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We are a group of friends/parents that run a not-for-profit cultural association in Spain.
This is our (bilingual!) blog about our theatre workshops for kids...

miércoles, 18 de enero de 2012

Starting from Scratch VIII: choosing the music

The stage productions we develop on our workshops centre on music. It provides the dramatic backdrop to the action and helps establish the 'mood' - and indeed to some extent - the message of each scene. So making the right choice of music is a very important (and time consuming!) part of the process when it comes to developing our own material.

Any music we use, needs to:
  • be a suitable length (is it long enough? can I shorten it easily?)
  • have a structure kids will be able to easily recognise (obviously all music has structure, but is it structured in a way kids will be able to follow up on stage?)
  • convey the essence, the mood, the atmosphere... of the scene

To kick off the selection process, I tend to look first at obvious choices like sound tracks to films of a similar theme (in the case of "The Ugle Bug Ball", I might first listen to the sound track to "A Bug's Life or "Bee Movie") or well-known, similarly themed classical music ("The Fight of the Bumblebee" by Rimsky-Korsakov is an obvious choice, for example).
Cover of Bee Movie (Full Screen Edition)

After a bit of googling, I can start to expand the list. For the "Ugly bug ball" I find a surprising number of possible sources of inspiration:
  • 'Insect Symphony' by contemporary Finnish composer Kalevi Aho (this includes pieces for butterflies, dung beetles, grasshoppers, ants and dayflies so would be a good place to start)
  • "The Spider's Feast" by Roussel 
  • Overture to the Wasps by Vaughan Williams
  • Scriabin's Tenth Sonata, also known as the "Insect" sonata due to its trills. 
  • Bartok's "The Night's Music" from his piano suite "Out of Doors" mimics different creatures at night...birds, frogs, insects.....
  • Mussorgsky's "Song of the Flea"
  • Grieg's "Papillon"
  • Schumann’s Les Papillons
  • Schubert’s Der Einsame (The Lonely) about the melancholy of a cricket, sitting on a hearth, mourning the disappearance of the summer
  • "The Ant and the Grasshopper" by Leon Rosselson
  •  Josquin des Prez's "El grillo e buon cantore"  is a musical painting of a grasshopper

A search for more modern themes comes up with a long list of gems  like:
  • Chet Atkins "Centipede Boogie"
  • "Spiders" by System of a Down
  • "Bug Eyes" by Dredg
    Wonderful (Adam Ant album)
    Image via Wikipedia
  • "Butterflies and Hurricanes" by Muse
  • Nina Simone's "Funkier than a Mosquitoes Tweeter"
  • "Insects" by 10 Years
  • "Butterfly Caught2 by Massive Attack
  • "Ant Music" by Adam & the Ants
  • "Hey there little insect!" by Jonathan Richman and the Modern Lovers 
  • "Black Butterfly" by Sounds Of Blackness
Not all these songs will be suitable (and many will not really even be about insects!) but the advantage of throwing the net as wide as possible is you might just find something perfect, something really inspiring. It takes a lot of listening on Youtube and Spotify (and a lot of crossing off the list) before you can really start to narrow it down. but the effort is worth it in the end because of what the right piece of music can bring to your play.

English: James Brown, February 1973, Musikhall...
Image via Wikipedia
I like to also think about juxtaposition when I'm choosing music for a play. I like it to 'sit well' with what comes before and after it and to provide contrast. I also like using vintage (or simply, older!) songs and music, as they can sometimes be used in a way that is witty. A song like Adam Ant's "Ant Music" for example might be a witty choice for a scene about..... well, the ants, precisely because it is such a, well, obvious choice... and because it will make the adults in the audience chuckle. Vintage choices provide great beats and sometimes a more theatrical musical style. Songs that spring to mind that could be used in this way for this play are Chet Atkins "Centipede Boogie", "I Got Ants In My Pants" by James Brown,"La Cucaracha" by Los Lobos or "Mean Old Bedbug Blues" by Bessie Smith. Depending on how the play itself pans itself, on the direction it takes, there is sometimes room for something a little experimental if it might resonate with audience. An example of something that could be used with our theme would be Tom Waits' spoken 'song' "Army Ants". The moment would need to be there but it could work.

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