Musical Materials

Thursday 19 May 2016, 6.00PM to 7.30pm

"As animals our lives are marked by rhythms, and the rhythmical activities of ventilation and heart beat are tangible evidence of the life force in each of us", Taylor and colleagues write in their (1999) Physiological Reviews article on the cardiovascular and respiratory system. With this "life force" as a pulse reverberating deep through the body, it's as if our heart beat and breath breaks the silence of non-life as rhythms of nature that move us like music. One might ask: Are we not something akin to an instrument of music, our lives, something of an improvisation? What is the nature of the undeniably intimate relationship between music, the body and mind? 

Join us for an evening exploring the potential of music and musicals on our understanding of expressions of the self. Following the two papers by our speakers, there will be a Q&A discussion session. Dr. Aine Sheil, lecturer in the Music Department, will be chairing this session. 

"Musicals about Musicals: Self-Referentiality in Performance"

When Idina Menzel launched into “Over the Moon” during the original production of Jonathan Larson’s rock musical Rent, she was no longer simply portraying the character Maureen: she was Maureen performing. For the purposes of this paper, “self-referentiality” takes two major forms: a “self-referential” phrase, song, or show might foreground the surreal position of the actor on stage by making a character act, or it might deputize the worldof theatre as the world of the narrative. Ashley’s paper will critically analyse such “self-referential” moments to determine how and why they emerge in contemporary musical theatre. From LGBT indie Were the World Mine to the Kander and Ebb classic, Cabaret, selected stage, film, and television case studies will highlight the exciting possibilities of this new project that transcends boundaries within the Anglo-American musical theatre canon.

Ashley Gonik is currently studying the MA in History of Art at the University of York and starting a dissertation on “Empty Space in Early Modern Historical Tables.” An early modernist at heart, she is also conducting a placement in the Theatre and Performance 
department at the Victoria and Albert Museum (London) with a focus on contemporary musical theatre. She previously studied History and Jewish Studies at the University of California, Berkeley, and wrote her undergraduate thesis on the radical Italian philosopher, Giordano Bruno.

"Sondheim’s Rhymes and Their Reasons"

Stephen Sondheim pays meticulous attention to rhyme in his lyrics, and he opens his 2010 autobiography, Finishing the Hat, with an essay on rhyme and its reasons. His use of rhyme is highly crafted and sophisticated, with much use of internal and trick rhymes which both demonstrate his skill and add to the quality of the songs. But these rhymes serve a larger purpose than simply making Sondheim’s songs more pleasing to the ear. This paper explores how Sondheim utilises rhyme both as a method of characterisation and to represent his characters’ shifts between self-control and panic or madness. Looking specifically at ‘Not Getting Married Today’ from Company, ‘Epiphany’ from Sweeney Todd, and ‘Franklin Shepard Inc.’ from Merrily We Roll Along, it can be seen that Sondheim’s lyrics are usually structured so that a character’s ability to rhyme collapses as their thought processes become panicked and frenzied, but that the choice to deploy this effect is deeply influenced by the character singing the song.

Max is currently studying for an MA in Modern and Contemporary Literature and Culture and has a keen interest in music lyricism. In addition to examining Sondheim’s lyrics, Max wrote his undergraduate dissertation on the lyrics of Bob Dylan and is currently writing his MA thesis on expressions of resistance in hip hop and spoken word poetry.

Location: The Treehouse, Berrick Saul Building