get it. Or it can be a barrier to be like, “Well I don’t know all these things. I don’t know what a DAW is.” (A digital audio workstation, the software that you’re using to record, manipulate, and program your music.) But anybody can learn, right? It is possible. And so I think Maestra is doing some really interesting, important work.

For me, yes, I agree we could spend our entire lives with Finale and making everything look beautiful and not write much music, so in my ideal world I would probably make everything on lead sheet and have a conversation. But I have learned, of course, that when you have not chosen the musicians yourself, things can go vastly wrong if you don’t put as much information as you can on the page. So, I am not an orchestrator; I have profound love and fangirl-ness for orchestrators. I think it’s the one type of artist that I’m the most starstruck when I meet: Broadway orchestrators. I think orchestrators are amazing, but I generally make piano-vocal scores and I do the vocal arranging as well.

I did want to mention that I also use the voice memo app on my phone a lot. Again, speaking of cost and accessibility, if I’m away from my home studio and I’m using a piano somewhere else and I just record what I have and then I listen to it, that’s another way of capturing, not notating per se, but capturing what it is that I’m working on. I also was recently on a call with Brian Quijada, who is a musical theatre composer, writer, and loop artist, and he had this great story of how when he first encountered a loop machine, it was this very expensive piece of equipment. You could run all these tracks back and forth, and layer things, and build your performance live as a loop artist, and then he found out how expensive it was and said, “Well that’s it. I can never do this.” And then he realized that there is an app called Everyday Looper that is six dollars, and it gives you basically the same capabilities. So, there are apps for so many things. I’m not up on all of the ones in terms of what are the newest notation tools, but there is so much you can find.

In working on the musical Monsoon Wedding, which Rona has also worked on, and many of the Indian musicians who worked on that use an app called iTabla, which plays the drones and the drums, so, for other kinds of music, there’s so much that you can access via your phone, and I don’t want to make it seem like you need to have an expensive set-up just to get it all done.

JAY ALAN ZIMMERMAN:  Great, that’s really great. I’m glad you brought up these other apps. In terms of notation, it’s really gratifying to hear how you all use notation and how you’re going back and forth. To me, it is sort of like a painter when they turn the painting upside down to get another look at the image. Once I’ve tossed it into notation it’s like, “okay, now I’m seeing everything in this structure” and that reveals something different to me than when I was just thinking about it in my head or when I was trying to record the audio. So, it’s a really useful tool. In terms of Finale specifically, it’s a battle, as you all said. It can be a huge, huge time suck. And I really wish it was easier to get things in and out of Finale or that Finale could do more of the things I need, because I tend to keep having to replicate acts. So I’ve played it in, I’ve thought it up, and then I write it into the notation, and then I have to play it again when I go somewhere else. Or I export the MIDI file from Finale, but the MIDI from Finale doesn’t have that live performance feel, and it’s not as dynamic. There really should be an easier method where it’s all tied together in terms of the scores themselves, right?

RONA SIDDIQUI:  Yeah, I think, Jay, there is this program called Notion for the iPad, and I do believe you can use your pencil to actually notate on the iPad in this program. I’ve not tried it, but Curtis has.

CURTIS MOORE:  Yeah, I have tried the app. It does transcribe what you write, but, like anything, there’s a learning curve, and I’m not sure it would be useful other than really fast notes to yourself, making a quick notation of a melody that’s in your head. I sort of feel like it’s mostly a really cool trick to show people, because at the end of the day if I’m only going to write the notes down, I’d probably be better off just writing it on paper. What I’d really love is a big score sheet that I could write orchestrations in, but it’s not quite good enough yet to do that. It’s very impressive, though, and it’s a great piece of software to check out. It’s well worth playing around with the demo. It’s also one of those things that I just haven’t had the patience to really dedicate the time to get out of it what it probably can do, but a lot of people really like it and I think it’s very cool.

RONA SIDDIQUI:  And I believe, and correct me if I’m wrong Curtis, but you can convert it to a .mus file or an .xml or something?

