Summer Solstice (Northern SOULstice)

Hello! It’s been a very long time since I’ve written a songwriting blog, but I’ve given my website a bit of TLC and thought this would be a good time to write some more!

Since my last post about the themes and writing process for ‘Club Bazaar’, I’ve bought some new toys and I’m very happy with them. INTRODUCING *drum roll please* MY NOVATION LAUNCHPAD *the crowd goes wild!* MY NOVATION LAUNCH CONTROL XL *the crowd can’t contain themselves!!* AND MY LITTLE BROTHER’S GO PRO HE DOESN’T KNOW I STILL HAVE *the crowd erupt in rapturous applause!!!*

I made the video at the top to show you how I triggered the samples and music (that I made!) live for the show, and I also did it in one take (haha how did you guess?! Sorry mum for swearing).

‘Summer Solstice’ was written by Nadia Emam in collaboration with SPT. One of the most beautiful things about working with SPT is how the intergenerational group work together. Ages ranged from 13-83, and everyone was incredibly supportive of everyone else.

The brief for this underscore was ‘Northern Soul, where different tribes show their individuality as well as a sense of togetherness. They start the show as separate entities and end it by dancing together as one big tribe.’

So I did what anyone would do, and start at the very END. I thought about the different components that could make up a Northern Soul like song, and came up with this:

The Ancients – slow, mysterious trumpet chords, as they have been transported from another time and are magical

The Officials – a group of Sheffield City Council workers who try to stop everyone gathering in Tudor Square for the Summer Solstice. Their theme is minor and jarring to start, conflicting with the other melodies, then it magically becomes major when they reveal they are the Gods of Soul! (spoiler!!)

The Mystics – upbeat piano to show their bizarre personalities

The Northern Soul Wanderers – Northern Soul inspired rhythm section, heavy bass

So let’s get started!

The Ancients

The show starts with the Ancients’ theme, which is layers of trumpet notes creating chords recorded by moi. I then played a live trumpet part over the top to give it a bit of zing. I am the Goddess of Sun after all, and boy did I rock my yellow sun dress.

The Officials

The Officials enter and interrupt the Ancient’s sun dance to me (their holy Goddess). Their theme is jarring and minor against the Ancient’s theme, but when they reveal themselves to in fact be the Gods of Soul themselves, their baseline becomes major and the whole song comes together.

The Mystics

The Mystics wear bright clothes and fancy head dresses, and are very eccentric. Their theme is a piano riff, which plays against the Official’s theme as they enter. (The Ancient’s theme stops because they have put on their invisibility cloaks and have seemed to have disappeared!)

The Northern Stars

The Northern Stars arrive as I have accidentally summoned them to Tudor Square for the Solstice, NOT SOULstice! They connect their phone to the speakers and everything gets taken up a notch.

End dance

The Officials reveal themselves to be the Gods of Soul, and their jarring minor motif becomes major and a hot percussion section enters. All of the other themes blend together to create this final song, as all of the different groups dance together!

That’s it!! I had a great time writing the music for this show and I hope you liked reading about the little themes I wrote for each group that came together to make the final Northern Soul inspired dance number.

I’d love to know your thoughts and feelings, so please get in touch!

“Emily is a brilliant collaborator and composer, instinctive and responsive to the making process. Great to have in a tight corner, Emily worked quickly and fulfilled a very specific brief with humour, imagination and no small degree of skill” -Anthony Lau, Director

SUMMER SOLSTICE (NORTHERN SOULSTICE) was a Sheffield People’s Theatre Production

Writer – Nadia Emam in collaboration with SPT

Composer/Sound Designer – Emily Compton (me, obviously!)

Director – Anthony Lau

Movement Director – Lucy Haighton

Assistant Director – Olivia Rembges

Set Designer/Costume – Sarah Lewis-Cole 

Learning Projects Producer – Pippa Atkinson

Learning & Participation Manager – Emily Hutchinson

Finnegan’s Poem

Here we are at the end of “Club Bazaar” (that rhymes in a very satisfying way).

