The Thing That Changed My Life

A little disclaimer beforehand: This is a personal post. Probably the most personal one I’ve posted yet, but I think it shows my love for theatre in a very raw way and that’s why I have a feeling that it needs to be here. If you think this post is too pathetic or tacky, you are very welcome to do so – because in the end we all feel what we feel. Also, this is not written by a musical theorist. I love music, I can read sheet music and I know basic things about harmonies and I have had quite some practice in listening to music (I actually know what I’m hearing and I am paying attention to what happens harmonies-wise), but after all I am still a theatre scholar writing and talking about music. 

Plus: I know I haven’t written down my thoughts about Bridges yet, I’m saving it for last….

Now that I have spend an unreasonable amount of time with the recording of The Bridges of Madison County, I came to a conclusion that already had dawned on me when I saw that piece back in March/April in New York.

I am in love with this score. – Well, this might not be a HUGE surprise given the fact that I have been a fan of Jason Robert Brown’s work for a number of years now (probably something like eight or nine years) and that loving the score of Bridges is not a very uncommon thing – at least among theatre enthusiasts (expressing themselves on the internet). But I actually remember sitting in this seat at Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre and listening to the first notes, this cello playing them. I remember loving it in this very second, because I fell in love again with cellos and it made me instantly feel the vibe of the show. In a way, Bridges is very much like my idea of a cello. And then Francesca sings to us about landing in America – and the music happening around the word ‘America’ makes us feel like Francesca who is missing Italy and then, suddenly the music makes the picture brighter again when she arrives in Iowa. To this point, the music – and the music alone – paints pictures, changing the light and the intensities of colours in a matter of seconds, maybe half a minute.

Actually this colouring and changing of light happens – literally again – when Robert is taking pictures of the bridge and the light shifts and he gets so excited. This is actually another one of my very favourite moments because not only the music draws a picture of what everything looks like, but also the lyrics pay attention and respect to that very moment something happens and you are so over the moon with that. This moment when you are finally able to show something to someone you wanted to show them so badly is a very important thing for me as well – I included a variation of this in my letters of motivation going with the essays I’ve written for college applications earlier this year. This is pretty much the reason why I want to become what I want to become.

Anyway, back to the music. This very moment of shifting light makes me crack up everytime over and over again. And so is It All Fades Away (to which I remember me – again – sitting in my seat in the theatre and sobbing uncontrolably – I couln’t stop and in a way I didn’t even want to). And Love is Always Better. But I guess, in a way, this light-shift in The World Inside a Frame and the re-occuring cello solo ismaking this score so special to me. It cracks me open every single time I listen and it leaves me there, totally exposed to the music.

The thing is, that you keep discovering new things about the music – every time I give it my full attention listening I’m like: Wow – what’s happening with the women in these bars – and Francesca – and – and – and?

Thinking about it I had a very similiar (but not that intense) experience when I saw Hans Neuenfels’ production of Aribert Reimann’s opera Lear from the 1960ies. This music affected me emotionally in a way that swiped me off my feet and all I could do is listen and listen and listen and come and watch the production over and over again. (the last time they brougth it back I missed only one performance, because I knew it would be the last they this production’d be shown and I needed to hear this music with these singers’ voices) I brought a couple of people with me and somehow, sadly none of them was as impressed by it as I was. Just as Bridges, Lear includes themes and musical arrangements and melodies that crack you open in a very non-rational way (while, of course, you can and HAVE to approach both compositions rationally once you want to work with them) and keeps you open once you agreed to come along on the road through the score, once you promised to listen.

Because I loved what I saw (and heard) on stage in New York I read the novel back home – it was one of the fluffiest reading experienced I had probably since I was 15 – and I started to think about the story again and suddenly it hit me: Probably I love music (theatrical music, with narratives, I love narratives – be they vocal or instrumental only) as much as and in a way that Robert loves Francesca and she loves him.

Well, that does sound pathetic and over-dramatic. And yes, it probably is, but at the same time it’s very, very true. In a way the score showed me very clearly that I will never be able to love a person as much as I love my work, theatre, music and story-telling (in every possible way).

This score has changed my life in a way theatre scholars have been wondering about for ages – this change sticks with me long after I have left the theatre and even the city I saw the production in.

Thank you for that, Mr. Brown.

Now that I have this off my chest I feel great, actually. Have you ever witnessed something in a theatre that made you think “I am changing! I am changing in this very moment!”?

I will be happy, if you cared to share! 

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