Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Staying On The Rails No Matter What

In a long-form musical, it can be useful to assist the players to jump on and off singing as they see fit.

There are a few different schools of thought about how to underscore a long-form show. One option is to keep the music minimalist, providing segues and underscoring for very dramatic scenes, letting the dialogue carry the emotion and tension most of the time. I tend to go the opposite way in a long-form show, providing constant underscoring (with occasional silence) for the whole show. This wasn't something I did intentionally; when I got back in to long-form a year or so ago, I'd intended to do the segue/dramatic underscoring only. Somewhere along the line, I started constant underscoring, and now I find that to be quite natural and effective.

In a long-form musical, those schools of thought play out a little differently. For the minimalist school, as well as segue/dramatic underscoring action, you'll want to provide very clear musical offers to say "Hey, it's time for a song!" That works well, and is quite close to how traditional non-improvised musicals work.

When you're in constant-underscoring mode, the dynamic between speaking-parts and singing-parts changes quite a bit. Sometimes you might provide a clear musical offer to start a song, but other times you might be sitting in a pattern, then find that the actors decide to slip in to that pattern and begin a song. (That pattern you were in was effectively a vamp, you just didn't realise it.)

For some reason, this reminds me of one of those sushi trains. The music goes around and around, offering up different things, until the actor decides to grab some of it and take it. Then when they're finished, they can wait and jump on the next thing that interests them on that sushi train. (What a clumsy metaphor. I might have done better had I actually ever eaten at one of those places...)

Even more interesting is when one of the actors jumps on your music to sing, then jumps off again going back to dialogue... but you know, you just know, that they weren't done with their song. Keep that song going behind the action. You might play with the key to freshen it up, or change the feel as the emotion of the scene changes, but hang on to the core of that tune that you were working with. The actors might just jump on again to finish their song - or perhaps they'll get on and off a few times, moving from dialogue to singing and back again.

Make A Deal With Me

Dudley Riley (Dan Beeston) negotiates with
Nancy Buttons (Amy Currie)
The example this week is again from One Bride. Rather than being a single song, this is the second half of a fairly long scene. In the scene, Nancy (Amy Currie) has returned to the playground where, as a child, she found buried treasure; she's returned to town to dig it up. Dudley (Dan Beeston) reveals his plan to take his recently-inherited playground with its pony-on-a-spring and spinning-egg, and develop it in to a high-rise hotel. He refuses to share his wealth with his now-homeless brothers (including Nancy's love Golly). Nancy is tricked in to admitting she knows of buried treasure in the sandpit; she is torn between getting her hands on the treasure, and ensuring Dudley's brother Golly is taken care of. She strikes a deal.

In Make A Deal With Me, Dan and Amy step effortlessly from speaking to singing and back again. The tempo and the key change here and there, but somehow they keep one ear on that while still creating good dialogue and telling their story, and jump back in on the fly whenever they like. There's not really a chorus (although the "Make a Deal With Me" line feels like the chorus to me) or a repeating verse structure. It's a lot more like a sing-speak opera - usually I don't care for those, but I really enjoyed this scene. The timing and melodies they chose combined nicely with the music to progress the story.

The underscoring floated around for a while before settling on a vamp that seemed like it would make for a nice song. You can pick the point where I think the scene needs a song; at about 42 seconds, when Nancy pleads with Dudley that there must be some way he can help the brothers, the vamp gets more insistent - just asking for a song.

Sushi Train photo by acb. One Bride for Seven Brothers photo by Al Caeiro.

1 comment:

The Wah said...

I read your blog knowing that, as a non-instrument playing person, most of it is going over my head.

Music in impro just happens, doesn't it? The music fairy makes all the boo-boos go away? :)

You make it seems sooo damn easy.

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