Finnegan’s Poem is a final monologue about how we should respect the arts and not take it for granted. With on-going cuts in funding to the arts resulting in a potential loss of interest as well as resources and opportunities, this monologue pleas for people to respect the arts while we are lucky enough to have the access and freedom to speak our minds onstage through theatre. After learning about places in the world where it is illegal to make theatre, we didn’t realise the freedom we had to write and perform such a show as “Club Bazaar” which is set in a dystopian future where art is illegal.

“We found out about a theatre company called Belarus Free Theatre, who are banned in Belarus but still continue to do what they do throughout the risk of imprisonment and death. After finding out about them, Ben and I were close to calling it quits on the show. We thought it would be appropriative and perhaps just mean to write a show about a time and place in which art is illegal, when we have no understanding of empathy with people who are currently fighting this battle not too far from home. We thought about making the show about struggles of and similar to that of Belarus Free Theatre, but without meeting them and in the short period of time we had to make the show, we decided to take a different approach.”

You can read the whole directors note from Miriam and Ben here.

In writing this final monologue, Ben and I had a very different approach to our usual ‘words then music’ way. Like with the singing in The Balloon Ghost, I showed Ben what happens when you play a trumpet into the piano with the sustain pedal down. The result is a mighty chorus, with the ability to make up chords with just one player. We recorded the sound, again on a phone, and Ben took it away and wrote the final monologue whilst listening to the music on repeat. For our final scene, the music inspired Ben’s writing. You can hear the trumpet improvisation below.

It was the plan to play this trumpet piece to underscore the monologue, but early on in the rehearsal stage I made the decision to not use it for two reasons.

1. The scene before had me singing into the piano, so to use the same technique straight after wouldn’t get the same response of awe from the audience.

2. To let the trumpet sound catch well in the piano, I would need to be playing quite loudly; too loudly to be accompaniment to Finnegan’s speech.

I changed it to solo piano accompaniment, again moving with the speed Stan (Finnegan) spoke at each night. I wanted this piano piece to sound reflective, to match the reflective tone of the monologue itself, and I used a lot of rubato to combine the musical accompaniment with the monologue; you can check it out below!

Featured Image by Cordelia O’driscoll

That’s it for “Club Bazaar”! Thanks so much for reading if you’ve got this far, and if you’d like to get in contact with me please don’t hesitate to send an email to: emilycomptonmusician@gmail.com

ART IS ILLEGAL BUT IT WON’T STOP

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The Balloon Ghost

“The Balloon Ghost” was the third play belonging to the date-divorce-murder trilogy that started with “The Decent Date” and “The Divorce.”

I played the daughter of Mr Jones and Miss Brown, whom had lived inside the womb of Miss Jones for years without her knowing.

“I bore you a child in the end. Just like you said I was bound to. Trust me to be pregnant all those years and never even notice. And then, the moment you leave, she’s born. So beautiful and so sad. Always missing something, never quite there. Unable to care for me, won’t speak to me. She knows what I did to you, Jonas!”

The balloon ghost (aka. the ghost of Mr Jones) comes back to haunt/float around Miss Brown, who is still covered in the blood of her husband. The scene is creepy and it is weird. The previous scene had no music, so I needed to ease our audience back into the music accompaniment. The optimum solution revolved around a technique I absolutely adore; singing into a piano with the sustain pedal down.

This technique is beautiful. I love the way the sounds you sing catch into the piano and hold there. You can build chords and dissonances however you fancy, just by using your own voice/any other instrument.

To transition from the previous scene, I started to hum a few notes and moved my piano stool to the right-hand side of the piano. I sat cross-legged on the floor, and cupped my hands around my mouth to increase the volume of my singing. Like “The Divorce,” my music was a response to how Nora Murphy (Miss Brown) performed this monologue. Some nights would build in tension a lot quicker so I moved with Nora; no two nights were ever the same. It was a difficult piece to plan because it was so long, and the one piece of written music may not match the tone of the monologue. Also on the night if I heard the echo running out in the piano, I would sing louder and for longer to build up the sound again, which is something I wouldn’t have been able to judge on the night if I was following a score.

