Music has been used in theatre for many years. In this blog I explore some key aspects of music in theatre.
Music plays a crucial role in theatre, enhancing the overall experience for the audience. It can help convey the emotions, set the tone, and underscore the narrative. Whilst some people prefer a play to have no music I personally enjoy choosing or writing music to accompany a scene when I’m directing a play..as long as it doesn’t intrude! I’ve been commissioned to write music for a few plays and the collaboration between me and the director can often be an exciting one!
Here are some of the key aspects of music in theatre:
Emotional Impact: Music can evoke emotions and enhance the emotional resonance of a scene. It can intensify joy, sorrow, tension, or excitement, helping the audience connect with the characters and the story on a deeper level.
Setting the Tone: The type of music used can establish the tone of the production. For example, a light and whimsical melody might set a comedic tone, while a dark and dramatic score can signal a tragic or suspenseful atmosphere.
Transition and Flow: Music can be used to smooth transitions between scenes, creating a continuous flow throughout the performance. It can cover scene changes, costume changes, or shifts in time or location, keeping the audience engaged during these transitions.
Characterisation: Music can be used to establish and define characters. Each character may have their own musical motif or theme that represents their personality, motivations, or conflicts. This technique is often used in operas and musicals, but when I directed A Midsummer Night’s Dream we wrote little pieces of music to accompany the main characters.
Narrative Enhancement: Music can emphasise key moments and themes in the narrative. It can underscore pivotal events, highlight conflicts, and emphasise character development. In A Comedy Of Errors we used a parody of Star Wars to add a little humour, and indeed drama, to a sword fight.
Mood and Atmosphere: Music can create a specific mood or atmosphere that supports the story's setting. Whether it's a historical drama, a fantasy adventure, or a futuristic sci-fi tale, the music can transport the audience to the desired world. A production ofIra Levin’s play Deathtrap was enhanced by some rather dramatic music at the beginning of the play (where lighting highlighted key areas of the stage) and indeed throughout. I was acting in this one and I can confirm having suitable and dramatic music when you’re performing a dastardly deed really enhances the performance.
Rhythm and Pace: The tempo and rhythm of the music can affect the pacing of a scene. Upbeat music can increase the tempo and energy, while slower melodies can create a more contemplative mood.
Sound Effects: Music can also serve as a form of sound effects, such as using stingers for surprise moments or crescendos for building tension. Very often these will be used for comical effect.
Live Performance: In live theatre, music is often performed by live musicians or singers. The presence of live performers adds a unique and dynamic element to the theatrical experience, allowing for improvisation and a direct connection between performers and audience. A production of Of Mice And Men, had a guitarist playing live during scene changes. The player had also written the music.
Sound Design: In addition to composed music, sound design includes ambient sounds, background noises, and other auditory elements that contribute to the overall sensory experience of the play. I directed a production of Tom Stoppard’s The Real Inspector Hound and had a radio at the back of the stage, which was central to the plot. In amateur theatre any sound effects often come blasting out from the front of house speakers which kind of ruins the effect. Any show I direct I always try to have the sound coming from where it’s meant to. For example, a piano being played, coming from the piano. The radio at the back of stage (in Hound) actually coming from the back of the stage.
In the next blog I’ll explore some of the composers that wrote music for theatrical plays.