Eric Nordin never thought he’d be a musician, but he doesn’t remember a time in his life without music.
“If music is a language, I just learned how to speak it before I learned how to read or write it,” Nordin explains. “It is natural for me to have to create music.” His training did not begin until college, where he decided on a whim to be a music major, focusing on composition and conducting. “I just had this innate ability to hear and play without any formal training,” he says. “I don’t really remember a time ‘before music.’ As early as I can remember, someone got me a little keyboard and I was just plunking out things. My parents didn’t really know any different, they were like, ‘Can’t everyone do that?’ They aren’t artists, and they didn’t realize that it was anything special until much later.”
The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors marks Nordin’s second collaboration with Oregon Children’s Theatre and playwright John Maclay, having previously worked together on OCT’s premiere production of Goosebumps: the Musical. “We met when I was music director for Goosebumps, so we knew each other, and Stan thought we would work really well together and paired us up,” Nordin explained. The process and working relationship between Nordin and Maclay was very smooth, despite living in different states and having most of their communications via email. Every idea seemed to be natural, collaborative and focused on problem-solving. “It took a long time to really hone in on the music, but we always knew the direction we were going. It felt like this pairing was meant to be.”
Nordin found inspiration for the characters from comic books: “The show is a bunch of various characters, and to me it was like a comic book with heroes and villains, and they all have their superpowers, so we figured, ‘why not have every character have their own musical style?’” From there, the inspiration and collaboration came organically, with Paper being influenced by modern-day R&B stars like Bruno Mars, Scissors as a latina musical diva, and Rock as a rock star (of course).
Beginning with Maclay’s lyrics and using his background in jazz and improvisational musical styles, Nordin would then start “riffing” until something stuck. “I’d really just play a bunch of stuff and doing it wrong a thousand times until something sticks.” From there, Nordin and Maclay would rework any lyrics that needed to be adjusted. The overall process for composing the different songs was varied: “‘Jam’ was the song that locked in with me first, and has stuck around with me the longest, so I’d say it is probably my favorite song,” Nordin admits. “But then the ‘Battle Royale’ song at the end of the show was composed in one night because we weren’t really sure what it was going to be.”
Despite the smooth collaboration process, Maclay and Nordin did run into some challenges. “We wanted to avoid violence and focus more on the competition,” Nordin explains. “We did start more ‘battle’ oriented, knowing we would adjust it, but it was hard to find enough soft ways to show the competition without the characters hurting each other: the story is more about conflict resolution than the conflict itself.” The dance battles helped to provide a way for the characters to engage with one another in a competitive but non-violent way.
Overall, Nordin is very happy and proud with how the show turned out. “I can’t wait to see people enjoying it for the first time, especially the kids.”