Posts Tagged ‘collaboration’

More often than not there are inevitably songs written for shows that seem fairly innocuous, even to the writers. I can’t speak for Sara, but for me, one of those songs in The Memory Show was a number that occurs roughly two-thirds of the way through the show called “What’s Inside”, until today’s rehearsal.

Click here for a fairly academic (and perhaps pompous) description of music’s role in the show to preface all future posts (and please excuse my attempt at using set theory terminology).

What struck me today, enough to write this blog post, was how the Mother’s melodies function in relation to their accompaniment’s harmonic language.  Our esteemed, and quite brilliant, music director unknowingly re-acquainted me with this relationship when helping Catherine navigate the aforementioned relationship. In “What’s Inside” the Mother is desperately trying to explain her thoughts to her Daughter, but partly because of who she is and partly because of the Alzheimer’s, the phrases may, at first listen, seem like gibberish. For example, the lyric to the first A section:

A broken glass

A missing shoe

A piece of fish

A dab of glue

My life like a walnut

Cracked by you

What’s inside

Gibberish right? No. To the Mother (through Catherine, and of course Sara’s brilliant intention) everything relates to a very specific moment in the Mother’s life. The Daughter (and subsequently the audience) just isn’t in the right mode, or doesn’t have the “rosetta stone” to translate.

Musically, I chose to represent that in two ways (and I went back and noticed that the Mother’s music does this in all of her songs – probably a separate “part 2” blog entry).

The Melody (broken into two phrases):


What's Inside a


What's Inside b

Phrase A looks fairly simple. It’s basically a C Major triad…over and over…and over again. Phrase B is another story. It starts to look a bit scary (from a performer’s point of view), especially when just four bars before we were in very friendly waters. It may help to note that “like a walnut, cracked” is set to a variation on the beginning four notes of the shared, and very often used theme [0, 11, 7, 4], but in the moment who thinks of motif variation. (more on this theme in another blog post)

Ironically, Phrase A, when coupled with the accompaniment, is a tad more challenging.

Phrase A (with accompaniment):

What's Inside c

It’s not COMPLETELY unhelpful. There’s that bass movement I mentioned above that is EVERYWHERE in the Mother’s music. Mostly, the addition of the Eb against the Enat, Ab against the implied G and the D drone throughout complicates, muddies and signifies the lack of understanding the Daughter and audience are feeling against the simplicity and clarity with which the Mother believes she is speaking.

To EVERYONE’s amusement, in order to help get the melody completely ingrained in Catherine’s head, Vadim improvisatorially accompanied the melody with a jaunty exchange between I-IV-I-V (more on Vadim’s musical comedy in another post to come).

Funnily enough, Catherine, like it was a nursery rhyme, intuited the more challenging, and under which has a more rapidly changing harmonic motion, Phrase B. This is most likely due to the clean harmonic support in the accompaniment.

Phrase B (with accompaniment):

What's Inside d

What was also fun to notice, because I don’t think I initially planned this, is that, although in Phrase A I am very blatantly using the Mother’s harmonic motion, in Phrase B I switch to a reference to the Daughter’s harmonic motion (roots = [C -> Ab or 0 -> 8] and then [G -> D# (Eb) or -transposed- 0 -> 8] and then as it resolves back to Phrase A [A -> C or -transposed- 0 -> 8]) perhaps to signify the Mother’s desperate attempt to appeal to her Daughter.

It was also fun to notice that for the Daughter’s response and attempt to ground her Mother through what the Daughter views as an “episode” I used an “arpeggial” inversion of Phrase A in the bM (the common harmonic relationship they share).

What's Inside e

Anywho, for most, this post (and I suppose some of my future posts) will probably seem to be ramblings of a musically narcissistic nerd. But I promise I’m not writing this stuff to self-aggrandize at all. These posts are coming from a self-reflective place; I’m trying to reckon my own musical language for the show while it’s fresh from rehearsal; I’m trying to find balance and meaning in my music through what Arnold Schoenberg dichotomized as the inspired and constructed. I also believe there is a deficit of thought in this area as it pertains to musical theatre, so I hope this kind of discussion may be helpful to any other composers out there. I know it’ll be helpful for me for others to comment or share their own experiences. And please, other composers, writers or normal people, comment and call me out on the stuff you disagree with!

Thanks for reading! 🙂


The Little Things

I got a call this morning from our magnificent orchestrator, as I do every morning before she begins work on another tune. Even though we’ve gone though the score, she always takes the time to ask any questions that may clarify her orchestral ideas about the particular song she sets out to work on that day. Now I should preface this, I come from a background heavily weighted and influenced by music theory. She, in addition to being a brilliant musician, having studied as a classical pianist, is no stranger to analysis. But her question about a particular harmony really struck a chord (bad pun).

The Memory Show is not necessarily characterized as a conventional Musical Theatre score. Some songs have pan-tonal aspects and some use straightforward harmonic progressions. The piece as a whole uses and develops themes to drive the dramatic arc of the show. However, sometimes when I write I: 1) write without knowing what the hell it is theoretically and 2) over complicate. On the former, I think that’s ok sometimes. You like the sound, write it down. But this was unnecessarily weird and unstable in a song that is dramatically and tonally stable.   Also, interestingly enough, this is a song that has been performed many times outside the context of the show and hasn’t changed a note since our first draft and no one ever mentioned this particular harmony (not that it was any one’s responsibility to, just was interesting).  On the phone she patiently waited while I figured out how it was supposed to function and I, unsurprisingly, discovered that she was totally correct. It was a pretty thin and unfulfilled (or I suppose unresolved) tritone substitution (so that the two bars should be acting as II-V that deceptively resolves to IV as the tune continues).

In order to make this not only more stable and clear, but also to complement the overall goal of creating a more groove based tune I decided to simplify and go straight from II-V(susb9) and then walk the bass down to Ab through an altered Am7.

Nothing groundbreaking, just a small example, not only of how great collaboration can be, but how a piece is never done, just finished for now.