Posts Tagged ‘lynne shankel’

As described in a previous post, The Memory Show’s music was/is composed as a complete and cyclic score, fully integrated with the dramatic journey these two characters take. At the heart of the score (literally #8 in a #15 tune score) is the song “Me and My Mother”. Ironically, though most songs from this show are extremely dependant on the context in which they are presented, “Me and My Mother” has proven to be one of maybe two that can be presented with minimal, if not any, context; luckily, the context only augments its impacts.

When Lynne sent me the orchestration (one of the more eagerly awaited scores) she called it a Pas de deux between the Violin and the Oboe. At first I thought to myself, “That’s sweet…but why not between the accompaniment and the vocal line?”. Of course, the answer presented itself to me, whether or not this was Lynne’s intention. The entire show is a Pas de deux between Leslie and Catherine. Mothers and Daughters dance around each other their entire lives (mostly metaphorically, but maybe sometimes literally). In fact, during the first days of rehearsal our esteemed leader Joe Calarco had them play with that kind of a special relationship to each other by having Leslie try to be as close as possible to Catherine whilst Catherine tried to stay as far away from Leslie as possible…and then they’d switch. It was a brilliant exercise to help them discover just what kind of “dance” they do as Mother and Daughter (though I’m pretty sure Joe would define his intentions differently, so please know this is only my observation).

In most great orchestrations, the orchestrator doesn’t just take the piano part (or “reduction”) and assign notes to instruments. He/she creates colors, moods, lines, reinforces themes, manipulates themes all in the hope of not only achieving aesthetic beauty, but of fueling the dramatic thrust of the show. In “Me and My Mother” Lynne signifies the difficult notion that, when it comes to our relationship to our parents, we are “exactly alike, but different in every way.”

The Oboe only shows its two-headed face in three of the 23 charts (15 main, 8 transition). Those songs are “Me and My Mother”, and its harmonic/lyric sister songs “I’m Her Apple” and “Apple and Tree” (the phrase apple and tree appears in the lyric of Me and My Mother as “I’m her apple and she and my tree”). This is extremely significant whether an audience member realizes it or not. In such a clarinet and flute driven score, the appearance of a double reed is something special. How Lynne goes on to treat the Oboe line (in relation to the themes of the show and the Violin) further surprised and excited me.

Naturally, the orchestration is eased into, the Oboe making its first appearance in m.5 (see figure 1) and the violin follows in m.6 and their treatment harkens a call and response. Then the violin speaks first in m.7 to which the Oboe responds in m.8 (just as in the previous example) in contrary motion. This dance continues in m.9-10 until in m.11 (at the next A section) the are finally dancing together in oblique motion, which is nice…imagine two dancers dance apart and then finally touch hands and moving together. This lasts only three measures at which time the violin breaks off for two measures. Don’t worry though; they meet again in measure 16. This brings us to the first chorus and the counterpoint just begins to blossom into something a little more florid. The BEST moment though is when the Violin finally answers (figure 2) the opening Oboe line (which also happens to be a variation on the Mother and Daughter’s shared theme) in a direct quotation right after the lyric “I’m made out of her but she’s not made of me” (this happens in both choruses…because it’s too good to happen just once).


(Figure 1)


(Figure 2)

The return to the A brings a Mozart-esque G5 quietly soaring atop the piano and vocal in the violin before it is joined by the Oboe again two measures later (you know, that scene in Amadeus when Salieri hears Mozart’s octet, I believe, for the first time with that soaring oboe, or was it clarinet (?), line before he actually he’s the perv from the other room when Mozart takes the baton from the fill-in conductor – consequently one of my favorite scenes in that movie). From here on out it is a mixture of obliquely moving motives and florid counterpoint until the end of the second chorus where we get a rare, though beautiful, contrary moving couplet (Figure 3). Not surprisingly, also take note the melody on the last “Me and My Mother”.

Figure 3 blog 3

(Figure 3)

Lynne likes to say that, so far, through these blogs I make her seem smarter than she actually is…but as you can see she (and as I will continue to point out whenever I write about her orchestration) is quite brilliant and I’m sure knows exactly what she’s doing. At the risk of sounding extremely cheesy, our dance together as collaborators, though already three (jeez!) years old, has only just begun!

The music for The Memory Show [TMS] is written to illuminate the scenario in which the Mother and Daughter find themselves.

The Mother begins the show with a very pointed ostinato accompaniment that is horizontally chromatic but ultimately diatonically tonal.  This chromaticism within a fairly malleable diatonic system only grows throughout the show: as if this show were a machine that slowly and consistently shook a plastic bottle (the Mother) filled with a carbonated drink (the disease) until finally, at the end, her music just explodes onto the stage in the form of a song (“Unlovable”) filled with fairly quick, relatively distantly related, harmonic shifts and a gradually growing accompaniment built on a combination of themes that have ostensibly been churning within her over the course of her entire life. However, at its core, all of the Mother’s music is based on the ordered set [0, 3, 0, -2]

Contrastingly, if the Mother’s music is the source of dysfunction within their relationship, the Daughter’s music represents the structural foundation, and potential good, of the relationship.  It is a touch more grounded and is the source for the four-chord progression that permeates the entire score in some form or another (the roots of which opcs [0, 8, 3, 5] or opcs [0, 3, 5, 8] are distantly related to the Mother’s set, both incorporating the use of the bM).  Though her accompaniment may seem to echo the “ostinato” at times, both her harmonies and melodies live in a more accessible and popular, almost “alternative rock”, aesthetic.  Naturally then, when they argue/sing together in “You Remember Him Wrong” the music is polytonal; as if forcing a graft of two distinct personalities on top of one another.

The two share a common theme that can be found throughout the show in vocal lines, orchestral lines (thank you Lynne!) and transitional/incidental music. ([0, 11, 7, 4, 9]).

The score is most certainly contemporary musical theatre. The songs serve to both advance the drama and zoom in on the complex emotions of the characters at the time in which they sing. However, unlike some musical theatre scores that consist of a series of songs or numbers that may or may not be related to one another synecdochically, TMS’s score should be thought of as one unified body that undergoes cyclical development over the course of the show’s 85 minutes. Though this draws on techniques found in works of a more operatic or “serious” nature and those of Stephen Sondheim, like the characters of TMS, the harmonic/melodic language of the music remains uniquely its own.

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.