So Get Rid of the Saxophone

October 19th, 2009 § 0 comments


In the course of reading various books on theatrical directing, I found my way to Harold Clurman’s On Directing.  Now, I am interested in the theater, but I always find myself, perhaps inevitably, considering any thoughts I have concerning the theater as potentially applicable to my various musical endeavors.  So it is with Clurman’s book.  At the beginning of Chapter 7 – The Director’s Work Script – the author has this to say:

Having read the script six or more times and decided what the play’s main action or spine is, the director would then do well to study the play in still another way.  He should read all the parts separately as if he himself were going to act each of them. This will help him find the spines of the chief motivating action for each character. The character’s spine must be conceived as emerging from the play’s main action.  Where such a relation is not evident or non-existent, the character performs no function in the play.  There is no basis for a true characterization unless the character’s prime motivation or spine is found.

Hmmm…this seems to be a particularly fertile metaphor for choices one makes in arranging and orchestrating music.

What if instruments are actors in the score?  What is the “spine of the chief motivating action” for the saxophone in this score?  Does this spine “emerge from the (composition)’s main action“?  “Where such a relation is not evident or non-existent, the (saxophone) performs no function in the (score).

I am the saxophone contemplating my entrance into this song’s arrangement.  Am I essential to this song? Can I help the song be truthfully realized and get over?  Might I be more helpful if I just sit this one out?

What exactly do I mean by a song or musical composition’s main action?

A character’s action is what a character wants.  Blanche DuBois wants rest and protection.  Willie Loman wants his son to be a big “success”.  Dorothy wants to go home to Kansas.  What if a song’s action is what a song wants?  I find myself thinking of songs as memes (per Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene) that want to propagate and replicate truthfully in the hearts and minds of many.  Thinking this way, a song’s action would be to get over – to have further hearts and minds choose to listen to it and permit it (the song) to occupy their attention – perhaps to pass the song along to yet another listener.

Something about this argument, speaking of a song’s “action”, feels a little forced to me.  So be it.  It may yet be a useful metaphor…

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