A Love Song For Barbra
August 15, 2011, 10:08am

Alan and Marilyn Bergman – Huffingtonpost.com

On August 23, Columbia Music will debut Barbra Streisand’s new album “What Matters Most,” in which she performs only songs with lyrics by noted award-winning (Oscar, Grammy, Emmy, Cable-Ace) lyricists, Alan and Marilyn Bergman. They write below:

To hear Barbra Streisand sing a song we’ve written is to know why we chose to become writers.

She always gets exactly what we mean in a lyric. And more. The actor that she is, the director that she is, the singer that she is gets it. And more. Shadings, feelings, nuances emerge that never fail to surprise and thrill us. How do you sing a question mark? A smile? How do you sing the text and sub-text of a song while never sacrificing musicality for meaning or meaning for musicality? Never choosing style over substance or substance over style?

She was eighteen-years-old when we first saw her. Appearing at a club in New York’s Greenwich Village. She stepped on the small stage in an outfit of her own creation: a full-sleeved white chiffon blouse, a vest and long skirt of menswear herringbone. An original. Everything about her was original. Then she sang, “My Name Is Barbara” (a song of Leonard Bernstein’s). The sound of her was unique. The beauty of her was unique. Everything was within her and before her.

We met backstage that first night. She had a tiny dressing room which she shared with Phyllis Diller (who was the headliner). One of us asked, “Do you know how wonderful you are?” She didn’t answer, but she had to know. You can’t be that wonderful and not know. That was 50 years ago. We’ve never been out of each other’s lives since then.

Two years ago the Motion Picture Academy of Arts & Sciences had an evening in tribute to us. Quincy Jones was the host. Many friends and colleagues took part in it. Michel Legrand came from Paris. Dave Grusin came from Santa Fe. John Williams from Boston, Marvin Hamlisch from New York and Barbra. We talked informally with Quincy and Barbra for a short while and Barbra quite suddenly announced: “My next CD is going to be a tribute to you guys.” We were speechless!

Not too long after, she began thinking about which songs she would include (she’s already recorded over 50 songs of ours). She knew she wanted to do songs that she’d never sung before. She asked us to make a list for her consideration. Then her work of selecting, conceptualizing, singing began. Perhaps unconsciously, creating a dramatic context for herself for each song, as an actress would for a character or a scene.

Once she decided on the songs, with the brilliant orchestrator Bill Ross, the arrangement, the musical environment for each song was decided upon. Then came the most focused, careful work at her recording space which she calls “Grandma’s house” — a small cottage on the grounds of her Malibu home. Rehearsing, discovering the songs.

Finally, the day of the first session arrives. The eponymous Streisand Scoring Stage at Sony Studios was filled with Hollywood’s finest musicians. The familiar sounds of setting up, tuning up and chatter in anticipation of the first downbeat and Barbra’s arrival. She walks into the studio and the air changes. Bill Ross steps onto the podium. The room quiets. There’s excitement mixed with respect. It is always an event when Barbra Streisand sings — even for these musicians who have heard them all.

After the take, the orchestra responds spontaneously. They know we’ve all just heard a singer at the peak of her artistry.

She will make suggestions to Bill before the next take. They both know how to make it better. And that’s what it’s about, making it better. These are artists at the top of their game with the same goal: getting it as close to perfect as possible. And so it goes. She did four songs that first day. And five the next session several weeks later.

How many times have we experienced that rare alchemy of words, music, Barbra? It’s always as if it were the first time. And now this CD. How to put into words what we feel when we listen to it? Perhaps if there were a melody, we could find the words. It would certainly be a love song.

“Do you know how wonderful you are?”