A writer called Wanda

March 15, 1990
Green Bay Press-Gazette
Warren Gerds

Age-old music meets high-tech ways of Green Bay composer

Wanda Sieber writes songs.

That’s the simplest way to explain her.

At times, she’s hired as a free-lancer to pen tunes around themes, as traffic safety.

Most times, she writes church music because she simply likes to.

Now this mother of three (with a fourth due around Easter) is wrapping up her most ambitious project. It’s the 10-song musical What Think Ye of Christ?

The effervescent Sieber made it the new-fashioned way – with a computer.

“I am using high-tech to make the ancient live,” she said.

What audiences will primarily hear Friday and Saturday is a cast singing live over a recorded soundtrack Sieber created electronically.

Along with such sounds as piano and strings, Sieber’s score is for vocal soloists as well as a four-part chorus.

Lyrics are partly of Sieber’s creation and partly form the biblical scriptures.

The songs tell of people who met Christ – children, the sickly, Mary Magdalene, John the Baptist, and adultress and more. Christ does not appear in the musical.

There is a narrator and dialog, but What Think Ye of Christ? keys on the songs to tell the story. “It’s an hour show. And 45 minutes is music,” Sieber said.

The performers learned their parts in a unique way.

“Each person who is in the show got a tape,” Sieber said. “On one side was the whole show, start to finish, with all the parts on, the accompaniment and the whole bit. On the other side was their part for the sheet music that I gave them.

By way of computer, Sieber was able to write the music and then hear it.

“The computer generates the sound, feeds it through the keyboard and the keyboard sends the audio output,” she said.

Sieber also was able to print out individualized sheet music.

All this started last summer, when the activities committee at her Mormon church was thinking about a project it could open up to the community. Sieber came to mind because she had impressed churchgoers in singing songs she wrote.

Some of those songs are now part of What Think Ye of Christ? Others arrived in a flash after Sieber accepted the challenge.

The composition was “easy, spiritual and exciting.” And consuming.

“I was here (at home) and I talked to my family, and we all stayed clean and healthy,” she said with animation. “But I was just gonnnnne.”

At times, Sieber could be found in wee hours tapping away on her electronics gear with headphones in place.

“If I could work on a project in a sane manner and just do it when it’s convenient and not let it suck my brain out, then it would be fine,” she said. “But I’ve never been able to do that.

“In fact, I think that’s just one of the prices I pay for having this ability.” She pointed to her head, saying, “It’s always going.”

Some computer-made note configurations exasperate human musicians because they can’t be played. Sieber had experiences similar to a tale she recounted.

“Puccini had a violinist come back to him and say, ‘This part is impossible. No one can play this solo at this tempo.’ And Puccini’s response was, ‘Do you think I care about your miserable fingers while I’m composing?’”

While Sieber was nowhere as harsh with cries of alarm to some of their passages, she figures this musical couldn’t have been written 20 years ago. Not the way she wrote it. The technology didn’t exist. Even 10 years ago the equipment probably would have been too expensive.

As she has told the show’s sound man, “Boy I was born in the right generation, because I like this not only for the sounds I can get but the way I can save it (the music) and the way I can listen to it..”

Because of her experience in commercial music-making, Sieber has a good feeling about the fortunes of her musical after its local production.

I know it’s not going to stop here,’ she said. “I’ve already had someone say, ‘Well, my sister in Canada was looking for a show to do….’”

She has been in contact with publishers.

But, musing at the thought of deep involvement, she said. “I don’t know. After all this I just want to clean my house and have a baby and be a normal mother again.”

What: What Think Ye of Christ?, musical

Who: Community and church cast

When: 7 p.m. Friday & Saturday

Where: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, 651 Pinehurst Drive

Admission: Free