Most of it was improvised around this theme below.

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My underscore resembled that of a weeping child, covering their ears with their hands as if to ignore the sound of their mother crying next door. In the writing stages of this piece, I recorded myself on my iPhone singing into the piano, building up chords and experimenting with different vowel sounds. You can hear below the very first time I workshopped these ideas, and you can actually hear when I think about using different vowel sounds to create larger echoes. Some sounds like “wah” had a natural accent and resonated a lot more than other sounds like “ooh,” and different pitches brought out different tones from the strings.

I got a bit cheeky in the underscoring too, to really combine the music with the monologue. Ben gave Nora the direction to pronounce the word “our” more like the word “hour” in this sentence:

“And in your letter you had replaced the word “my” with “our.””

At this point, I changed my singing the emphasise this “hour,” altering the “oo-oo-wa-ah-oo” melody to be “oo-oo-ho-ur-oo” at this point only. When I told people about this little Easter egg they nodded their heads in approval.

On the appearance of the balloon ghost, I ran the flat edge of a key up the lowest strings, creating a shocking boom to mark the entrance that made the audience jump. When the balloon ghost burst, the boom resonated wonderfully in the strings, really combining the music with the drama. You can watch the whole thing below!

Featured Image by Cordelia O’Driscoll

Two Elephants

For a contrast we wanted this scene to have no music. Music was a huge part of ‘Club Bazaar,’ with underscoring almost entirely throughout, so when it came to a scene where there was no music at all the room felt very still.

Written by Miriam Schechter, this very silly monologue was presented in a very serious manner. The silence suited the seriousness.

I held down the sustain pedal throughout to catch some of Tom’s speech. The word “ever” towards the end always caught in the piano and rang out, adding a natural echo to his speaking. When audience members laughed the noise also carried in the strings; holding the sustain pedal down throughout this scene created a natural echo that had a DIY feel. When Tom finished his glass of whiskey, he slammed it down onto the top of the piano.  The noise of the glass hitting the wood echoed inside the depths of the piano, increasing the tension in the room.

Featured Image by Cordelia O’Driscoll

The Divorce

Only three of the plays in ‘Club Bazaar’ were directly connected. These were: ‘The Decent Date,’ ‘The Divorce’ and ‘The Balloon Ghost.’ In short, a couple meet for a first date and get on rather well. During ‘The Decent Date’ we meet Mr Jones, who is ill with what he believes is scurvy… Well… scurvy or love. Mr Jones and Miss Brown walk off, announcing they shall be coughing and sneezing together for the rest of their lives.

In Act Two we start with ‘The Divorce,’ where Mr Jones and Miss Brown are arguing about how Mr Jones is constantly obsessing over a painting he believes is Miss Brown. Miss Brown eventually and understandably gets so furious she brutally murders Mr Jones with his own paintbrush, conveniently already covered in red paint.

‘The Balloon Ghost’ is a final monologue by Miss Brown, who is talking to a balloon she believes is the ghost of her husband Mr Jones.

So, let us start with the music in ‘The Divorce.’

In a metre of 7/8 (with a beaming of 3+2+2 to start) this scene started with pizzicato violin, snare drum and piano. Mr Jones and Miss Brown are pacing angrily onstage, and this anger and awkwardness is present in the time signature, tempo and dynamic. As Finnegan started to introduce the scene, solo piano carried on underscoring the argument.

I chose a time signature of 7/8 so I could easily reflect the anger, awkwardness and growing frustrations presented on stage by the cast in their dialogue. When the characters got angrier, I changed my rhythms unpredictably to reflect the hectic nature of the scene; the music here was a response to the actors, and the score changed every single night. Some exchanges of dialogue would be fast one night and slower another night, so I changed my tempo to match the energy onstage. The angrier the cast were the faster and louder my music, and vice-versa. I made these changes very quickly and easily to combine the onstage tension with the tension in the music.

