Perhaps what “Un-Block The Music” liked most about Angela Sclafani is that she is able to put into exact words emotions I have heard from so many other artists. Angela, a composer and artist born in New York really came to my attention during this pandemic when I was looking for something inspirational.
Earlier this summer, I had the pleasure of talking with music director and copyist, Macy Schmidt who told me about this amazing anthology she had just orchestrated. It’s called The Passion Project. https://unblockthemusic.blog/2020/05/28/women-wednesdays-what-do-tina-turner-chelsea-clinton-angela-sclafani-have-in-common-macy-schmidt/ You need to experience it rather than read about it, but the gist is that many (if not most) songs are written about romantic love. The Passion Project songs, instead, are about other things women love, like their career. During this pandemic that rages on, check out Hannah Corneau as Katherine Hannan singing to her nurses https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4BI9Gglsr8U (Katherine Hannan was the chief intrepid nurse who battled the Pandemic of 1918).
Angela has a lot of facets. She has also just released a pop/rock EP called History, but I will talk about this later. First, I’d like you to get acquainted with her. Angela knew she loved music by the time she was 3 years old. While she especially loved singing, it took serious soul searching to find her place in the entertainment world. Angela liked to sing, but she didn’t know how to do it publicly, and although her parents love music they are not involved in the industry at all. So, Angela’s first experience performing was musical theater in middle school.
Performances continued on through high school for Angela. At 16 she also bought a guitar and was writing songs. However, her writing was not strictly songs and it wasn’t solely the melodies that defined her. “I recently found a notebook that had my writing from when I was about 9 years old. It was around the time of my parents’ divorce. I used writing as a coping mechanism,” she said.
In any case, Angela was an “A” student, so the assumption was that she would go to a liberal arts college after high school. “It was confusing. When I looked at colleges, I would always ask about the drama department. I remember in January of my senior year, I woke up one morning and thought, ‘I need to apply to at least one arts school.’ The only one I knew of was NYU. I decided to audition. I picked a random monolog and sang ‘Don’t Rain On My Parade!””
“I got in! I was so shocked! I wasn’t that well versed in musical theater, but I was accepted into The Playwrights Horizons School. I had writing, directing, design, and acting classes.” Angela told “Un-Block the Music” that it was freeing for her. “I immediately loved writing my own work. That outlet really connected my love of songwriting to theater.”
Angela also auditioned for The Reality Show: NYU, which Tony nominated writer, composer, musician, Liz Swados created to focus the attention of freshmen on their health, wellness and safety. The collaborative process incorporated contributions of NYU student cast members each year, setting college life issues into original music and dance vignettes with edgy humor. Angela came to NYU when the show was in its 10th year, and, she said, that is when her songwriting blossomed.
While The Reality Show had addressed the topic of suicide in the past, it was always difficult to approach. “They were very specific about the way it was handled. The sketches were always about moving on. However, for myself and my classmates, we wanted to approach it from the angle of surviving one more day. We went back and forth with the mental health department. They had to sign off on it. That turned out to be my biggest breakthrough in songwriting, and we performed it at the theater in Madison Square Garden.”
So, Angela graduated and catapulted to stardom, right? Not quite. “I graduated and had an idea what my career was going to look like. I didn’t focus on the fact the career is based on auditions. I had to come to terms with my own anxiety My anxiety got so bad that it started to impact my voice. I knew it was a mental block. I could sing at home, but I would get on stage and I couldn’t get the notes out. My body was telling me something.”
However, there is more to Angela’s talent, of course. Even while singing and acting in college, Angela had continued her writing, and she actually wrote a play about Zelda Fitzgerald, the wife of F. Scott Fitzgerald, who was the original American Flapper. Zelda was also a writer and dancer who struggled with mental illness.
“I was lucky to have people believe in me and my work. I got such an amazing response that I started to think, ‘I know what I want from theater, but what does theater want from me?’ I had been auditioning for all of these ingénue roles. I realized that theater does not need me to play Mary Poppins. Theater needs me to bring my voice and my perspective.,” Angela said.
“I started applying to everything, and eventually, The Other Side of Paradise premiered in Ars Nova’s ANT Fest in 2017 under the direction of Hunter Bird.” Angela also starred in the show. She got to be on both sides of the process. Lessons learned. “I was on the other side of the table auditioning people. I learned that the rejection isn’t personal.”
In the meantime, Angela continues to write even more music. “I have found that in theater, there is a lot of material written by men about women. You can tell, it doesn’t feel authentic. Also, I find that male writers often expect women to sustain notes that are unnatural and unhealthy. Maybe some women can do it, but I don’t personally want to do it and don’t like listening to it.”
To write a song for the female voice, “You have to understand the female voice. I want to write songs that are fun to sing. When Macy and I approached singers for The Passion Project, we made it clear we would do it in any key they wanted. Since I was in high school, I couldn’t understand why writers couldn’t change the key. It’s amazing how the song locks in when it’s in the right key.” And, it works the other way as well. She tells male vocalists that she is glad to change the song if it doesn’t fit their range. Singers have told “Un-Block The Music” this story over and over!!!! Angela laughed. “It has been nice to practice what I preach.”
When Angela was young, there was no career that she exactly wanted to emulate, but that has changed, and she finds artists like Shania Taub and Janelle Monae inspiring. “I love recording music. I had been doing it on my own and learning as I go. Then, I was introduced to producer Katie Buchanan and immediately I was excited. There are not many women producers. We recorded the whole thing in her home studio, and I got to be there throughout. She was open to my suggestions.” They were able to experiment and make a pop rock EP called History. Two of the songs were written years ago, and two are brand new. “I was open to all of the directions she wanted to go in. It was a fun collaboration.”
If that’s not enough to get you excited about listening to Angela…. for the record…. she is a 2019 Fred Ebb Award Winner, a 2018 Jonathan Larson Grant Finalist, and a 2017 Billie Burke Ziegfeld Award Semi-finalist. Check her out at: