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Noted Composer Hits Right Notes at USC

by Stan Wedeking

Brown, whose score for “Parade” won a 1999 Tony Award, teaches at Massman Theatre.

Photo/Bill Youngblood

Composer Jason Robert Brown spent the spring semester at the USC School of Theatre as a George Burns Distinguished Guest Artist, teaching courses in creating and performing musical theater.

His first musical, “Songs for a New World,” debuted Off-Broadway at the WPA Theatre in 1995. Brown made his Broadway debut with “Parade,” winning a 1999 Tony Award for his score.

Written with Alfred Uhry and directed by Harold Prince, “Parade” won both Drama Desk and New York Drama Critics’ Circle awards for best new musical.

Brown is also the composer and lyricist of the musical “The Last Five Years,” one of Time magazine’s “10 Best of 2001” and winner of Drama Desk awards for best music and best lyrics.

“I wanted to establish a relationship with a school that was serious about theater, a school that aspired to making its students strong, honest and dedicated professionals in a practical and concerted way,” said Brown, who will return to teach as an adjunct in the fall.

“I have found from the minute I stepped onto the campus that USC was exactly that kind of place, and I have been delighted and gratified every day of my work here. I am flattered and honored to have been invited to be part of such an accomplished and exciting program.”

Brown’s courses in songwriting and performing in musical theater are a hit with students. “Jason is a fabulous teacher who clearly loves working with budding talent,” said BFA acting major Aaron Fischer, a musician and aspiring composer. “His sense of humor and vast knowledge of musical theater are inspiring.”

In teaching composition and writing lyrics, Brown approaches the creative process objectively.

He demonstrates the building blocks of a song, such as rhyme scheme and the classic “AABA” form, “A” representing the song’s main theme, as well as its repetition with different lyrics, and “B” representing a contrasting bridge that nonetheless leads back to the theme. He also stresses that a good song must tell a story.

The work is hard but creatively rewarding. “We have to do both composition and lyrics,” said student Rebekah Melocik. “We work outside of class, and then Jason workshops our songs with us on Fridays. We do small exercises with rhyme scheme, melodic lines, actor’s intent … pretty much everything that goes into a musical theater song � even appropriate character names.”

As for Brown’s teaching, Melocik said: “He gives really honest perspectives on both the industry and the writing/composition process. He told us the first day that musical theater is a business and that there are ways to get better at it and to be successful.

Noted Composer Hits Right Notes at USC

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