This evening Mercury Musical Developments hosted the Lionel Bart Memorial Masterclass with guest speakers John Caird and Gareth Valentine. Some MMD writers also presented some of their songs for them to discuss and offer suggestions for improvement.
I was surprised to discover that a lot of musical theatre composers don't really write dots and that it is often left up to the MD to do this. Steve's ability to compose, arrange and write dots means that he has a lot more control over the music than a lot of other musical composers. Trusting his experience and brilliance I am rather glad about this.
There was quite a lot of discussion about what the difference is between a musical and an opera. John Caird said that "operas are written by composers", and I suppose it is true that we all remember the composers of operas but hardly anyone takes any notice of who wrote the vocal score. Everyone knows that Wagner wrote Tristan and Isolda but who really knows Richard Kleinmichel. Whereas the creators of musicals usually come in pairs eg Kander (composer) and Ebb (lyricist). One main difference seems to be that in musical theatre songs can be changed to different keys to suit the actors but that this doesn't happen in opera, probably because the music is treated in a more reverent way. Use of dialogue does not seem to be a difference because there is dialogue in quite a lot of operas. I was still none the wiser so John told me to read his book, which I will. But he told us not to take any notice of the labels and just write what we want to write.
John said that he could usually tell if a musical was any good if the titles of the songs were cliched. Although thinking back to well known musicals I know there are still some great cliches among them. Gareth said that music "should underline the intent" of the characters and should also be the "servant of the text" - this second statement would certainly be different for opera.
An interesting thought came through from John Caird about lying. He said that it was possible for a character to lie in song as long as it was to the other characters. But if they are addressing the song to the audience it should be the inner truth of the character. He also said that "direct address" was something that musical theatre does very well and cannot be done well in films. He also spoke about rhyming, and how the more a song rhymes the more likely it is to be comic. Thinking about Possessed this happened to some extent without me realising. Bessy and Mr Carters songs had the tight rhyme schemes, whereas Janey who carried the tragic weight of the show used far less rhyme. In fact in Hold Still, the final song, there are only a few lines which rhyme. But this was not a conscious decision for me.
One thing John Caird said was why I really started to write a musical in the first place - "music is the underlying feeling and thought that is too deep for words."