“I think my greatest teachers, I never met them, were Rodgers and Hart, and Noel Coward, and Cole Porter, and Rodgers and Hammerstein and Harold Arlen. All these people, all these great writers who wrote in the past, who were part of my life, part of my childhood. I could hear these wonderful songs and they stuck with me and I tried to write my own style but with that kind of approach where it’s not just Moon/June, I love you, I lost you, I miss you. I like to write special things.”
I want to point out this lovely chat with Richard M Sherman on the Sodajerker podcast. Sherman, along with his brother Robert, wrote the soundtrack of my childhood. They co-wrote the music and lyrics for Mary Poppins, Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, The Jungle Book, and on and on. I hear his songs every time I’m in a Disney Theme Park, which is pretty often.
Sodajerker is a podcast about songwriters and Sherman provides a great deal of insight into the process he and his brother employed. He talks passionately about the importance of character-based writing, how every choice is made in support of the character. For example, he talks about how how the character of Mary Poppins always does the opposite of what you would expect. So when she sings “helps the medicine go down” in the song Spoonful of Sugar her voice does the opposite, it goes up!
On Mary Poppins: “Bob and I both would talk over every word and every line of every song… We always had a good time writing these things because we were writing for adults. These were not kids’ songs. Kids love them and they sing them and everything, but they don’t realize, for example ‘Feed the birds, tuppence a bag’ has very little to do with the price of bread crumbs. It has a hell of of a lot to do with being kind. It doesn’t take much to be loving and kind and think of the people around you that need you. And that what it says, it doesn’t cost much to do a kind gesture.”