Q&A with Anna Dagmar
Anna Dagmar is a critically acclaimed singer-songwriter with several eclectic recordings in her music portfolio. Her music is a potpourri of jazz, classical, and folk-pop. It’s the best of all worlds. Her songs are like the proverbial onion that one can peel; you discover something new and different every time you listen. That’s what makes her music so fascinating.
If you had to try to describe your music to someone in one or two sentences, what would you say?
Piano-woven folk/pop! Well…that’s my tag. I am a classical and jazz-trained pianist who gradually admitted my true, deepest desire — to be a singer-songwriter. I’ve kept much of the elegance and spontaneity of my classical and jazz roots in the accompaniments for my songs.
I categorize you as a fearless musician. Your music explores new territory and sometimes challenges the listeners. Your jazz music background may explain that quite a bit. Have you sometimes surprised the “folk” audiences you’ve performed before?
Thank you so much for using the word “fearless.” I don’t always feel that way, but it’s something I always strive for. Jazz improvisation did teach me to play on the edge, take chances, and look for new ways through a song. It also helped me learn to see the piano keys like a million possibilities, or like the colors of a painter’s palette. Each time you dip in to them, you can create a new painting. It really feels like that when performing feels right!
Tell us about your work with the Musical Theatre Writer’s group. What are your aspirations for writing music in this genre?
I’m a composer in the BMI Advanced Musical Theatre Writing Workshop, having passed the first two introductory years. The Advanced Workshop includes lifetime membership, which translates into a truly wonderful professional network of composers, lyricists and librettists. Every week writers take turns presenting and are given peer and moderator critiques. We learn how to refine our skills so that words and music become better “married together” to create the true sound of each character. I often play piano for other composers in class as well. Many professional shows have first been developed in the BMI program including A Chorus Line, Little Shop of Horrors and more recently Avenue Q and Book of Mormon. The best part is, after an applicant passes the audition to be accepted, the program is completely free! So it’s like getting a graduate-level education without the student loans.
As far as projects, for the first year we were given individual song assignments to imagine for certain film or book scenes. We worked with a variety of partners throughout the year. For the second year, we chose one partner (mine is lyricist Kevin Wanzor), and chose material to adapt into a full-length musical. Because I’m currently working with producers and in pending status with legally pursuing the rights for that piece, I can’t get into all of the details right now. But I am very glad Kevin and I have worked so well together and are beginning to take on new projects as well. We have been invited as writers to compose a 15-minute musical this April for a series called 4@15 which is a residency in NYC for acting students from the University of California Irvine. Haven’t written a note of it yet (!)…but I already know that our short musical will be performed on April 18th and April 19th at the Playroom Theatre (details will be up on www.AnnaDagmar.com soon).
Have you attempted adapting a non-music piece into a musical? It’s surprising to see some books or movies that have been adapted into musicals…the imagination knows no limits!
You mentioned the variety of sources that can get adapted into musical these days, and we too feel like the possibilities have greatly opened up. But we also try to look for a few characteristics – a larger-than-life main character, a personal journey, or a theme that has both internal and worldly implications. If you take a musical like, “Fiddler on the Roof” through those questions, it’s immediately clear that Tevye and his struggle with his daughters coming-of-age and the larger concept of “tradition” meets all three extremely well. One of the things BMI tries to do is get writers to look back at the century of musical theatre writing, and even 19th century influences like Stephen Foster that lead to what we consider musicals today. They encourage us to learn the craft, not to write with an old-fashioned sound, but just to understand what makes those early works great. I feel quite a parallel in this to how I learned over the years to better understand the evolution of jazz piano. So I find the class enriching and challenging. Not to mention, half the time I’m cracked up in there listening to all the comedy songs people present. So fun!]
Do you recall the first time you ever heard a Carole King song? What was it and did it make you feel like a natural woman (only half kidding)?!
I learned Carole King songs much the same way I first discovered Joni Mitchell songs – thanks to my high school friend and bandmate, Meghan Toohey! (She is now a solo performing artists living in LA who collaborates with artists including Melineh Kurdian and also The Weepies). When I was but a wee freshman, and Meghan was a rockstar junior at Chelmsford High School she auditioned me for her band. Playing with her gave me a whole new doorway into pop music. I learned most of the Tapestry album by ear and we played several of those songs live, including one of my favorites which I’ll perform at Me & Thee – “So Far Away!”
What do you think about Carole King’s contribution to the folk-rock world? What would be your Carole King desert island disk?
I think Carole has made a long-lasting, solid contribution. Her music has energy, depth and a whole-heartedness I consider rare and unique. It’s been shown already to have a timeless feel that holds up and will continue to live on. Her music is even being celebrated on Broadway right now with the show, Beautiful. Carole King’s piano playing is infectious! And her chord progressions have such a recognizable style – even without her voice, if you heard an instrumental, you’d know it’s just got to be her!
Although now I’ve had so much more of chance to hear her other albums, especially because of this mini-tour we’re doing, my desert island pick would still be Tapestry. Nothing beats nostalgia, when you’re floating out there on a jungle island in the sea!!!
What’s next for you?
The big, exciting news for me this year is that my husband John and I are having a baby this summer! We’re over-the-moon about it, as are our families. I’ll be very focused on becoming a mom this year, and am also glad to be doing more composing, which is work I can do at home (rather than too much tour travel, especially during the early stages). If anyone’s curious…we don’t know yet if “the bundle” is a girl or boy. We asked the doctor to let us be surprised! So I’ll be sure to report back later on that.
Here’s a totally different kind of Anna song, “Let the Waves Come in Three.” A totally soaring song.
To discover more about Anna visit her website.