1. GENERAL HEADING: Writing Prompts
2. TITLE OF EXERCISE: "Understanding the Effect of Musical Choices"
3. GOALS: To raise students' awareness of the possible effects of musical choices made by production teams.
4. NUMBER OF STUDENTS: Class
5. EQUIPMENT AND SUPPLIES: A cassette player and prepared audio tape of renaissance music. I recommend using contrasting dance forms, such as a pavane and a galliard, and contrasting instrumentation, such as a viol consort, solo lute, and tabor and pipe. Keep the selections fairly short, say 3-5 minutes.
6. CLASS TIME NEEDED: 30-40 minutes
7. STEP-BY-STEP DESCRIPTION: First prepare a cassette tape of at least three selections from recordings of renaissance music which demonstrate a variety of moods through rhythm, dynamics, key, instrumentation, etc. You can use either instrumental or vocal music or both.. As you begin the exercise, ask the students to think about the play which they are currently discussing. They are to imagine that they are selecting background music to use in a stage or film production. For each musical selection which they will hear, they should imagine a particular scene from the play, a scene which they think would fit the music. Then for each musical selection, they will write a brief response, describing the scene they have imagined, and explaining why they think the musical selection would add to the effectiveness of the scene in performance. After a brief moment of silence to let them think about the play in question, play each of the three selections, pausing for at least five minutes to allow for their quick speculative writing in response. After they are finished writing, replay the selections in order, so that they can add anything, or simply enjoy the music. After collecting their writing, ask them to share some of their responses with the class.
8. POINTS FOR OBSERVATION, DISCUSSION: Encourage students to respond quickly, choosing whatever scene pops into their head, and then try to figure out why the music seemed to connect to it . What qualities in the music connect to the dramatic scene? They might also consider how changing the music could change the dramatic effect of a scene. How far should there be a match? What happens if the music seems to contradict the mood?
9. SOURCE/REFERENCE: C-M Wall
10. ADDITIONAL READING: N.A.
11. VARIATIONS: You can use several different versions of a Shakespearean song, and ask students to describe the different effects which a production could achieve, depending on the choice of musical style and particular singer. I have used the old New York Pro Musica recording of "It was a lover and his lass," sung as a dialogue between soprano and baritone; a version with countertenor Alfred Deller, accompanied by a lute; and the 1969 National Theatre pop music version with man, boy and strumming guitar. One can note the different effects of having a woman and man sing the song (antitextual), or a solo singer, more slowly, or the two men, with the late-sixties context of the production all too evident in the music.
One could also use various video versions of Twelfth Night, such
as the BBC, Branagh and Rehearsing the Text segment of Barton's Playing
Shakespeare to explore the various dramatic possibilities of "Come
Away, Death.," for example. Another variation would be to ask students
to enact part of whatever scene they think would be appropriate to the musical
selection, and ask the others to write a critique of the music's effect
on their responses.