Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Push and Pull

I find when we're performing impro songs, it is very healthy to have some push and pull between the singers and the musician. There are some specific timing choices singers can make to give or take control of the music.

Singer lags the bar

A singer can choose to time their lyric to lag the start of the bar. That gives them time to hear the musical choice the musician made, and perhaps let that choice influence the lyric and tone.

For example - a song about loss and regret, playing with minor chord progressions, suddenly changes as the muso hits a powerful major chord; the musician has made a clear offer to the singer that it is time to change gears in to something more positive, perhaps hope, or redemption, or at least peace.

Singer leads the bar

The opposite position is a singer leading the music, singing a line that starts before the beginning of a bar. A canny muso will hear the lyric change (as well as perhaps the tone of voice) and adapt the music to suit.

We had a nice example at a song format rehearsal for ImproMafia's Worst Side Story last night, in a song about two friends drifting apart after one of them gets a girlfriend. The two singers first established their position and motives, digging in and defending their position. Joel Gilmore then yielded his position with a conciliatory lyric along the lines of "maybe someday she could come too" line, reaching out to Lyke Rimmelzwaan's character. Joel's lyric lead the start of the bar, so I knew the change was happening and I could play along.

Melody and Ludwig

This week's example comes from Prognosis: Death. In season three, Ludwig LeStrange (Dan Beeston) broke Melody Carmichael's (Amy Currie's) heart - see Seduction in Song for the backstory. After time passed and Melody hardened her heart, LeStrange realised the mistake he'd made, and went to Melody's tiny apartment to beg her forgiveness.

Have a listen to There's A Melody In My Heart, then we'll deconstruct it.

The entry to the song was interesting; you can just hear the director Greg whisper-shouting "Sing!" from offstage. Keen-eared Prog Death fans will hear me just starting to go into LeStrange's leitmotif, pulling out just as I realise it is a song.

The lyric in the first phrase (up to "charming") drove the music, as Melody recalled her feelings for LeStrange. Amy starts the second phrase ("But she was my very best friend") by leading the bar. That line, and the way it was delivered, is the big clue that the tone is about to change, and the music dives down to reflect her anger - fading, but still hurting. Right at the end of Melody's section, the "what have you to say" encourages the music to go neutral, and set up a chord that clearly anticipates an answer to her question.

Dan slightly leads the bar as he starts his section. I think you have to know the character to appreciate what a contrast this scene had to his other scenes; LeStrange comes across as cold, unfeeling, and logical. Hearing him sing and open up to someone was quite special. I chose to play a tinkly high part to complement Dan's (or, I should say, LeStrange's) relatively deep voice. Dan drives the music with the lyrics, creating a sort of bittersweet tune resonating of love and loss.

Near the end of his verse, the music leads with a chord progression that evokes a finale, taking a stand for something, and metamorphosis. Dan takes the cue, having LeStrange sing about a potential future with Melody. The end of the song is lovely and a little more freeform, with Dan dancing around the music.

The whole way through the song, Amy and Dan move around from driving the music to reacting to the music, and it works beautifully. As a musician I thrive on this sort of stuff; left to my own devices I'm sure I'd create a pretty vanilla tune, but with these ever-changing catalysts we manage to create something much more interesting.

I know the song resonated with the audience; anything that gets such a massive "Awwwh!" from the audience scores big points from me :)

I thought the rhyming (and sometimes lack of rhyming) was really nice in this song. It was simple, not overly telegraphed, and every word fit the narrative like a glove. We'll come back to this song in a future post about rhyming.

At this point, Melody and LeStrange have finally arrived at a place of mutual understanding and reciprocated feelings... I'd tell you what happened next in the story, but, gentle reader, it would break your heart.

Photo by Wanda Anderson

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