CURTIS MOORE:  Yes. You can definitely import into Finale, and I have absolutely done that. I have absolutely written songs on it when I’ve just had my iPad at a session, and I’ll sketch something down and transfer it over to Finale.

JAY ALAN ZIMMERMAN:  Wow. Debbie?

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  I want to point out just how great it is that all the tech has been shrinking, because 25 years ago when I started, all of my equipment was so cumbersome with the interfaces and the plug-ins and the wires and everything. I would do remote work at a regional theatre, and I would have to bring a gigantic suitcase packed with all my crap. And now I can fit it into a carry-on. They have roll-up piano keyboards, and the portable keyboard is USB or even Bluetooth, so there’s no cables now, and it’s so wonderful. Now you can bring one microphone, and it’s almost as good as a recording studio, you can really bring your work with you almost everywhere. It’s fantastic –

CURTIS MOORE:  I know, 100-percent –

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  And much less expensive!

CURTIS MOORE:  I agree. When I started doing this stuff, I used to have all my external sound modules and effects processors, and it’s now empty. All of that stuff is gone. I have my MIDI controller and a microphone, and that’s pretty much all I have. Everything else I can do right from the machine. I’m pretty old school with the technology I use, but it’s been a real awakening to see what younger people are using to create music.

I was at a seminar once where someone said, "Well if you can’t put your score down in a piano vocal, you don’t have the skillset to be writing for theatre," and although I am privileged to have been trained and have the skillset to do that, by no means is it a prerequisite, and I have worked with amazing people who have no skills at using Finale or writing music at all, and there’s amazing talent being done, like you said, Masi, with looping.

JAY ALAN ZIMMERMAN:  Yes, and I would say that this is all changing. This is all evolving all the time. And a lot of the work, like what I’ve done with the Seeing Music Visualizers with Google, this is laying groundwork for our future, where we’re going to be able to incorporate motion tracking and be able to use gestures in the air, and that will be another way that you can score. I, like many of you, still have all my old gear. I have piles of stuff that’s completely useless, and I just have to keep it for the archives, you know, because it’s the only way to go back through these old tapes or whatever.

But bringing it back in terms of notation with Finale, it’s really gratifying to hear that there’s these other apps coming that we can use on the iPad that will make it so much simpler.

So you’re talking, Curtis, about how younger people don’t necessarily need to learn some of these things, they have new techniques, but in terms of access for the Deaf and the hard-of-hearing, I need you to keep doing your scores. This is the only way I can enjoy your music when you’re presenting work at BMI or when I’m going to a show. I have to get the score, and I have to lip read and sight read simultaneously.

So now I’m going to talk about myself first in regard to audio, because this is sort of the bane of my existence as a Deaf person. I try to put it off as long as possible, because once it stops being the music in my brain and I have to make audio, it’s just such a struggle. Some of you mentioned having people help you with your scores, so I have found I really need people to help me in terms of the audio. Whenever there’s a budget to have an assistant of some sort, that’s very helpful. But typically, in terms of audio, I’m just using good old GarageBand, because its interface is so simple.

I would love, as we talk about audio, if you’d talk about your process of building demos. For years and years, I had to have all the gear to record singers, but now that this technology is cheaper, a lot of singers now know how to record themselves.

So, if I just email them: “here are the tracks, here is the bass, here is the drum, here’s how you should sing your part,” they send it back to me. They’re called “stems,” and so they send me a stem for their audio track, and I layer it in. And then for mixing, I have to read the volume meters and try to see if everybody’s at the same volume. But then I have to compensate for hearing people, because that’s the actual decibels in the volume meters, but our ears don’t work like that. They have equal loudness curves and have sensitivities at different frequencies, so then I have to compensate for what I think will be good for a hearing person and then have people tell me whether or not it works. I’m throwing compressors on the vocals just to hope that they’re going to stay within a good dynamic range. So, talk to me about your audio system. When you bring audio in, what apps are you using to make audio? Are you making demos?

