From the Musical Director

Posted in Music, Rehearsal, Summer 2009, Twelfth Night on August 15th, 2009 by kellinewby

Here are a few words form Eric Auld, the musical director of Twelfth Night about writing and producing music for the show (with samples of the music):

Following a performance by spoken word poet Taylor Mali at the College of Saint Rose this past February, Melissa Quirk (our director for this summer’s production of Twelfth Night) and I headed out to a crowded bar in Albany to review the evening’s performance and, of course, to discuss some Shakespeare. After a few vodka cranberries, the conversation sounded something like this:

Eric: “You know what I was thinking?”

Melissa: “What?”

Eric: “You should have original music for the show. Yes.”

And suddenly I was Musical Director.

As primarily an accordion player, I was a bit confused at first, since accordionists rarely get egged on to produce/compose more music than is necessary. (You know the old joke: “What’s the number one request for an accordionist?” “Can you play Far, Far Away?”) I didn’t worry too much about the decision, though, since I knew the music could easily be expanded to include other instruments. So I agreed to take on the role. At the time, though, I wasn’t aware as to exactly how much work would be involved as Musical Director. I figured, “Four… five… no, no… six songs. Can’t be that much work, right?”

Well.

The first task was nailing down the theme of our production so I could work within a specific genre. From what I can recall, the three finalists mentioned at our first production meeting were: Circus, Rock Opera, and the late 1960s. After shaking my head vehemently at Rock Opera (WHAT?!), I could see either of the other two as a possibility. Luckily, because of both the nautical plotlines in the text and the fortieth anniversary of Woodstock approaching, both themes were merged into one: Late 60s Coney Island.

In order to find inspiration for such music, our “Musical Team” (including myself, Alexia Trainor as Feste, David A. Winn, Jr., Michael Trainor, Dan Soha and others) listened to music from the era, primarily Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan, Simon and Garfunkel, etc. etc. etc. We knew that summing up the music of the late 60s in one production would be an impossible task, so in order to simplify things, one initial division was made: the live songs would be performed acoustically and would have a folksy feel to them, whereas the recorded songs (for scene changes) would vary from “Feel-Good Flower Power” to “In-a-Gadda-Da-Vida-esque” and would even include some circus themes. (Where else, after all, was I going to throw in the accordion?)

And thus the creative wheels began turning. Two types of music rehearsals took place: one with Feste and Feste’s “Posse” (the live musical accompanists) for the songs in the text, and another with Posse members and other musicians for the recorded instrumental pieces, which were to serve as variations of melodies used for the textual songs. This way, not only could the tunes become recognizable very quickly, but the experimentation with different genres could be explored even further. Take “Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain,” for example. The live, folksy tune could be slightly altered (with different instruments, tempo, rhythm, etc.) to give it a jazzier feel or altered even more to sound like as if it belongs at a sideshow on Coney Island.

Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain-Coney-Island-Melody.mp3 Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain-Electric-Version.mp3

Also, not only could this emphasize the musical feel of the scene changes, but, in certain cases (maybe more with “Come Away Death” than “Hey, Ho, the Wind and the Rain”), could even help associate the interpretation of the lyrics of a previously performed song with the interpretation of the scene change itself.

But back to the music rehearsal process. Though I wrote simple melodies for all of the six songs, rehearsals were nothing less than a collaborative effort. I wish the program didn’t read “Musical Composition by Eric K. Auld,” as this is a partial lie; I only brought in some starting points to take off from. As a group, we experimented with dynamics in these melodies to determine (in both the live and recorded versions) tempo, key, rhythm, harmony (for the vocal tracks), what instruments to use, volume, syncopation, repetition, resolution, etc. etc.—in order to attempt to nail down the sound and feel of these primary tunes and their variations. Oftentimes we would go back and forth between decisions involving something as miniscule as a sixteenth note and something as grand as the genre itself. One of my favorite suggestions that I heard was an unresolved ending for “Come Away Death” (suggested by David A. Winn, Jr.), which simply changed the final note of the melody from a tonic chord note to a dominant chord note. This change not only brings out the Doors-esque sound of the song even more, but, by leaving such a song as “Come Away Death” unresolved, it helps to emphasize the unrequited love and woeful dissatisfaction of the speaker. Just as the speaker asks for love and is denied it, just as he/she asks for death and is denied it, the listener asks for a peaceful resolution (what the ear is expecting), but it is never to come. (Ha, ha! Foiled again!)

Come-Away-Death1.mp3

After the weeks upon months of this (at which point we surprisingly weren’t entirely sick of the same six tunes), it was time to record it all, both for scene changes and a CD, since the idea of selling a CD to unsuspecting audience members was presented early in the process and nobody happened to oppose it. (Thus we are immortalized!) Todd Hamilton (Berkshire Idol Champion and T.D. for this show) was very gracious to donate his four hours at Skyboro Sound to us, and Jamie Choquette was even more gracious to reconstruct the recording studio for us (since Skyboro Sound is now officially closed) for those four hours, as well as record and mix the tracks himself. It was a fairly simple process, and Jamie got us in and out with what we had hoped for—the nine recorded tracks for scene changes—in that short amount of time. A big thanks goes out to Mr. Hamilton and Mr. Choquette. Also to Mike Trainor, for allowing us to record the live songs (for the CD) at Chez Ballou (a.k.a. “Mike Trainor’s mics”) and for mixing those tracks for us.

On a more somber note, the most difficult part of this process was losing Ellen Bindman-Hicks, a very talented young guitarist and vocalist. (See story a few posts down for details.) Though I only had the chance of rehearsing with her once, I’m glad that I had the opportunity to meet and listen to her for that brief period of time. She had an incredible amount of potential, and it’s always a shame and a true loss when such a life is unwillingly cut off at a young age. I just wish that we at Main Street Stage could have gotten to know her a little bit better.

So. After numerous rehearsals, decisions, changes, losses, transpositions, etc. etc., we have finally made it. It was a long summer… yes, a very long summer. The role of Musical Director encompassed more work than I originally had imagined—more work on top of playing the role of Duke Orsino as well. But that’s all one, our play is done—almost. One performances left. Come see and listen for yourself!

Hey-Ho-Wind-and-the-Rain1.mp3