Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Remember My Name

Last week, we explored some of the ways you might use backing vocals in an improvised song. This week we have an example, where the supporting cast do a great job of providing backing vocals for a solo song.

Have a listen to the scene featuring Remember My Name, then we'll discuss it.

In the scene, Luke Allan explores Napkin Ring, his character from ImproMafia's musical Worst Side Story. This scene immediately followed The Hoity Toitys - Napkin Ring's new gang member buddies have just left the stage, and he has some time on his own.

The previous scene more broadly set the tone for the gang. This one does a great job of setting up Napkin Ring as a wide-eyed enthustiastic dreamer. It is more personal than the previous scene; Luke really opens his character up to the audience.

This song is where one of the themes of the show (one of the tropes from West Side Story) shines through - that everything can change in a single day. Luke sets up a series of reprises with one small bit of song:
Something's gonna change today
In a most extraordinary way
The idea of one extraordinary day came back over and over throughout the musical.

I thought Luke showed a lot of trust in the music here; having just wrapped the previous scene with a song, I wasn't expecting another one to come along so soon. At a certain point in this scene, Luke paused and gave the sense that he might be ready to burst in to song. I opened with a very sparse backing that didn't really strongly suggest a tempo or style, and Luke deftly inserted the opening line.

Backing vocals

There were a few folks backstage providing backing vocals during the song, but you can clearly hear Tom Dunstan setting the tone and driving them. You can hear a few different types of background vocals as the song progresses.

As Luke sings "The future's ahead of me", you can hear the folks backstage doing shapeless backing, primarily aahs. There's a sense of more than one voice back there, and it's even hard to pick their pitch, but they certainly add more weight to the song, helping it as it builds.

Once Luke gets to the chorus, Tom and co weave around the main vocal with their "Hoity Toity" line. The timing and melody of the backing is so cheesily perfect that they get a laugh from the audience. They manage to lag the bar so they can react to the music, wherever it may go.

Right at the end, when Luke sings "Remember my name", I remember thinking I was going to leave that last chord unfinished, just hanging there. Tom and the backing singers came in with a perfect "Remember his name" line, to slowly and decisively close the song.

Photo by Al Caeiro

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