With the death of Mr Jones we had a few contrasting ideas for how he should die. Ben wanted a nice piece of music to accompany his graceful fall, creating a peaceful atmosphere, but I disagreed with this and noted the similarity to the ending of ‘The Legend of Baboonita’ (where almost everyone dies and the music is nice and calm). Ben agreed and I made the ending sinister, and again the music was a response to what was happening onstage. When Mr Jones fell to the floor, I made my chords slower and heavier, getting louder and more accented, showing his life slipping away through the music. Sometimes lovely actor Tom Williams took a very long time to die, and it was funny for the audience to see I was obviously trying to kill him off with my final chords; I always made the music as dramatic as his death was.

In the first stages of writing this scene we workshopped it with Mr Jones and Miss Brown shouting at each other over the top of the piano. With the sustain pedal held down to catch every word they were shouting, the argument itself would create the underscore.  We liked the idea but agreed it would have been boring to watch after the novelty had worn off, so instead we decided on the hectic and fast paced direction you can see below!

Featured image by Cordelia O’Driscoll

The Legend of Baboonita – The Cinematic Underscoring

I loved writing the underscore for this play as it was my chance to write cinematically. The tone of the whole of Club Bazaar was silly and melodramatic, and I got to overexaggerate this silly humour in my underscoring.

Themes and motifs

This play was all about Lord Baboonita and his son Babowan. 2 apes who had been cruelly separated. Babowan escaped his capture and returned home to his father, unscathed yet angry, with fire in his eyes and a story to tell on his mighty return.

The cast opened The Legend of Baboonita with the song ‘Ripley Family Circus Time!’ We then had a melodramatic plea from Sergeant Slipper to set the animals free which I accompanied with a slow, sad underscoring that mirrored the harmony heard in the first number, with a different melody.

We then transition to Baboonita’s Lair where Tigerman and Sergeant Slips are talking to the Lord who has gone into hiding after the exile of his son. I wrote 2 themes that were heard when Baboonita and Babowan were mentioned throughout this play, and these were appropriately called the ‘Baboonita Theme’ and the ‘Babowan Theme.’

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Although these themes were never sung, I found it useful to write them to the names of the baboons.  The themes crept up during the play, most noticeably when in Baboonita’s Lair. Whenever ‘Baboonita’ or ‘Babowan’ were named or present,  I played their respective themes in the underscoring, using the dialogue as a trigger for what I should be playing.

In Baboonita’s Lair I used the musicians to create a soundscape; the violinist was playing high harmonics very quietly, representing the cold of the cave, and the drummer was running his hands lightly and frequently on the salted snare, like drips of rain seeping through to make the cave damp and gloomy. In between playing chords and the baboon’s themes, I banged my hands on the lowest strings whilst always keeping the sustain pedal down, representing the echo that was heard in the cave. When Lord Baboonita shouted to make his presence known I used the flat edge of a key to run up the lowest strings, showing the effect the boom of his voice had on the cave they were in.

How many times can YOU hear the themes?

Another time the themes were present included the first entrance of Lord Baboonita. The first time the audience sees Lord Baboonita is a mighty moment, as he has only ever been spoken about or heard up until this moment. As he walks majestically down the aisle, his theme is played like a fanfare until he reaches the front of the stage, where the ‘Babowan Theme’ is heard falling softly, predicting the subject of their conversation.

Finally, when we see the little Babowan for the first time, he is singing softly the word “father” in a new ‘Major Babowan Theme.’ The chords are soft, and the band and Tom Williams (the actor playing Babowan) carry on humming the ‘Major Babowan Theme’ to underscore the final scene.

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The ‘Major Babowan Theme’ sung to the word “father”

Extended Techniques

I used a range of extended techniques in this play, and through experimenting with different objects used on a range of different strings I collected my sounds. I used some techniques to create a tense atmosphere, and other techniques I used to imitate already existing sounds, like that of an aeroplane and a gun shot.

To create an eerie and mysterious atmosphere when Sergeant Slipper is showing the wonders of the Fire-eating fish, I used an old violin bow to bow the lowest piano strings. From doing this, the overtones rang out in a mysterious way.

