Friday, September 28, 2012

A Song By Any Other Name

Hi Everybody!

(Hi Dr. Nick!)

Today, I want to delve into a conversation that I had the other day with an amazing person that I've just recently gotten more acquainted with, Ms. Jen Waldman.

For anyone in the business who doesn't know Jen yet, you should.  She not only has wonderful credits as a performer (and the talent to back them up), but she has also been doing great things for our community by way of instruction, coaching and most recently, producing.  (To learn more about Jen and her accomplishments/efforts/classes, click here.)

Anyway, I took an awesome class with Jen, and afterward we were discussing my 'Charm Song' posting.  She has very strong thoughts about the term, and about catagorizing songs in musicals, as a whole.  Her opinion (and correct me if I misspeak, Jen!) was that the catagory of 'Charm Song' often feels like a misnomer.  The term implies a sound or quality within the piece that at this stage of the game is rare, and therefore the term doesn't truly express the intention of the song.  I actually tend to agree with her.  In fact, even at BMI our moderators often state their frustration with the label.  I wouldn't be surprised if a new term was coined soon that helps give a clearer idea of what this type of song accomplishes.

Once we were in agreement about the definition, and questionable titling, we went deeper.  We started to delve into the discussion of catagorizing songs in general, and why we even have to do so.  (Especially when the labels can seem inaccurate at times.)

"Why do we catagorize song types in a musical?"

In popular music today, we have ballad or uptempo.  That is all.  Ballad or Uptempo.  Makes sense, clean and further description really required.  If you want to go deeper, you can specify the style of song (i.e. country, rock, pop), but we rarely go beyond that, because we don't need to.  The song stands alone and therefore we are not required to think about what the song is 'doing'.  How it's helping a greater whole.

In American Musical theater, however, that is not the case.  We have to consider how a song is servicing the story. 

"What Function is the Song Serving?"

There are several catagories of song in musical theatre.  (Charm Song, Comedy Song, Relationship Developing Song, I Am/I Want Song, Opening Number...etc.)  These catagories include basic rules that serve as guidelines.  They are in place so that writers are able to follow (or at least consider) a specific set of ideas that will assist them in the storytelling of the show.  I will open discussion to go into greater detail about each song catagory in future posts, but for now we can understand that every song in a show has an intended purpose, and helps propel us through to the end in some way or another.  As with everything, the rules are often broken...but it is best if this is done with the knowledge of the rule in the first place. That way, rule abiding or not, the song can accomplish what it sets out to do, and without raising any eyebrows with the audience.

The various song types, or catagories, are just labels...names decided upon long ago, so that we had something to call 'the-song-that-helps-establish-the-main-character' (I Am/I Want Song) or 'that-song-that-is-put-in-just-to-make-us-laugh-out-loud-and-forget-the-woes-of-the-last-scene' (Comedy Song).  These labels are allowed to be imperfect, because they are just there to let us know the function the song plays, not tell us exactly how it's going to do it.

And so with these labels in place, a storyteller can structure their show with a clear idea of what 'kind' of song is best suited for each moment, even if they don't know exactly what the song is yet.  Then, when crafting the actual moments, they have a loose set of instructions to help govern the writing of the tune so that it performs the proper storytelling function, and is far more likely to succeed!

Cool stuff, huh?

And now, some extra fun!!

Since a blog is nothing without it's readers, I am going to invite YOU to be part of the process!

You are the next Lehman Engel, and all of American Musical Theatre is looking to YOU to relabel the 'Charm Song'!
Leave a comment below with your suggestion for a new catagory label that serves the 'Charm Song' function...

Who knows, maybe it'll stick!

Until next time...

...of 'Lee'rical Wordplay...

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