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  In Digital Performer I’ve got MIDI instruments that I usually start with, or sometimes loops. Depending on the style of music, I might use a loop to start building layers. Since I’m a singer, I usually record all the vocals myself, even the men’s vocals, which sound a little funny, but I get a sense of how it all fits together.  During this pandemic, I definitely have utilized bringing in musicians remotely, sending them the MIDI draft of the track, like a karaoke version with everything except their part, saying, "Can you record the saxophone part over that," along with a click track to help guide them through it. And it worked beautifully, and I was able to give work to all of my wonderful musician friends even though none of us could be together in the same room.

I have limited technical capabilities, but I can do a little bit of pitch correction, a little bit of EQ-ing. I don’t have any training in it, so it’s really just me futzing around with stuff until I think it sounds okay and then exporting that as an audio file and sending it onto whoever might be happy to listen to it.

CURTIS MOORE:  It’s so funny you bring that up. Similarly for my process, I have to sing all the parts in the ranges they will be sung in, so I am screaming up to the stratosphere sometimes to the chagrin of my cowriters, who are like, "Why are you doing that?" and I’m like, I just have to hear it. A lot of people, especially men, will write for women, and they’ll sing it down the octave. I just find I end up writing slightly better material, even though I don’t have that voice, but I’ll write it in that range, and it’s helpful for me to hear it that way.

And for me specifically, I don’t want to sound jaded, but I have discovered over the years that I keep making the same mistake, like when you’re sending, people have so little time to listen and their attention spans are so small, that I just try to get to the point and get to the hook and make it sound as flashy as possible. When I’m making a demo, I’m sort of turning off the artistry side and turning on the I’m-trying-to-get-a-job side. I do all the things that any mixer or audiophile will tell you, “Don’t do that,” because I’m like, no, people are listening to it in their car or on their earphones.

I use an application called Melodyne, again, not the cheapest, but there’s various levels and there’s even, I think, a free level now, but I use that to tune the vocals across the board, just so everything is crisp. It’s not what I want it to sound like onstage, but for a one-time only demo, it’s what I want it to sound like.

And then I’ll also use Logic. It has a lot of really good built-in chains of effects. At the very end when I finish mixing, I do a general mix and, Jay, I’m not as good as you when it comes to looking at the levels, which I should do. I generally do it audibly but then I use compression. I will over-compress my demos—again, not what I want my cast recording to sound like, but what I want my demos to sound like—so that they’re constantly loud, and I’ll cut any dialogue out of any scenes, and I’ll get right to the songs as fast as possible, because when I send a demo I get people’s attention for maybe 30 seconds of that song, and then they’ve moved to the next song or they may have been like, “Uh, this song wasn’t great. I didn’t get to the chorus,” so they stop listening to the demo altogether. Anyway, that’s a slightly more business side of it.

RONA SIDDIQUI:  I just felt like I took a class. This is what I’m going to do on my next demo. That was cool, Curtis.

I got a USB mic, so I don’t even have an audio interface to lug around with me, even though they’re tiny and they’re not a big deal. But this USB mic for demos is actually decent. I also do all of the vocals on all of my demos, and I love that in Logic, you can do takes, and you can kind of like Frankenstein different takes together, which I think is glorious.

I will send my demos to the singers, and I’ve actually been able to Zoom rehearse before they do their takes, which has been helpful to have that old back and forth like we used to have in the room. And then if something isn’t quite right, you can have them do it again, but that’s generally how I’m doing everything.

MASI ASARE:  Can I ask you what your USB mic is, because I need to get one. I’m curious.

RONA SIDDIQUI:  This is the Audio-Technica AT2020 USB.

MASI ASARE:  Thank you.

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  And I want to put in a plug for the Blue Yeti mic.

MASI ASARE:  Everybody loves the Blue mics, yeah. I’ve got to get my mobile studio going here. I do have a little AKAI box like Rona has, although mine is a simpler model. I think a lot of the things that have been said here are important. If you’re making a demo, you want to take a lot of the dialogue out, keep it really clean. I tend to have it just be pretty simple, often with just a piano and the vocal really up front. It doesn’t need to show off the piano, we just need to hear the vocal.

