Raising Someone Else’s Baby  //  by Carmel Dean

Composer Carmel Dean takes a seat on the other side of the piano for the first time.

There have been a few moments throughout my career where I’ve had the feeling of being exactly where I am supposed to be.  One was sitting at the piano in the rehearsal room for the musical If/Then, teaching Tom Kitt’s beautiful and intricate score to a room full of incredible Broadway singers.  Another was standing onstage stomping my foot to Green Day’s American Idiot with an 8-piece rock band.  And another, very early on in my career, was creating a vocal arrangement for William Finn’s “I Love You Song” from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee and hearing three glorious voices sing it for the very first time, and seeing Bill beam with satisfaction.  I had something to offer, I was contributing my skills, and I was helping to create something artistically satisfying.
And yet despite these incredible moments, there came a time, about ten years into my career, when I realized two things: first, I was essentially “babysitting” other people’s creations.  You see, even with all of these amazing opportunities I’ve had and the incredible people I’ve collaborated with, it was always my job to take care of someone else’s baby.  The role of the music director and arranger is primarily interpretative.  You are given someone else’s music and you nurture it (oftentimes over a period of many years).  You teach it to singers, you add arrangements and orchestrations (which by its nature is expanding upon the music that was already there), and you then play and/or conduct it for audiences, bringing it to life night after night.  You are raising that baby as if it were your own…but it was born of someone else’s vision.  Despite your creative input, despite how satisfying, rewarding, and exciting it can be, it is ultimately still someone else’s creation.  Someone else’s voice.  Someone else’s baby.  And the second and perhaps more important thing that I realized was that I, Carmel Dean, musician, artist, human…had something of my OWN to say.
It wasn’t until the fall of 2018 when I was sitting in a room at Clinton Cameo Studios on 43rd Street, rehearsing my first musical Renascence, that I realized the subtle—yet enormous—difference between the role I had been undertaking and the one I was now stepping into.  Someone in the cast asked me a question about a compositional choice I had made, and for the first time EVER I didn’t have to have a lightning fast inner dialogue consisting of “what does the composer want?—what does the director want?—what is best for the singers?”  Now, as the composer, there was no one else I had to take care of before giving my answer.  I was the sole parent.  Only I knew what my music needed to be in that very moment.  I had the finite answer.  I was getting to use my voice to put my, not someone else’s, music into the world.  And how apropos: Renascence means “revival, renewal, rebirth.”  I was giving birth to my very own baby.
I was EXACTLY where I was meant to be.

About the author:

Carmel Dean is a composer, arranger, and musical director, and pianist based in New York City, by way of Perth, Australia.  Carmel’s New York debut as composer, Renascence, won the Best New Musical Award from the Off-Broadway Alliance.  Carmel is an accomplished music director and arranger whose Broadway credits include American IdiotIf/ThenHands on a Hard Body, and …Spelling Bee.  Carmel appeared on Kristen Bell’s series for Disney+, Encore, and has served as a close collaborator to William Finn, among others.  Her song cycle Well Behaved Women made its premiere at Joe’s Pub in Winter 2020.