About the Songbook
The inspiration for the Lotte Lenya Competition Songbook series emerged in the spring of 2020, as so many of the world’s stages and concerts halls suddenly went dark and the severe effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the performing arts became increasingly apparent. The Board of Trustees of the Kurt Weill Foundation reacted to these circumstances by considering how the KWF could support performing artists whose careers were abruptly put on hold by COVID-19, especially prizewinners of past Lotte Lenya Competitions, in an initiative that reflected the KWF’s commitment “to nurture the creation and performance of musical theater.” This goal was fused with another, namely to enrich the repertoire required in the Lenya Competition, specifically in the Contemporary Musical Theater category. From these complementary goals, the framework for the Songbook emerged.
The KWF sought to solicit and showcase theater songs that had not been widely disseminated and could serve Lenya Competition contestants seeking new pieces for their programs. And who better to unveil this repertoire to contestants than past winners? Each Songbook selection was paired with a former LLC prizewinner, and the KWF produced–remotely–a reference audio recording of the song. All selected composers, lyricists, and singers received an honorarium for their participation, thereby carrying out the trustees’ mandate. Current and future contestants will be able to explore a collection of fresh, challenging repertoire assembled specifically with today’s singing actors in mind.
For the first volume of the Songbook KWF staff requested nominations of writers/writing teams from prominent professionals with experience in new work development. Thirteen nominators recommended fifty writers or teams, who were invited to submit existing songs congruent with the criteria of the Competition. Sixty-six songs were reviewed by a panel of musical theater experts who weighed in from a variety of perspectives. One would be hard-pressed to find a more qualified and insightful trio: Kelli O’Hara, Andrew Lippa, and Andy Einhorn, who selected the sixteen songs that make up the first volume of Lotte Lenya Competition Songbook.
The effects of COVID-19 on the performing arts hardly subsided in early 2021. In response to the continued hardships faced by musical theater writers and performers alike, plans were made to produce a second volume of the Songbook. The number of songs submitted in 2021 more than doubled that of the previous year, and came from a wider network of writers located all across the United States. Daniel Egan accepted the herculean task of selecting the twelve pieces from a bevy of final candidates that now comprise the Songbook’s second volume. To recognize and encourage performances of this new repertoire, a $1,000 prize for “Outstanding Performance of a Songbook Selection” was inaugurated and awarded in the 2022 Lenya Competition.
The participating twenty-eight singers include, cumulatively, several regulars on Broadway, veterans of of national and international tours, Drama Desk and West End Debut Award winners, and two 2020 contestants who each reached the final round at the age of just 19. Of the thirty-four composers and lyricists responsible for the twenty-eight songs, thirteen identify as women, twenty as men, one as transgender, and twelve as people of color. The collaborations between writers and singers for this project have been marked by a synergistic and imaginative exchange of perspectives about singing these stories.
Previous experience suggests that successful repertoire for the Competition offers as much to act as to sing, remains intelligible out of its original context, and provides objectives and stakes for characterization. Many contestants find that the contemporary musical theater repertoire in particular provides compelling real-life situations that are readily relatable, thereby allowing personalization of the storytelling experience. The two volumes of the Songbook include twenty-eight such stories intended for the next generation of participants. The songs reflect the wide ranges of ages, character and vocal types, and diversity found in each year’s applicant pool. Indeed, the Songbook repertoire offers something for virtually everyone who participates in what has become a truly international competition for today’s versatile singing actors. Fifteen songs present female characters, eleven male, with one each for transgender and gender-neutral characters. Eleven songs are intended for characters of color.
Guiding the Lenya Competition Songbook is the Foundation’s commitment to principles of diversity, equity, and inclusion.. We aim to recognize the work and creative talents of a group of artists that reflects the wide diversity of a musical theater community which welcomes all. This initiative would not have succeeded without the imagination, insight, and counsel of composers Daniel Israel and Jeanine Tesori, the partnering of collaborative pianist Zachary Peterson, and the efforts of Jason Menkes of Co-Pilot Music, who engineered all twenty-eight remote recording sessions and produced the audio components of both Songbook volumes.
Kim H. Kowalke
President of the KWF and Founder of the Lenya Competition
Director of Programs and Business Affairs