First, if you are wondering if anything will “sprout” from all these roots, I should mention that I have one final post under this heading following the current entry. What’s next? Well, let’s see what emerges… meanwhile…
Part Five: The Musical
Let’s start this one with a little quiz… here are ten (and a bonus) slivers of songs from some well-known musicals. Have a listen and see if you can name the song and the musical from which it comes. I’ll put the answers at the conclusion of this post and you can rate your musical expertise.
It is, in one sense, rather odd that I should regard musicals as a significant influence. In elementary school, I don’t recall being involved in any musical productions. In high school, there were no arts courses (music, visual arts or drama) and nothing other than a drama club (extracurricular and not, as I recall, of a musical bent) where one could participate. If musicals did figure into my childhood, it was thanks to film adaptations. One of my many memories of my grade eight trip to Ottawa (and that’s worth a post of its own) was attending a screening of My Fair Lady. Shortly after I had the opportunity to see The Sound of Music. It’s not that I wasn’t a fairly regular television viewer, but the big screen (colour) movies of the theatre were a rather rare event for me.
In fact, the first live “major” musical I attended was a performance of Godspell by (I think) the New York touring company of the production while in my first year of university. I was most intrigued- by the theme (life of Christ based on Matthew’s account), the humour, the sets, lighting and costuming and especially by the vitality and, of course, by the music of the show. Stephen Schwartz (the composer) had incorporated a variety of contemporary musical styles to fashion his songs and engage the audience. I remember a small contingent of nuns particularly animated by the lively production numbers (a forerunner to Sister Act?) Regardless, I was hooked myself and, when I was attending teachers’ college a year later, I was incorporating songs from the show in my “practice teaching” sessions.
It won’t come as a surprise that songs from musicals figured in my repetoire as a music teacher. During my teaching career, student musical productions were frequently a major event on the school calendar. The school choir frequently featured popular selections from new and classic musicals. A year-end treat for our choir was almost always a trip to see a major production (ie. Cats, Lion King, Forever Plaid, The Sound of Music, My Fair Lady, Beauty and the Beast, West Side Story…) So, musicals have, strangely enough, figured quite profoundly in my set of influences.
By the way, if you are not familiar with Godspell, here’s a trailer from the movie (with this caveat… this movie is not a measure of the quality of a good live performance of the show).
All of which brings me to the present. When I retired from teaching, one of several gifts kindly given was a pair of tickets to the touring production of Wicked in Toronto. We (Jane and I) saw the show in October, 2006 and I was, once more, hooked by a musical and by the work of its composer, Stephen Schwartz (yes, the same guy who did Godspell). I hadn’t known a lot about the show before seeing it that night but I’ve compensated for that mistake in the intervening years.
A Wicked Birthday
Among my birthday gifts this year (I’m a Hallowe’en baby, by the way)… green roses, a Wizard of Oz birthday/hallowe’en card and… two tickets to see a Hallowe’en matinee performance of Wicked!
And what do you get with Wicked? Like Godspell of another era, great music, a witty script and lyrics, an intriguing theme (The Wizard of Oz inverted) and engaging characters. It was wonderful to have a second opportunity to see the show with a much better appreciation of the story line and score. So… is my taste in music influenced by musicals such as Wicked and composers such as Stephen Schwartz? Is Elphaba green?
I wanted to end this section with an appropriate selection from a musical and it occurred to me that, given our recent Thanksgiving in Canada and the upcoming holiday in the States, my best choice would be All Good Gifts from Godspell. The lyrics are the traditional “We Plough the Fields and Scatter”-
We plough the fields, and scatter the good seed on the land,
But it is fed and watered by God’s almighty hand;
He sends the snow in winter, the warmth to swell the grain,
The breezes and the sunshine, and soft refreshing rain.
All good gifts around us
Are sent from heaven above,
Then thank the Lord, O thank the Lord
For all His love.
We thank Thee, then, O Father, for all things bright and good,
The seed time and the harvest, our life, our health, and food;
No gifts have we to offer, for all Thy love imparts,
But that which Thou desirest, our humble, thankful hearts.
A Tripartite Postscript
First, in case you haven’t heard that song in its original context (and would like to), here it is (for better or worse from the movie… by the way, that’s Victor Garber as Jesus)-
Second, one of my wife’s favourites (and a very funny example from Wicked) is Popular. Here’s Kristin Chenoweth as Glinda giving Elphaba some sage (?) advice-
Third, the answers to this post’s quiz… how did you do?
1. Surrey with the Fringe on Top Oklahoma
2. Dancing Through Life Wicked
3. Somewhere (There’s a Place for Us) West Side Story
4. Till There Was You The Music Man (bonus point if you remembered that the Beatles did a version of this one)
5. If I Only Had a Brain The Wizard of Oz
6. Edelweiss The Sound of Music
7. Save the People Godspell
8. Sabbath Prayer Fiddler on the Roof
9. Circle of Life The Lion King
10. Camelot Camelot
Bonus… a soupcon from Beauty and the Beast