Tuesday was spent with people processing their day one project notes in their individual teams; figuring out how to write, what to write, how their ideas needed to be structured and why the pieces need to be musicals.

But on Wednesday we all came back together to have another class with Fred and Robert. This time it was about music.

Fred started out by saying that he believed music has content. That content has a visceral effect on the listener; sometimes it makes you move or cry or laugh or become introspective or thoughtful or any number of things. He said that if music doesn’t move you then you aren’t taking advantage of the form. The form of musical theatre is made up of words AND music. Both of them contain and covey meaning and information. Both contain content.

The next statement really blew my mind. He said that people often talk about music serving the words or the words serving the music. Instead, he said, they should both serve the idea of the show, they should both serve the story. (I drew this diagram)


This interested me because it made me realise that rather than the music just emerging from the words or to support the words, that it can come from the idea directly, and it should.

The idea was brought up that music is and has to be visceral which means it conveys instinctive meaning before you even have time to think about it. It can’t just be there to set the words. In the end, the audience will be able to tune out the words, or mishear things, but they can’t not hear the music. And the physical response to music happens before you have time to do any other processing (which takes longer).

I have to say that the reason I like musicals is for the instintive emotional hit they give me, for the way they make me feel even if I don’t understand quite how they are doing it.

We went on to listen to some instrumental music or music with words in langauges we couldn’t understand and tried to describe the visceral content of the music. We were encouarged not to spend too long intellectualising or overthinking this. Just to talk about what it made us feel. I would highly recommend anyone interested in the powers of music and song to spend some time doing this. Just listen to music, closer your eyes and ask yourself what you are feeling. It’s amazing how our own contexts, reference points and interests also dictate the way we feel in response to certain stimuli.

Every so often the group had some apologists (myself included) for lacking musical technique, vocabulary or knowledge. Fred and Robert said: “Everyone can hear. Everyone can feel”. We are all able to hear and experience, so music belongs to everyone.

Here are some other key things from that session:

  • Chromatic scales make us feel uneasy, but that’s just because western music is used to traditional diatonic scales (major and minor) and chromatic scales feel unstable. In some cultures, chromatic scales are used regularly. So this gave the room the idea that music is contextual and based on culture and herritage. That different people will respond to music differently but that no one is wrong.
  • “Any music worth its salt is going to make you feel something. Lyrics should deepen and expand those feelings”.
  • That we should look for ways to tell audiences things that they don’t know yet. “I didn’t come here for you tell me what I already knew, I came here for you to tell me what you  know”.
  • Unlike a recorded song, in a musical you only have one change to grab an audience, to convey what you need. You have to be careful not to lose an audience because if you do, you might not get them back.
  • You don’t always know why you are writing something or what it means. “The best writing is when I don’t knbow why something showed up. But it did so I’ve got to deal with it”. Don’t block yourself by needing to know what everything is immediately. “Maybe some part of you understands more things than some other part of you”.
  • Theatre songs have to be specific. They fit a specific moment and a character and a situation. How does the visceral power help that specificity?
  • Rearranging or reorchestrating can massively effect the content of a piece of music. We heard multiple versions of certain songs that were just arranged, orchestrated or played or sung differently. This can have a huge effect. So don’t dismiss the content of a song until you know how it can be deployed in your show.
  • Fred said that composers don’t always need to wait for words even if the piece is being mostly written lyric first. If the composer knows the story and the characters, then they can always be writing music; fragments, chord progressions, shapes and melodies.

It goes without saying that a lot of ground was covered in this session. Chris, Carl and I went back to our workroom, put on some Beatles music (We’re listening to a lot of different rock bands) and started thinking about what to write next. Chris started writing lists of different rock bands and the eras they write in. We had a discussion about how each Brontë could be characterised by a different musical style to convey the content of their personality. We wondered if era and genre of music should be correlated to the chronology of our piece or whether the era and tone of music could be chopped up and messed around with more.

But what seems obvious to me, is that the Brontës had passion, anger and fearless creativity. And that’s definitely something to sing about. But what should the music contain?