The other thing that I have done is I have saved my coins from my day job and I have gone to a studio. And I just want to say, there are engineers out there who will work with you and give you affordable rates. If you go into a recording session and you’re going to record a few different songs, you’ve got to be super organized about how you want to use your time, because you are paying by the hour. That’s one skill that I have learned: if I’m going to go into the studio, how am I going to plan this? Who’s going to be in the isolation booth at this time? What are we going to need to set up the mics a little bit differently when it’s going to be the trio? You just have to really plan it out ahead of time so that you can really maximize your efficiency, but that’s something that is doable, and there are some really wonderful engineers. Yellow Sound Lab in New York has done a lot of demos for people, the engineer MP Kuo has helped me out with a lot of demos as well, and she has access to studios that have been affordable.

I just wanted to throw that out there as an option, because not everybody has the bandwidth or the ability or the inclination to learn so many things. We have to learn how to compose, we have to learn how to do the audio stuff, we have to learn how to do the notation, in my case I’m also a librettist, so I’ve had to learn how to use Final Draft and be a playwright, and how to write the lyrics. Sometimes you have to say, "You know what, this is where I’m going to draw the line. My skillset is good, and I’m going to try and hire or barter or find a way to collaborate with someone who’s going to extend my skillset."

JAY ALAN ZIMMERMAN:  That’s great. I want to pick up on what Masi was saying about time, and I know you’re talking about time management in the studio, but over the years I’ve really seen that time is your most valuable asset, and you have to be aware of how you’re choosing to use your time.

I have a few more questions. and we’re going to try to merge them into one because you guys were great at overlapping topics. We were going to talk about other apps you use, how you collaborate with people, research needs and supports, access—this is way too much. So let’s just kind of bring it down, mention any other apps you’re using for creating, what you are giving to people when you’re collaborating, and how you’re doing that.

MASI ASARE:  I do think obviously the theatre is a very collaborative form, musical theatre especially, and I want to just give a lot of respect and love to music directors. I know we have some excellent music directors on the call, because I think that part of what they can do in the best of cases is function as kind of dramaturgs for a composer and talk back to us about how our music is functioning dramatically for the story. This kind of input can be very helpful in sharpening the piece and making it more polished, so I just want to give a lot of respect and love for music directors and the really, really valuable work that they do as part of the process for a composer writing musicals.

DEBORAH WICKS LA PUMA:  I 1000-percent agree with that. Sometimes I’m the music director, but I love when I’m the composer and I have a music director who knows where I’m coming from, is comfortable speaking about music in the same way that I am, and can be another ear for me in the room; it’s so wonderful.

CURTIS MOORE:  I’m super happy and lucky that I’ve been forced to learn a lot of these other skills. I’m a techy, nerdy, weirdo anyway, so I actually like all the stuff, but mostly I learned to do all that because it was a way for me to get my writing out. I learned these skills not because I want to be an orchestrator but because I want my songs to sound good, but in doing that, now I get hired as an orchestrator.

All that being said, you don’t need to do all those things. I think you can barter and work with other people to do it, and collaboration is important. Whenever I bring someone else in, it becomes much greater than anything that I would’ve done on my own, and I love that.

RONA SIDDIQUI:  Yeah, you could learn about audio for days and days and years on end. It’s like a never-ending topic. But I remember when I took the jump from GarageBand to Logic, that was a big learning curve. I did it while I was at NYU and I was like, “Do I have time to do this?” Every time you come up against an issue you’ve got to stop, look it up on Google, and it takes time. Was it the right thing to do at that time? It was, because it actually expanded what I could do as a composer. So, if I sit there and research microphones or audio plug-ins or how to compress things, I don’t know that that’s going to enhance my work, personally. Maybe other composers would feel differently, but for me that’s not a super priority. I want to know the basics so I can get my demos out, but that’s not going to be something I spend my time on.

