His goals as a composer for theater: Paul Deiss (pronounced deese) taught music in public schools while building a repertoire as an actor, music director and playwright. Now he works full time composing, arranging and writing lyrics and music for theater. The self-effacing clarinetist says he's still trying to find his musical voice, and that his goals are simple: "I hope the audience will find good melody and good lyrics. I don't think I'm looking for anything too heavy. I would be satisfied if I just cleared the obstacles of having a melody that was appealing and lyrics that made sense." He tends to write lyrical phrases first, then builds melodies that fit the words.
How he conquered the ghost of Mozart: Deiss says plenty of his associates were skeptical of his attempt to adapt Mozart's "The Magic Flute" for children. "I pretty much sat down with his score as I wrote and circled places like chord progressions or turns of notes that might be interesting to play with. Mozart picked particular keys for specific characters. There are three or four places in this version where I pulled exactly what was written in Mozart's score, just to give a nod and show my thanks, to use some clear motifs and passages that general audiences would associate with 'The Magic Flute.'" Otherwise, Deiss created his own music, acknowledging that he's not a Mozart expert.
Why writing for children is about pacing and realism: "I'm always concerned about not boring the audience, especially the kids," Deiss says, "trying to keep a pace that's not frenetic but is fast enough." He tries to connect the audience to actors by making sure characters have some sense of reality. "Everyone should be able to look at something on the stage and see something in their own lives, even if it is 'The Three Little Pigs.' You get an honest reaction from kids. They don't pretend if they don't like something. I've found that the best way to write for kids is not to write down to them. I write what I think is funny. I'm not a fan of silly. I like there to be some intellect in the humor, and I find kids to be a lot smarter than generally people think."
How he encourages good behavior in his audience: "I do like showing people being nice," Deiss says of his children's plays. "I love a good evil character, but I love it when a children's audience can see how to be nice, because I think they learn from examples. There always has to be a sad passage just to keep a tap on a child's sensitivities."
Why he's uncomfortable in the spotlight: Deiss still performs occasionally he's in an ensemble cast starting this month at Swift Creek but says he prefers being backstage watching others who are, in his words, better suited to performing. "I don't like to talk too much, and I don't want people to think I think more of my music than what it is. If I can pass by with an entertaining song and dance, I'll be happy. I just need to do this the regular old way, not to worry about the academic nature of things or Mozart's celebrity." S
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