First timer’s musical looking for a stage

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Rebekah Sewell

Broadway aficionado and education professional Gayle Westmoreland, who says she can’t carry a tune, was inspired to write the lyrics, story and much of the music for a musical she has titled Just Soar. She is now hoping to find a way to stage it locally.
Photo courtesy of Gayle Westmoreland

Four years ago, Columbia resident Gayle Westmoreland was watching the news when inspiration struck. Her television was filled with bleak news about the high unemployment rates in America and Europe, and suddenly the words “Just Soar” appeared in her mind.

Those two words began an unexpected chain reaction for Westmoreland. After jotting them down, she developed them into what she thought was a poem. Pretty soon, a catchy, upbeat tune popped into her head and she converted the “poem” into a show tune.

After much work, she now has a full-scale musical, which follows a young man’s quest to find a fulfilling career and settle down, focusing on the positive attitude it took to make it all happen. “Just Soar” became the title song and the name of the musical.

No musical background

A lifelong creative writer and education professional, Westmoreland has always enjoyed attending musicals, from Kinky Boots to Man of LaMancha.

But she never imagined that writing a musical would be on her resume. In fact, she has never had formal musical training. “I can’t even carry a tune,” she joked.

She does, however, have experience helping young people with their writing. “It was so natural of me to utter the two words ‘Just Soar,’ because I formalized my SOAR (Success Oriented Aims & Results) Program in 2004 at South Carolina State University.” There she taught students how to craft successful resumes and cover letters.

Without musical training, Westmoreland only had the lyrics and the tune of her single, and no way to formally record it and shop it around to find someone to produce it.

She turned to the local community to solve her problem, and met Demetrius Taylor, a music teacher at Deerpark Middle Magnet School in Randallstown, Md.

He listened to her lyrics and melody, scored the piece, and had his students perform it in their spring concert. “The crowd went wild when the children sang,” she said.

Her next step was finding a star vocalist to showcase the song. Westmoreland decided to hold a contest to find a dynamic, powerhouse singer to produce a high-quality studio recording.

Listening to the vocalist bring her song to life, she felt the beginnings of a story. Two weeks later, she began writing the rest of the musical.

Developing the story

Just Soar is the story of Mike, a young college graduate, who is struggling to find forward momentum in his career and in his life. The program opens with him waiting tables, which he’s done aimlessly for the past year since graduating.

His ultimate goal is to work as a counselor with underprivileged inner city youth, but his lack of foresight during college left him without a clear path and no experience. Counseling at that level requires a graduate degree, and he is unable to pay for it.

The lead also has a romantic subplot concerning his girlfriend Sara, whom he’s dated six years with no talk of an engagement or marriage. She’s eager to settle down, but he’s not ready yet.

The musical features several songs addressing this issue, including the sassy “What About Us?,” penned by Westmoreland’s musical son Howard. He wanted the song to truly reflect Sara’s frustration with her noncommittal partner.

“He listened to and critiqued my other music,” Westmoreland said, “and he provided much positive feedback and support — including a lot of laughter when I became frustrated.”

The rest of the musical follows Mike’s interaction with various characters, including his concerned parents, Sara, his friend Stan, and close female friend (and almost love interest) Lynn. They are all impacted in some way by Mike’s journey, and we witness some of their own quests to achieve their goals.

Westmoreland holds the strong belief that a “latent talent may lead to success,” so she wrote the character of Mike with several positive attributes to help him find his way. He’s likable, well-meaning and independent, and was a star swimmer during college.

His athletic prowess is what leads him to a fulfilling — and advantageous — career in the Coast Guard, rescuing victims from the sea. The Guard also offers him a free graduate degree for serving. In the end, he finally proposes to Sara and realizes he wants to settle down now that he’s found a good career.

“My first exposure to a musical was The Wizard of Oz,” Westmoreland recalled. “In a sense, I think I was influenced by the structure of The Wizard of Oz when I developed Just Soar

“Just as Dorothy was faced with many challenges, and through her difficulties, learned, grew and transitioned, so Mike, the main character in my musical, has many trials before he attains both personal and professional goals,” she said.

Getting it to the stage

Westmoreland went to the Peabody Conservatory Career Center to find someone who was willing to help her find vocalists, studio recorders, and to make suggestions on her score choices.

Nathan Hook, a former music student, undertook the position and helped her simplify the music she’d written and get it professionally recorded. These recordings have helped her showcase the music to prospective collaborators.

Creating the musical has been a great experience, she said. She’s learned varying skills, from useful business and marketing tactics, to scoring songs through music software programs.

On the other hand, finding singers, hiring collaborators, and buying studio time has been costly. “I’ve spent a lot of my own money doing this,” she said.

So Westmoreland said she has no further musical writing ambitions. “I will not plan another massive project like this for several reasons — the expense, identifying apt musicians, and the commitment of time,” she explained.

In fact, Westmoreland has stopped trying to get Just Soar to the stage on her own. She’s currently in talks with a Baltimore college about a potential production.

But her dreams are still huge. “I visualize this musical going worldwide if the project were to hit New York’s Broadway,” she said. “This story is everyman’s story. Each person either knows someone, or is that someone, who has not attained personal or professional fulfillment. This play is the answer, and reveals a simple pathway to success,” she said.

Listen to one of the musical’s songs at www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhHIIqilKcA.