I met Joel Waggoner, on a whim, this past May when my friend asked me to join her for Arts and Artists at St. Paul's "Songbook Series" at The New York Public Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. This is free monthly series from September through May showcases new music by both established and rising composers/lyricists. On May 23, 2011, Joel Waggoner, was that featured composer/lyricist. I was taken away by his talent, humor, and personality!
Joel assembled a host of talent to sing his music: the talented Sally Wilfert, Nathan and Whitney Meyer, Sol Baird, Amy Linden, Elysia Jordan, Charissa Bertels, and Sara Galm. Each performer really communicated the message of Joel's music.
Joel Waggoner is a rising composer, music director, vocal coach, and performer. Joel's music has also been featured in William Finn's concert series "Ridiculously Talented Composers and Lyricists You Probably Don't Know, but Should...," at Barrington Stages in 2009, and Merkin Recital Hall in 2010, as well as in his own cabaret series "Rhymes with Soul: The Songs of Joel." His bluegrass rock musical "Carolina Breeze," with words by Lori Mannette, received a professional reading in 2010 and has since been showcased at the New York Theater Barn, the Laurie Beechman Theatre, and Goodspeed Opera House. Lori and Joel were just awarded the 2011 Dramatist Guild Fellowship where they will get to work with Flaherty and Ahrens for 9 months and then get placed to work on a Broadway/Off-Broadway show.
Joel currently teaches voice for Musical Theater College Auditions (MTCA) and recently finished a semester teaching musical theatre at the University of Northern Iowa. He is a faculty music director and accompanist for CAP21 Musical Theatre Conservatory. He will be performing in the CAP21 Workshop production of the musical "Southern Comfort" in October which is starring Jeff McCarthy and Annette O'Toole. For more on Joel, follow him on Facebook or Twitter (@joelwaggoner)!
1. Who or what inspired you to become a composer? It was just there. When I was a kid. I would dance around in my backyard and just make up songs or musicals or I would just sit down at the piano and start writing things. I also remember being in a production of "The Secret Garden," as "Colin," and I remember the music of "The Secret Garden" being the most beautiful music I'd ever heard in my life. I was so intrigued by it. I think that sound is still in my musical language. Composing is just the perfect combination of how I want to express myself in my life.
I loved Mariah Carey as a kid so that's where I get my fun riffing and R&B, but I also love folk and straight toning. When I got older, I became aware of different composers such as Sondheim, Jason Robert Brown, and Adam Guettel. No matter what, anytime I heard a song, I would always think, "How would this work in a theatrical setting?" Whether it was Alanis Morissette's "Perfect" or Amy Grant's "Good For You," I would just think, how could this work as an opening number?
2. If you could have anyone perform your music, who would you choose? Sally Wilfert is pretty great, who I have had perform my music many times. I would love like a great gospel singer, or some folk singers such as Alison Krauss or The Civil Wars to sing my music. I would also love Michael Winther and Farah Alvin to perform my music. A true dream would be to have Barbra Streisand perform my music. That would be amazing!
3. What excited you most about your songbook concert in Lincoln Center's Songbook Series? The fact that it was a huge step for me, but it also allowed me to prove myself to myself, and to really share it with people including family and friends. It was a great opportunity given to me. It was one of those things where I said, "You owe it to yourself to do this." I deep down knew I was going to have a good time. It's where I feel the happiest (up on stage).
4. What was it like to study under William Finn and be part of his concert series "Ridiculously Talented Composers/Lyricists You Probably Don't Know, But Should"? It's funny. Bill Finn is a straight shooter, so if he doesn't like your lyric or song, he'll tell you flat out and pass along to the next person, but if he likes your lyric or song, he'll ask the group of composers in the room who wants to set this? If you like the lyric as a composer, you grab it, go downstairs, and in an hour and a half, you write the song and come up and sing it. If Bill likes the song, he likes the song. If he likes the songs enough, he likes you. If he likes you, then your songs go into his concerts. I was very lucky because two of my songs got in his show and one ended the first act ("Aretha Franklin's Inauguration Hat") and one closed the show ("Brooklyn's Union Hall").
5. What's your favorite part of the creative process in composing music? I think the most exciting part is stumbling onto something that actually improves my life. I created this...it's a part of me, it's a part of all the things I know about life and it also deepens me a bit. I love to sit in a melody that feels good to sing and is really what I want to be saying. It takes a while to find. I trust my instincts as an actor and as a singer to sing something that I enjoy. Sometimes I can't wait to get home to sing a song I have been writing because it makes me feel good to sing it and it makes me feel powerful to sing it.
6. Favorite place to write? It would be amazing to sit in a hall with a grand piano and no one there and just play and compose music. I've gotten used to my keyboard here, which has a good sound, the pedal blends together. Wherever I write, I have to be alone and not be afraid to having people hear me blast my lungs out.
7. Favorite place to go on a date? I like a smart, cute coffee shop. I like to meet outside in a park and walk around with some frozen yogurt. I love the West Village, Sheridan Square, and the East Village are great places for dates too. The date has to have a definite end to it, so you can especape if it's a disaster.
8. Boxers or Briefs? Briefs.
10. Superman or Wonder Woman? I would have to say that's tricky. I would love to have Superman as a boyfriend, but Wonder Woman as a best friend.
11. What's the best advice you've ever received? Some of the best advice I've ever gotten was from my mother who said, "Be who you are." I also got great advice from Oprah on her last episode, "Worthiness is your birthright. You are enough. Spending your life wishing you were someone else is a waste of your life." I'm finally getting to a point in my life now where I'm closer to being more excited about who I am and what I want to do.
12. If you could dream about anyone while you sleep, who would it be? I would somehow dream about the combined polyamorous love baby of Bradley Cooper, Hugh Jackman, and Ryan Reynolds or Shia LaBeouf.