Learning from Sondheim

Santa came early, and delivered Stephen Sondheim’s Finishing the Hat — lyrics from the musicals from 1954 to 1981, with (as the subtitle puts it) “attendant Comments, Principles, Heresies, Grudges, Whines and Anecdotes”. If you’re at all into theatre, musicals, music, or just writing, you’ll enjoy this book immensely (it’s nicely produced, too, and would make a great present - and no, I don;t have shares). But a couple of general things stand out.

At one point in the introduction, Sondheim says:

…I think the explication of any craft, when articulated by an experienced practitioner, can be not only intriguing, but also valuable, no matter what particularity the reader may be attracted to. For example, I don’t cook, nor do I want to, but I read cooking columns with intense and explicit interest. The technical details echo those which challenge a songwriter: timing, balance, form, surface versus substance, and all the rest. They resonate for me even though I have no desire to braise, parboil, or sauté.

I wonder (he wonders) whether a book on software that could hold a general reader so could possibly exist?

And how’s this for a set of fundamental principles:

Content Dictates Form

Less Is More

God Is in the Details

all in the service of


without which nothing else matters.

I’d be happy to sign up to those, in music, in writing, in software and product development.

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