Music-theatre composition, for Piano and Mezzo-Soprano, performed by Philip Mead and Amanda Dean, 2011
“A very bold choice of material, to take just a very few words and focus in solely on these. There is a nice tension between the fact that the words are known from My Fair Lady and the way that, stripped back to just the six words, it created something very ambiguous, which could be wonderful, disturbing, or both.”
– Amanda Dean, vocalist
“I found this piece an intriguing challenge. The self imposed limitations of the piano writing were a challenge to the imagination which I enjoyed and seemed to work well … How to get maximum effect from minimal means seemed to be the order of the day and I found the piece very effective.”
– Philip Mead, Pianist
I began by wanting to investigate the nature of Music Theatre: what is it? How do the musical and non-musical elements interact? What is the relationship between the bodily production of music and theatrical gestures? How does this embodiment affect the performer and the audience? What is the relationship between embodiment and a ‘live’ Music Theatre experience?
First of all, there are conventions of presenting and viewing bodies on stage… Second, the body is a site of power, and a site where power can be questioned and explored… Third, the body can be used as an analytical strategy or vantage point.” (Conroy, 2009)
I don’t just ‘use’ my body- I am my body. I don’t just ‘feel’ emotion then ‘express’ it bodily- it is an entirely reflexive process. Creating or listening to music has the potential to affect this reflexive process in an ineffable way. This led me to question firstly, how this process might be distilled musically and secondly, how theatrical gestures might be used to amplify this effect.
I decided this needed to be investigated physically. During the process I noted the following: “I’ve been resolutely singing an E against all kinds of weird and wonderful and horrible chords. It’s strangely exhausting! Entirely different from what it’s like if I just add an E to the chord in the piano and listen to it. I feel like I’ve been tossed around by the sea and washed up on the beach. Sometimes I found myself involuntarily pulling faces- a grimace or a wince, or changing the vowel sound to more open one when it was easier.” I also spontaneously arrived at the phrase “I could have danced all night”; there is a clear Musical Theatre connotation to the phrase, however I was unfamiliar with the song itself so it is not a direct musical reference, perhaps a cultural one, the ‘meaning’ of which (to me) is opaque. I liked the ambiguity of the phrase and its reference to dance, another music-related, expressive, embodied creative practice.
In structuring my investigations into a piece of Music Theatre, I began to further consider the audience, who themselves ‘are bodies’ too. Audiences speak of wishing to be ‘moved’ yet how do they react when they are? Often, with discomfort. The theatrical space is a space shared by bodies; physical presence of the emoting body is very relevant to the emotional discourse. In this manner it could be argued that ‘music performance’ with a high emotional content is already blurring at the edges of Music Theatre, as the performer’s physical gestures and presence act as a conduit for part of the audience’s emotional experience. Thus I have settled on ‘amplification’ as a way of characterising the particular interaction between music and theatrical gestures which this piece explores. Musically, the piece is composed to provoke, through its physical, functional performance, an embodied tension and emotion, which the performers are invited to explore. Theatrically, the performers are directed to amplify this embodied emotion with the aim of provoking an emotional experience in the audience.
Conroy, D.C., 2009. Theatre and The Body, Palgrave Macmillan.