Posts Tagged ‘The Memory Show’

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).

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(Figure 1)

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(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!

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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):

a)

What's Inside a

b)

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! 🙂

And just like that, it’s begun.

When THE MEMORY SHOW made its World Premiere at Barrington Stage Company in 2010, you would have been hard-pressed to convince me that I would be sitting in a rehearsal studio at a theater on 42nd Street with some of the most brilliant theatre artists I have ever known as we prepare for the show’s Off-Broadway debut.

And yet here we are.

I would like to get sentimental. After all, it’s a very personal show. It’s the same director and music director and actors, with all of whom Zach and I are breathlessly in love. It’s being produced by people who are loving and gentle with it, who are passionate and whose work I admire. I am grateful beyond belief. I am happy beyond repair.

But I’m not a sentimental person.  So all I can do is sit in the room, enjoy the moment, and breathe.

Catherine CoxRehearsal, Day 1

Catherine Cox
Rehearsal, Day 1

~Sara

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.

BEFORE

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AFTER

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-Zach