Arabian Nights – round 1

I’m music directing/composing the Theatre Hopkins production of Mary Zimmerman’s adaptation of “The Arabian Nights”. The show goes up in the last three weeks of June, and there’s a lot to do. The play has 83 roles, which I’ve broken down into 13 actors, including two who basically only play instruments. Everybody plays instruments, everybody sings, everybody acts. Nobody ever leaves the stage. It’s an intense show. This early in a project, I wouldn’t usually want to post about it. This time, though, because of the structure of it, I’m doing things differently. I’ve made a complete outline of all of the music I plan to write, in excruciating detail, without actually writing a note of it. This is the first time I’ve ever done anything like that, but it was absolutely the right thing to do. The number of people used in this production is uncertain. Depending on who you have to do the play, how the 83 roles are divided can vary. In order to make sure I had enough instruments to do what I wanted to do musically, I had to do a thorough breakdown of the roles, and plan out what I wanted musically. That sounds like it should be simple, something one can do scene by scene, saying “For that love scene I’ll need a little love music”, and moving on. But to have the level of security I wanted, I needed to be more specific. What I wound up writing explains not only who is playing what when, but how what they’re playing relates to the story. In a play, I always want the music to be serving an explicit storytelling function. If someone in the audience says, “why is there music now?”, then I’ve done my job poorly. I now have, with no pitches at all, a complete account of what it is I need to write for each instrument for each moment. Every time a texture changes, a theme appears, I have a note of it. This could turn out to either be very useful or basically irrelevant. In general, I’m suspicious of pre-composition. Usually, when people plan out the form of a piece before writing it, they wind up writing a completely different form from the one they planned. That might happen to me, but given the emotional dictates of the play, that is, given the detailed and subtle story I’m obligated to tell, I don’t think that will happen. In actuality, I think I’ll be applying this technique whenever I work on a play, and possibly even an opera. If I had a constant answer to that irritating operatic question, “Why are all these people singing?”, I could be very certain to hold the stage. Overall, I’m happy with this new technique, and optimistic about the production. Check out my site (linked up in the blogroll) or Theatre Hopkins for more information. 

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