But going back to apps that I’ve gotten into, there’s something called Splice which is a website that is full of loops and samples and all different styles and genres, and it’s been a really fun tool that I’ve just started using. It’s this fun, new tool to create something you probably wouldn’t have come up with yourself, so I’ve been quite enjoying using Splice, which is subscription-based.

JAY ALAN ZIMMERMAN:  In terms of the apps, I’d say one app that has really helped me so much is Beatball Metronome. There are many metronome apps and most of them go tick-tick-tick-tick, so that’s useless for me. But with Beatball Metronome, you see this ball going up and down, so if I have an idea for a song, I can just tap out the tempo and see it.

For video I’ve been using a free app called VN, which stands for Vlog Now, and it has all these great filters. All those things that cost thousands and thousands of dollars to do back when I was doing it for school, now it’s totally free on the tablet and it’s so fast and I find that a real godsend.

In terms of access, because we wanted to bring up access to all this equipment we’re talking about, at the beginning, like Curtis said, it was just piles and piles of gear and very heavy things you’re hauling around. And over the years it’s just gotten more and more simple. And when I did the Composer-Librettist Program at New Dramatists, I walked in there with my music visualizers, my apps, my phones, two transcribers—all this stuff. And then when I get the first assignment, what do I reach for? Notation paper that my mother got me when I was like twelve.

And then with a lot of these apps we’re mentioning: you know, if you can get yourself an old Mac, then you’ve got GarageBand, you’ve got all these things for free, which are totally fantastic. There are mics that are out there everywhere, and sometimes you can just use the built-in mic. And then you’re just kind of upgrading these things over time. I do use musical visualizers, I use vibration wearables, but we don’t have time to go into all the accessibility tech. So I’m going to wrap it up here and say: It’s been an utter joy to be with all of you and to learn about your processes. And to discover I’m not the only crazy person out there. Composing is hard, and it’s always a struggle, but maybe the struggle is part of what makes the work better because we really fight to find what’s going to work best for the moment.

Jay Alan Zimmerman

’s works include Incredibly Deaf Musical (Duke on 42nd Street), BRAIN. STORM. (Prospect Theater Company), Roboticus with musical robots (Spotify/LEMURplex), Comfort Pet play for Disabled actors (Fault Line Theater), the Naughty & Nice Holiday Songbook (Lincoln Center/54 Below/Amazon), and the Seeing Music Visualizers (Google Creative Labs).

Masi Asare

 is a composer, lyricist, playwright, and assistant professor of Theatre at Northwestern University. A past Dramatists Guild Fellow, Masi has received the Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award for a woman composer of musicals. She is a member of ASCAP, the Dramatists Guild, and MAESTRA, and divides her time between Chicago and New York City.

Curtis Moore

 is a composer, songwriter and musician in New York. He wrote five original songs for the Amazon Prime hit series The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (prime time Emmy nomination for Best Original Song), and is currently scoring the FOX animated series, HouseBroken. He is the recipient of the Fred Ebb and Jonathan Larson awards, LA’s Garland Award for best score, and the ASCAP award for film composing.

Rona Siddiqui

 is a NYC-based composer/lyricist. Musicals: Salaam Medina: Tales of a Halfghan, One Good Day, Hip Hop Cinderella, Treasure in NYC. Awards: Jonathan Larson Grant, Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award, ASCAP Foundation Harold Adamson Lyric Award, Mary Rodgers/Lorenz Hart Award, and Max Dreyfus Scholarship. Commissions include: Wicked: Flying Free, Atlantic Theater Company, The Civilians.

Deborah Wicks La Puma

is one of the most produced Theatre for Young Audiences artists working today. Honors: Off-Broadway Alliance Award for Best Family Musical; Jane Chambers Playwriting Award; Helen Hayes Award for Outstanding Musical Adaptation. She is a proud Mexican-American, “Navy brat,” and Tisch School of the Arts graduate.