Late one night, after an evening on the town, Richard Rodgers calls at the house of Oscar Hammerstein II with a suggestion for their latest musical…
RODGERS: Hey Oscar
HAMMERS: Hey Rich – it’s a bit late isn’t it?
RODGERS: Yeah but listen, I’ve got this idea for the musical we were working on the other day
HAMMERS: Which one?
RODGERS: Musical Sounds – The Story Of The Vonn Trapp Family
HAMMERS: Oh yeah. D’you know I’m still not happy with that title, but the studio aren’t buying The Singing Nun either
RODGERS: Well, we’ll work on it. Listen: you know that scene where Maria is teaching the kids to sing? Well it’s not really working with all the stuff about brieves and semi-brieves and all that Every Good Boy Deserves Fun nonsense – It’s dragging and I think it needs a song to liven things up
HAMMERS: I’m not sure – I mean the bloody thing is nearly 4hrs long as it is! Will people actually sit all the way through it?
RODGERS: Oh, we’ll just throw in a few more dancing Nazis and the time will just fly by.
HAMMERS: O-kay, and I’m guessing you have an idea for a song about learning to sing?
RODGERS: Yeah, it goes:
“Here’s a song, a song I sing:
A song that tells me how to sing.
Here’s some notes I have to sing,
Sing them all the live-long day”
HAMMERS: (LONG PAUSE) Hmmmmm – well I like the tune, but I think we’ll have to change a few of the words
RODGERS: Really? Which ones?
HAMMERS: Well: all of them.
RODGERS: Well, what do you suggest then?
HAMMERS: (EXASPERATED PAUSE) Oh, I don’t know. Something about musical notes
RODGERS: Such as?
HAMMERS: Y’know – Do, Ray, Me and all that – put it into simple terms
RODGERS: Yeah, that could work – we could have a cute bit at the end where, having learned the notes, the kids sing them out of sequence to demonstrate it
HAMMERS: We don’t want to be too sickly sweet. Remember what happened last time? Don’t forget, we’ve already got this woman making clothes out of curtains and singing about brown paper packages – we don’t want people thinking she’s nuts.
RODGERS: True. (PAUSE) Maybe we need to put it into some kind of context?
HAMMERS: Like what?
RODGERS: Y’know – give a visual image for each note, like (LONG PAUSE), er… (EVEN LONGER PAUSE) – I know:
“Do, a deer, a female deer”
HAMMERS: I think that’s spelt D-O-E. It’s a different thing to the musical note
RODGERS: Well, we’ll stick it in there for the moment – you can always change it later if you get a better idea.
HAMMERS: (UNSURE) Well…O-kay, but what about Ray?
RODGERS: That’s easy –
“Doe, a deer, a female deer,
Ray, a bloke who lives next door”
HAMMERS: (PAUSE) I think we may need some kinda image that’s a bit more generic – not everyone out there watching is gonna have someone living next door called Ray. Maybe we should think about something like a ray of sunshine?
RODGERS: (UNCERTAINLY) Well, I still think “Ray, a bloke who lives next door” could work, but if you’re really that unhappy…
HAMMERS: (PLACATINGLY) We’ll put it on the “maybe” pile for the moment. What about “Me”?
“Doe, a deer, a female deer:
Ray, a bloke who lives next door,
Me – that’s me, right over there,
Far – a thousand miles away”
HAMMERS: Well I like the principal idea of “Far”, but I think the “Me” needs a bit of work. What about “So”?
RODGERS: Hmm (PAUSE) I know! What about “a needle pulling thread”??
HAMMERS: Again, I think you’ll find that’s spelt S-E-W, but I guess if they’ll accept the thing with the deer we can probably get away with it. What about “La”?
RODGERS: (PAUSE) Er… (LONGER PAUSE) Umm… (EVEN LONGER PAUSE) Gee – that’s a tough one. Not a lot we can really say about “La” is there?
HAMMERS: Not really – but I’m sure we’ll think of something – maybe we can get away with just saying it’s a note that follows “So”? It’s a bit weak, sure, but that just leaves us with “Ti”
RODGERS: What about “Ti – a nice refreshing drink”?
HAMMERS: I think we need to be careful how far we push this misspelling thing – we don’t want to be promoting childhood illiteracy now, do we? (PAUSE)
RODGERS: Thinking about it now: did they have Tea in Nazi-occupied Austria? Wasn’t there rationing or something?
HAMMERS: I don’t know (PAUSE) Still: I guess the audience won’t know either, so we can put it in for the moment and work on it. (PAUSE) So what does that give us so far?
Doe, a deer, a female deer
Ray, a bloke who lives next door
Me, that’s me, right over there
Far, a thousand miles away
Sew, a needle pulling thread
La, we haven’t got that bit
Tea, a nice refreshing drink
And then something, a-bout Do, do-di-do-do-do-do
HAMMERS: Well…it’s a start at any rate.