In the songs, every time the line “How the monkey does a backflip” came around, I used the flat edge of a key to run down the highest strings. Tom flipped a monkey around slowly, and together (the sound of the keys on the piano strings and the monkey doing a backflip) the sound worked as an accompaniment to the action, just like foley in a cartoon.

My personal favourite technique to use was muting the piano strings with my right hand and playing a bassline with my left. This imitated the sound of a plucked double bass as my right hand muted the attack and altered the tone. It was the perfect transition to accompany a change in mood. I used it on multiple occasions; the first was as Slips started to tell the story of how he found Babowan. The bassline was an appropriate change to set the scene in the Jungle he had travelled to.

I transitioned to a different bassline to accompany a fight between Mr Ripley and Slips. Originally I scored a heavy and aggressive chord progression to accompany the fight, but it sounded very muddy on the piano we were using. It also drowned out Tom’s speech. After the first rehearsal I realised the underscore was too busy and distracting, so I wrote the short and punchy bassline used in the video below.

To imitate the sound of a plane taking off and flying, I wrote for violinist Olivia Shotton to come to the piano with a piece of A4 paper, place it in between the hammers and the strings at the highest register and to play the keys that were lined up with the paper. The sound of the hammer hitting the paper sounded like a propeller, and added to the DIY plane that was created with random objects onstage.

To create the sound of a gun shot when this play comes to the bitter end, I instructed salted snare drummer Will Shaw to lift up the beads of the snare drum and release them when a shot was being fired. The salt already on the snare made it sound like blood was being splattered after the gun had been fired, creating a second sound to the primary intention.

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Photos by Cordelia O’Driscoll

I’ll be editing the whole of ‘The Legend of Baboonita’ together shortly, so you can see all of these extended techniques, songs and themes in their running order!

Featured image by Cordelia O’Driscoll 

The Legend of Baboonita – The Songs

We ended Act One with The Legend of Baboonita, written by Ben Price. This show involved two baboon masks we found in The Cellar when we first got into the space. The end result of this play really showed just how much of our inspiration came from the space we were in, and the objects we found there!

I’m going to write this blog in 2 parts. The first (this one) is about the songs the cast sang throughout, and the second will be the extended techniques the musicians used.

After reading Ben’s script, I noted how similar and consistent his lyrical writing was for his song ideas. Obviously this was an artistic intention, so I thought it was my duty as a composer to match his consistency by having a recurring melody for his similar lyrics.  The tagline is “The circus is a cruel, cruel place” and every time the song comes back, this line has been altered and tweaked, with the melody staying the same.

Opening number – Ripley Family Circus Time!

We have the fun, circus-like verse, which I wrote to pastiche the sort of song you might hear when you go to see a circus. The sadness comes in the middle section, from “Isn’t it hilarious?” The fun & energetic tongue twisters driven by the band in the first section contrasts with the sudden halt to reveal a static solo line, emulating and over-exaggerating the sadness. I muted the piano strings with my left hand to aid this contrast, adding a hint of seriousness (but still in a spoofy way) after the first 3 verses.

Ben’s original idea was to keep the song slow from this point on, but I suggested it might be more effective to enter this slow section, and then almost immediately travel back to the fast and silly tone of the first 3 verses. It was in the hope that the audience would listen to the point of the slow section, which then immediately contrasts as the characters go back to the fast section after singing about how bad they feel for the animals. Although nothing else was said, it became clear to the audience that the characters realise how harmful the circus is to animals, and although aware of this fact they carry on, ignoring this realisation.

Song #2 – Sergeant Slipper

Matthew Ripley and Sergeant Slipper are old friends. Here, Sergeant Slips (on the floor) is trying to convince Matthew (mostly stood (on the floor)) to set the animals free, but Matthew sings to him as a form of explanation as to why they run the circus. A mixture of family business, and the belief they are looking after the animals to keep them safe.

