Convention History as Presented in the Musical Ch1Pt2

History of the 1787 Constitutional Convention as Presented in
1787 the Musical
We Wrote the Constitution

by Robert Picklesimer


How the Whole Thing Got Started: The First Production of 1787 the Musical
and the Process that Led Up to It

Chapter 1, Part 2 (continued from Part 1) …But most of the songs were just sketchy ideas about the tone and approach to some of the songs and I had no idea how to implement them.

So in February of 2005 I approached the University of Illinois School of Music, thinking surely they had someone, maybe some graduate students, who did that sort of thing. I even suggested I needed someone to help “orchestrate” a musical I had in mind. Well, it was far more than “orchestration,” although I didn’t know that at the time. The secretary at the School of Music sent me to Lucinda Lawrence, who was the University of Illinois Bands Librarian, and who also taught that sort of thing. Well, also unbeknownst to me, Lucinda started looking for someone else, such as a graduate student, to do this ‘sort of thing’ for me, but she was growing more and more intrigued herself. And, as she later told me, the clincher was when I told her I did not want this to be a political diatribe, but instead I wanted to tell, as much as possible in an entertaining fashion, of the actual proceedings of that 1787 Convention and the broad compromises necessary between the two conflicting forces (existent even today) – the broad populists versus the narrow elitists – that make our Constitution even exist. She told me later that when she heard me say that she was sold and had to come on board herself (and thank God for that!).

There were two major attributes that Lucinda brought immediately to the table: (1) an ability to write music and to adapt it to the mood, tone, meanings of particular scenes, and also to be aware of the dynamics of songs in a musical; and (2) an administrative ability to organize, formalize and prepare the work for its various phases. In the first capacity she had multiple suggestions to add to the basic idea of the musical: the play needed a bigger opener, it needed more feminine voices than just the brief appearances of Eliza Hamilton and Dolley Madison, it needed a break partway through the musical away from the monotony of Convention proceedings in Independence Hall, and it needed a big finale.

All of these we were able to accomplish with her help. Shays’ Rebellion in Western Massachusetts had been the precipitating incident that forced the hand of many to attend the Convention (that, and the presence of George Washington, who was also alarmed by little revolts like Shays’ all across the country). Those involved in Shays’ Rebellion were the very same who had fought for freedom in the Revolutionary war, but now were being taxed so highly by the States to pay the debts of the war that farmers in rural areas were losing their farms. Luckily, in Massachusetts, Governor John Hancock stepped in to ameliorate the problem, but it still was on the mind of legislators across this fledgling country and in its weak central government. I suggested the “Daniel Shays” refrain and the opening pitchfork dance as the big opening scene, and Lucinda rolled with it. I then suggested a Molly Pitcher song “Water from the Well” to add another feminine voice to the play, Lucinda wrote an absolutely beautiful ballad for it, and we knew we were on our way. Lucinda also made a determination to seek a variety of styles of music in the play to give it the variety that it needed to offset the general lack of feminine voices, but she also listened to me when I would say things like “‘Who Are We?’ is too much of a downer musically,” or one song needed to be an anthem, another to stay comic, or another needed a particular sort of tune, such as “Dawning of the Day.” She even tried to force me to define the style/mood of each song so that she would have an idea of what type of song to write for it. I rewrote a middle scene so the delegates could pause at “The Indian Queen,” away from the Convention proceedings, as she suggested. Then she devised a big finale, combining all the previous major musical themes, to come AFTER the Ratification.

But her two biggest early contributions (besides her beautiful ballads, such as “I Kind of Like Him” and “In Philadelphia/They Need Me” sung by Alexander and Eliza Hamilton) were her discovery and borrowing in parody and homage of some earlier songs. I had suggested “Old Man River” for Washington’s slave to sing in lament, but that song was already part of a different musical. So Lucinda suggested “Deep River,” a spiritual, which helped us to embody the ideas, “I seen the River Jordan… but they will not let me cross… because I’m only three-fifths of a man,” and it was perfect.

Then I kept telling her I needed a comical tune to let the two other New York delegates leave the stage with glee after Hamilton was gone from the Convention, and she finally suggested Mozart’s tune from Eine Kleine Nacht Musik, which she also discovered was written in 1787, the VERY SAME YEAR of our Convention. With our lyrics it was also a perfect fit: “Gone, he’s gone! He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone! …Ham(ilton) is up and gone away, he’s gone away to stay….” Both of these songs are showstoppers every time we have performed them. Then after I told her that various rewriting of the words of “Yankee Doodle” was used to help get the Constitution ratified in a variety of states, she was also able to use “Yankee Doodle” as a recurring theme, in addition to her original tunes. The musical, a true collaboration between the two of us, was beginning to take shape. I had some musical suggestions, and she had some plot/line requirements that got us both working (and arguing – but always with a goal in mind) on problems together.

But then there was Lucinda’s administrative side. She had worked with other musicals with local theatre groups and schools and had written original music … (continue)

CHAPTER 1, PART 3 How the Whole Thing Got Started
to be released:
CHAPTER 2 Who Didn’t Make the Cut of 55 Delegates
CHAPTER 3 Who Made the Cut
CHAPTER 4 Virginia Delegation
CHAPTER 5 Strong Delegation from Pennsylvania
CHAPTER 6 Small States; “Grumbletonians”; New Jersey Plan; Great Compromise
CHAPTER 7 The Other Two States with Grumbletonians
CHAPTER 8 Delegations from the South