Date of Award
Thesis and Dissertation
Master of Music (MM)
School of Music
Months ago, I wanted to write something like an opera or a musical for my thesis. This is not quite what happened. Instead, I have written a play with music; that is, there are four solo songs interspersed within the drama. While there are parts of it that I would like to change, the present work (the pages following this abstract, the title page, the copyright page, the committee page, the acknowledgments page, and the table of contents) represents what I was able to put together within the restrictions of the academic schedule.
The following are descriptions of various facets of the work. The songs are for two men and two women. In addition, there is a short prelude and postlude for the chamber ensemble alone. The words, the music, and the plot are far more important than the showcasing of the human voice. Indeed, the style of vocal writing is quite declamatory. The songs are linked by motives—both melodic and harmonic.
Though the prelude and the postlude function as a unit separate from the songs, they are linked in that the postlude develops a central motive first heard in Kate’s song. The prelude is meant to situate the drama in musical terms. The postlude is meant to begin to resolve the dissonance of the previous songs (literally and figuratively), as well as express a sense of optimism and hope—the sort of thing Frank feels as he leaves to study philosophy; the sort of thing that (hopefully) one feels at the end of the work.
The chamber ensemble is comprised of nine instruments: flute, 2 clarinets, horn, euphonium, violin, viola, cello, and double bass. I deliberately avoided using piano. This posed a challenge, since so much of the harmonic material for this music involves chords with many notes. A piano (most often played by 1 person) can easily play music with many simultaneous voices and notes; this is inevitably more difficult to achieve with a chamber ensemble. Therefore, deciding upon a varied and balanced ensemble was difficult.
The relationship between the music and the drama might, without experiencing the work, seem strained; how can the music be integral to the work if there is so much text and so comparatively little music? The words do what music cannot—they express specific ideas. The music, on the other hand, does what it does so well—it makes the expressions of emotion more complex. The songs allow us into the inner worlds of the four main characters. The music illuminates the emotions of the words. In this way, the music adds a dimension to the overall work unattainable through the text or the action on stage alone.
The script began to take shape much sooner than the music. This was, in part, because I was unsure of the musical language that I should use. I know how to write in a film music/post-Romantic/post-minimalist/pop. style. I have a sense of the typical structures of this music, since I have heard it all my life. But this language did not seem appropriate; and indeed, I want to break away from using these structures—the result sounds alright, but there are more beautiful things one could create. I wanted a way to relate the sounds I like very much—tertian structures, quartal harmonies, quintal harmonies, clusters—in a way that revitalized music that used such as these.
Finally, I began to link these familiar structures using familiar concepts applied in atypical ways. One example would be a series of minor triads with roots linked by ascending fourth; another would be a series of minor triads with roots linked by minor third. While I did not exclusively use such relationships, they did make many appearances in the score. Because I began using them so late in the compositional process, I did not use them as much as I would have liked. In the future, I hope to devise a way to create music with such principles as the basis for organizing harmony.
KEYWORDS: Chamber ensemble, Middle west, Music, Play, Songs, Stoicism.
McLoughlin, Luke John, "Five Miles Outside Town: a play with music" (2017). Theses and Dissertations. 766.