Somewhere along the way, in the past 50 years or so, we have lost sight of the drama. Where did it go? Where did the genius of music go? Has it been lost, demeaned to now only being the vehicle for one to apply drama instead of being the sole proprietor of said drama? When did drama become so superficial, a mere thing to be acted upon rather than submerged in?
Perhaps, by studying and acknowledging the greatness and masterpieces of musical drama from so many years ago, we might begin to return to an understanding and allowance of letting music be the drama.
Let music BE the drama. MUSIC IS DRAMA.
This is the fourth post in my series "More Than Music.
If you are new here, catch up on the series, here.
In this post, I use Robert Goulet as an example of allowing
music to carry the drama of a performance.
If you have been following this series, this might seem a bit astray from my usual topics. Granted, it is a turn in a different direction from direct appreciation of music as I have been sharing, but I believe this topic does play a role in appreciation, generally speaking. Yes, this topic could easily be taken in the direction of talking very deeply about the musical aspect of artists and songs, but I want to talk more about the presentation and delivery of songs, which lands squarely within the confines of this series.
So what exactly does it mean for music to BE drama? As a musician, I understand this better than most, but even non-musicians sense this drama subconsciously. The classical world understands this even better than musicians in other genres as classical music is the epitome of using music to convey a feeling, understanding, or story, with only the use of music itself. The opera world brings this to a new level by adding lyrics to be sung with said music, but even then, the music carries the true drama. The notes and melodies of the scores are arranged masterfully and in such a way as to tell their own story, to convey what it is that the listener should be experiencing. From there, opera singers can build and add onto that existing drama, but the music does not rely on them to be the sole providers of the drama. Rather, it acts as the foundation to support the singer. Nowadays, music has lost this genius, this understanding of creating music which is simultaneously complex, moving, and enjoyable.
The life and passion that was once so prevalent in older music, is gone, it has been constricted by today's modern society. The drama is gone.
Even in the world of musical theatre, an ancestor of modern pop music, something has changed. As like my previous posts, I will use a well-known artist to demonstrate my point.
In my opinion, Robert Goulet was a master at capturing the drama of music. Robert Goulet is quite well-known for the shows he appeared in on Broadway, and for recording many albums of those songs. As a musical theatre performer, he brought a certain aspect of those performances into his recorded albums. But there is stark difference in his performance of those classic musical theatre songs and many musical theatre performers of today.
Over the years of listening to and studying music and musical theatre, I have made a few realizations as to what makes performances such as Robert Goulet's different and, in my opinion, better than the performances of many musical theatre singers of today. Yes, one of those is the loss of drama in music, or, more specifically, the singer trying to add the drama rather than letting the music be the drama.
I have showcased a prime example of this below using the song “I Won’t Send Roses” from the show, "Mack and Mabel". Listen to the contrast between Robert Goulet’s version and Brian Stokes Mitchell’s version. I have always been an admirer of Brian Stokes Mitchell. His voice is superb and one that is similar in color to Robert Goulet’s. But the choices in performance are very different between these two singers. Robert Goulet allows the music to carry the sentiment, the emotion. He simply and effortlessly follows the mood that the music creates. The melody, lyrics, and arrangement are already very effective in their dramatic use.
By keeping the integrity of his singing and voice, he actually adds to the drama of the song as opposed to Brian Stokes Mitchell’s version where he tries to add to the drama with his acting and ends up taking away from the drama that is already contained within the music.
The natural “ebb and flow”, the instinctual dynamics of the song which bring the emotion that Brain Stokes Mitchell tries to add through his acting, are lost. It is one thing to sing with passion, using dynamics, ritardandos, and the such as are natural within the realm of music, but it is another to think that some over-the-top uses of force, sighs, and the breaking of musical phrases constitutes “drama”.
The performance choices by Brian Stokes Mitchell are ones that I have seen often in the modern musical theatre world. Musical theatre singers often find the need to add more speaking-like singing to songs as “acting choices”. I think part of the reason for this is because a lot of modern musical theatre music does not contain the same dramatic influence as earlier musical theatre music in which case singers feel the need to add that drama to the music with their acting. I do not fault singers for this, when a song does not already contain these dramatic cues. But when a song, such as “I Won’t Send Roses” is already brilliantly written in its dramatic intent, singers should know when to back off. “Actually singing” is just as effective, if not more-so, than “acting singing”. Take a listen below and see if you can hear the difference.
Brian Stokes Mitchell sings "I Won't Send Roses" from 'Mack and Mabel'
Robert Goulet sings "I Won't Send Roses" from 'Mack and Mabel'
No matter the song, Robert Goulet is a master of letting his singing and the music carry the load of drama. It is so much a part of his performance that it carries through even when he can’t be seen. When you can close your eyes and still be moved by a performance, that is a good and effective performance. Modern musical theatre and modern music in general has lost sight of the power of music. It is often said in musical theatre that the reason characters in musicals sing is because they have reached a point where words alone are no longer sufficient. The emotion, whether happiness, timidity, excitement, or sorrow has become so great that mere words cannot express it. But then, after all that, the reasoning is forgotten to the singer and the music becomes merely a vehicle for more words to be acted.
It is true that, to many, this topic has more to do with the musical theatre world than the pop music world, but in my mind, as this old music is all I listen to, the two worlds are one in the same. I miss the days when songs like this were considered "pop songs", but that is a post for another day.
As I said in the beginning, classical music understands so brilliantly that music is more powerful at conveying emotion than words. The addition of words can be a wonderful thing, but the performance must not get in the way of what the music is already trying to say. Being able to see this drama within music is very important to understanding and appreciating different types of music. Perhaps then, we can work towards once again having a standard of musical complexity and beauty that only well-composed, well-performed songs and artists have.
As a singer, instead of thinking of music as the vehicle for our acting and drama, we should think, instead, of ourselves as the vehicles for presenting the said drama of music. As music listeners, recognizing the drama that naturally occurs in music and appreciating those artists who perform in such a way as to allow the music to bear the load of the drama, we find ourselves developing, curating, and refining our musical tastes and are then able to hold musicians to a higher standard of performance. We should never settle for mediocrity within music. We, as the patrons, deserve much more than that, and the music wants us to want so much more than that.
If you wish to study this topic further, simply give a listen to some of the recordings of Robert Goulet.
Be immersed in the music. Let yourself be moved by the music, the wonderous, passionate music. Let music be the drama. MUSIC IS DRAMA.
Thank you so much for your support of this series.
I enjoy writing about these things, and I hope you
enjoy reading them. I would love to hear from you with
your thoughts on this series and this post. Do you agree?
Do you have a different understanding? Let me know in the comments!
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Author: Emily E. Finke
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