The melody for the first section is the same as the opening but much slower, and the piano accompaniment is more static to accompany the free vocal line. I added one new section here that is not repeated in any of the other songs. The new sections starts when Matthew sings “They have a shot at fame, a potential for glory” the harmonic changes are heroic sounding to reflect the animals being portrayed as stars.

Song #3 – Sergeant Slipper’s Solo

Sergeant Slipper has just told an elaborate story as to how he saved Baboonita’s son, Babowan. With a plan in place, he is determined to save the circus once and for all by setting the poor animals free. The tag line here changes from “The circus is a cruel, cruel place” to “The circus has hope at last.”

Song #4 – Mr & Mrs Ripley Duet

After finding out about Babowan’s escape (aided by Sergeant Slipper), Mr & Mrs Ripley are torn between leaving the circus and staying put.

The piano introduction is the same as every other time it is heard, but the melody and harmonic progression for the first 2 verses is totally new. The tagline is changed here multiple times to “The circus is a dangerous place” “The circus is our only home” and “The circus will go on tonight,” showing how through this song, Mr Ripley has tried to persuade Mrs Ripley to leave the circus, pleading about how much danger they are in. Mrs Ripley despairs, making it clear she does not want to leave as they have built an empire and the circus is where they belong; it is their home. They eventually decide to put the show on, as the punters have arrived and everyone is ready to perform.

This song took a bit of an unexpected twist in the form of a tango. It wasn’t written like it at all initially, it so happened that in the rehearsal room we were joking around with the different styles the song could be in. I played a typical tango bassline and Tom and Stan sang along energetically, making up a spoofy dance and everyone loved it. We decided to keep it in and… voila!

Song #5 – Tierce de Picardie ending

Matthew has accidentally shot Sergeant Slipper. He was aiming for the ape.

Babowan is reunited with Baboonita, and Slips lays dying.

In Slip’s eyes, he has saved the circus because he has reunited Babowan with his father. The show ends with a final Tierce de Picardie passage, keeping the tagline “The circus is a cruel, cruel place no more,” and of course I couldn’t resist turning the chord major on the line “no more” showing through the music how the circus is no longer a cruel, cruel place.

The Decent Date

The Decent Date was written by Miriam Schechter, and at the beginning of the process we had two very different visions for how we wanted this scene to start. Miriam wanted a really lovely piece of violin music to transition the scene beautifully from the opening, and I wanted the most grotesque, horrible piece of music to listen to that’s harsh on the ears but should be accepted in a peaceful way by the actors, as if it’s beautiful to them.

I persuaded Miriam to have a horrible sounding violin transition piece, and I scored it with big jumps, lots of foot stomps and excessive bow pressure to get the harshest sound possible. As our musicians found the instruments they are seen playing (having had no formal training) I scored this violin piece so it would both look visually entertaining and start by using just the open strings, imitating a violinist tuning.

Have a look at the score for the first part here: The Decent Date 1A

Violinist: Olivia Shotton

We agreed the violin should underscore the entire scene, so I wrote a ‘nicer’ melody that wasn’t too distracting, and set the scene of a restaurant. I included an unpredictable modulation in the middle so it didn’t sound repetitive or irritating. Whilst Olivia Shotton was playing the violin to accompany the restaurant, Will Shaw (drummer) and I were customers dining. Our meals included a variety of different vegetables, including peeled onions, banana skins and celery. Yum.

Check out the score for the second part here: The Decent Date 1B

Featured Image by Cordelia O’Driscoll

The Motley Rat Sisters

Introducing the Motley Rat Sisters, the cheekiest pair of sister-from-another-mister rats you ever did see!

One of the many characters played by Thompson (Tom Williams) and Finnegan (Stan Skinny), the Motley Rat Sisters are cheeky, fun, and love a good dance.

As a lot of the material in Club Bazaar was based on the limited resources our fictional characters had, Thompson and Finnegan had heard an old scratched record from the 1940’s they based their song on; on hearing this old boogie-woogie record, they wrote their Motley Rat Sisters Duet which they performed at Juliet’s dismay.

