Linking songs


Now I have a show to write – which indeed I must as the auditions are soon – I’m wondering how much the musical material across the show should connect. Opera comes to mind – Puccini particularly – where characters have distinguishable musical ideas. But then maybe this doesn’t matter so much in musical theatre as variety seems to be the key rather than the subtle development of musical ideas. A series of “numbers” seems to be required and perhaps varied rather than connected.

It feels rather alien to be writing music in “shorthand”. I would normally write instrumental parts immediately but the nature of these songs requires I write a piano vocal score before orchestrating. It is making me rather self-conscious of my writing, in that harmonic implications need to be carefully judged. I’m hearing wonderful moments from L’Orfeo in my head of how the harmonic materials help capture the intensity of the story without the burden of tonality in how these chords interact. Juxtaposition of what we make call unrelated harmonies seems the norm. I wonder if such juxtaposition would be welcome in my writing for the show or is a more generic music thwart sound desired?

Knowing this show will be performed by young performers is also shaping my musical choices. I want the songs to be immediately accessible and avoid writing that might require hefty rehearsing. I hope this doesn’t mean the music would be considered of a lesser quality – easily done when one perceives a hierarchy of musical styles. Though I want to write “accessibly” I don’t want to let go of my own compositional voice.

The genre of music theatre creates a huge burden for me, in that there is a long list of expectations. A certain sound world might be expected, in addition to a certain musical vernacular and song structure. How does one connect an individual approach to a music theatre work while acknowledging expectations for the listener? Music theatre is so much in the mainstream, popular consciousness, that even a lesser exposed listener will have expectations of what it sounds like. If such expectations are not met, which I be judged negatively?

I was thinking today if knowledge of the story I’d important to how I set the lyrics. Yes, I would think so. Essential in fact. What I then wondered is if I possessed the musical understanding to capture the subtleties of characterisation in my songs. Or should I just relax and get writing…

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