I love musicals. Most of my less evolved friends make fun of me for this. They undoubtedly associate musicals with sissiness and whimsy. Whereas I know the truth: music plus storytelling evokes emotions unable to be reached by the wittiest romcom or the explodingest thriller.
There is a simple explanation for this. Music, even in its simplest form, has the most direct line to our hearts. If you have a piano handy, I invite you to sit before it and play a C Major chord (C,E,G) You’ll hear a pleasant, perhaps strident sound. There’s no definitive emotion carried by this single noise, but if you change one note of the chord, if you drop the E by a semitone, the new chord will sound unmistakably sad. Anyone who has grown up hearing music played utilising the twelve golden notes of the chromatic scale will instantly understand that.
So, in one second, in fact in the moment between seconds music can convey a primal feeling more strongly than even the most touching monologue.
Quote: “All those moments will be lost in time, like tears in the rain. Time to die.” – Roy Batty
With this weapon in your arsenal you can then skilfully craft the music to emphasise or foreshadow or reassure and you can almost guarantee your audience’s instinctive reaction.
Obviously, some musicals don’t work and that’s usually because the music is not in accord with the activity on stage then the discordant result might be worse than no music at all. The “Jukebox” musicals are dire (IMHO) because the action has been wrestled around a body of work that was never meant to be a cohesive whole. It might also be that the music and songs are merely bad. The writer cannot just bung a few songs into a play and claim his job is done. As with any artistic endeavour, it’s not that simple.
However, when it works, it really works.
There is a moment in the aptly titled “The Sound of Music” where Captain von Trapp is singing at the festival that I can barely even think about without squirting tears out over my computer screen.
He is a proud man and, as he attempts to sing the Austrian folk song “Edelweiss” to his fellow countrymen the full enormity of what is happening to the world, to his family and to himself settles onto his shoulders. He looks around the auditorium and sees people bowed or enthralled by fascism and for a second his strength and breath fail him.
His voice falters.
Maria, who has come to know and love him throughout the film, quickly steps forward and lends him her sweet voice and then ushers the children forward. Buoyed by the support of his family the proud Captain regains his strength and finishes the song to rapturous applause.
It’s simple, but it would not be as heart-wrenchingly beautiful without the music. If he was merely making a speech and Maria stepped in to help it would be easy to see him as weak. As it is, the music carries the message in harmony with the action and the film steps beyond its celluloid medium and into the realm of the exquisite.
My problem now, is how am I going to survive my daughter’s school production of this?