The harmony is typical of a boogie-woogie style piece, taking inspiration from the 12-bar-blues. The plucked violin imitates a walking bass line commonly heard by the double bass, and the salted snare was played with maximum salt to imitate the sound of brushes on a snare.  The record the Motley Rat Sisters heard was scratched, but to the untrained ears of this duo they didn’t realise this wasn’t a musical intention. The last bar of the dance is repeated over and over, with a slight jump on the first beat, imitating this scratched record they have heard.

I wanted both Thompson and Finnegan to really take the form of squeaky small mice, so the song is written very high for the two equally as high (tall) men. Sang in falsetto, this cheeky little number goes right up to a G5, emulating the squeak of a mouse. The duo are singing this song to show off and annoy Juliet, so I started with pauses on the first three notes that gradually slid up 2 octaves, showing just how high they can sing.

In rehearsal, I tweaked the final bar of the song, as Ben (director) wanted the emphasis to be on the word “show” and not on the word “you.” Makes sense, so to meet what he wanted I prolonged the time “show” was sung for, and ended “you” on the highest note of the piece. You can check it out below!

Featured Image: Pippa Atkinson

Opening Mime

Sinister music. Thompson and Finnegan appear slowly and mime as Ratty and Hatty, Juliet does not know they have started the show without her. Juliet enters, looks at her watch, whilst Ratty and Hatty continue being rats and Juliet finds it tiresome. Ratty and Hatty are two sister rats who sing and dance.

Above was the original stage direction for the opening of the play; sinister music whilst Ratty and Hatty move around the stage, being rats. With the knowledge I got to compose on an acoustic piano and not a keyboard, I wanted to really milk this “sinister music” stage direction Miriam had planned.

Holding the sustain pedal down to catch moments of dialogue and create suspense was an extended technique I used throughout the show. I knew on the audience’s arrival they would walk up the stairs looking directly at the open piano with its strings on show. I wanted to keep this view alive in their minds, so I had planned to start the show playing on just the strings.

I started to pluck the strings ever so carefully, and ran the smooth edge of my front door key along the thickest nuts and bolts, mimicking the sound of a rat running inside the piano. I plucked the lowest (thickest) strings with my left hand, and after the note had sounded I held my right hand to the moving string, letting the vibrations catch against the 2 rings I wore on my fourth finger.

I often followed what the actors were doing on stage and imitated this in the music. If they sped up their dialogue or I felt a new tension in the scene, I would change my dynamic and use of rubato in an imitative fashion. I always made sure the music fitted with the on-stage tension.

When it came to the rehearsal to block the opening, Miriam came prepared with a new idea of the Motley Rats miming in a comical way rather than sinister (as first planned), and I arrived with my scary opening music plan. I quickly scrapped all of my ideas and came up with this:

Screen Shot 2018-03-20 at 15.01.53.pngI’ll break it down a bit.

Thompson and Finnegan started to mime their efforts of trying to move a very heavy box. They try and they try and they fail and they fail. Thompson remembers they can only move the box when they become Ratty and Hatty, so they put on their silly rat masks and, once wearing them, now have the strength to lift the box.

The music had to underscore this entire mime, and it started as soon as the audience entered. The A SECTION was solo piano, the violin entered when roughly half the audience were seated, moving the piece to the B SECTION. When the entire audience were seated, the audio cue of the piano moving to an accompaniment figure was the Salted Snare Drummer’s cue to enter. Will Shaw was directed to place the snare, upside down of course, on top of the piano, and leave the stage again. He then returned with the tube of salt and poured it all over the skin and the beads. Taking the now salted snare, he traveled to his seat, where he started to play the drum with his hands, as instructed below. As soon as Will was seated and started playing, Thompson and Finnegan took this as their cue to start the show.

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I knew we would be playing this piece repeatedly for the best part of 10 minutes, so I didn’t want it to get boring or irritating. To make the piece not sound like it was the same 8 bars played over and over and over and over, I threw in a few unexpected modulations, playing around with the relationship between the chords G – Eb and F, so it wouldn’t get boring and (hopefully) wasn’t too annoying.

Featured Image: Cordelia O’Driscoll