Andrew Hamm: the Bipolar Express

Ruminations on theatre, music, and just about anything else that crosses my bipolar brain.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Scoring "Henry IV, Part 1"

With Henry IV, Part 1 opening tomorrow (and with Dave T already having seen a preview for review), it's probably about time I wrote a few words about my (very small) part in the show.

First of all, I need to say that I absolutely love Shakespeare's history plays. In fact, the only play in Shakespeare's canon that I like better than 1 Henry IV is Richard II, and that's only by a hair. Watching these fantastic actors attack this piece has made me terribly hungry for this Fall's Richard II, which I'll be acting in.

Normally, there's no way anyone would do work on both shows of the Richmond Shakespeare Festival, what with the closing of show 1 and opening of show 2 only separated by three days. With all the songs in The Tempest, I knew that the best contribution I could make to the Festival was in my role as Master of Music for that show, and I'm very pleased with how that went. But it broke my heart to have to sit on the sidelines for Henry. I eventually realized that maybe I could be involved in the show if my contribution was fairly modest-sized and self-contained. It's a long way from the epic scope of the Midsummer Night's Dream soundtrack of 2005 (CDs still available, by the way) or the three-piece Tempest band, but I think the scoring for Henry adds something unique to the production.

For this show, I've opted to go with more of an Asian theatre musical aesthetic. Obvioiusly, the themes of fathers, sons, family honor, and war lead the mind a bit in the direction of Asian drama, but it was really the visual of having one big war drum (my djembe) as the main instrument that led me that way. I started thinking of how many different ways I can get sound out of that supremely versatile instrument.

The sound, again taking the example of music in Asian theatre, is very sparse, with every sound carefully chosen. The djembe is known for a big center boom and high pitched ping on the rim, so I've extended that duality to the two sides of the civil war. The boom in the center is the sound of the king, with high pitched rim rattles or the click of the claves representing the quickness of Hotspur. The show opens with a warlike rhythm which builds in complexity through the king's entrance. Audience members with excellent memories may recognize that the same rhythm returns during King Henry's closing lines, leading into Part 2 and the building Wars of the Roses. Whether that comes across to the audience is debatable, but it makes me happy.

So last Saturday, 96 degrees and humid, we spent the entire afternoon in the hot Agecroft sun running the show as I muted my drum with a cloth, played it with my hands, hit it with mallets, sticks, and claves, on top, on the sides, straight, on angles, and on and on. I brought a big suitcase full of percussion doodads and ended up keeping only a handful to use: the djembe, a cotton cloth, sticks, mallets, claves, a cabasa, goat toes, and a wicker shaker. It's more than I need; the cabasa may be going home tonight.

This cast, by the way, is flipping amazing. You have got to see these actors play together.

If only the bugs didn't like my music stand light so much.

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  • At 7/13/2007 11:04 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Well Andrew, though I'm not sure yet WHEN I'll see "Henry", I'm looking forward to it. I'm glad to have wrapped "Tempest", and a little down time is most welcome...but just as quickly I'm reminded of how near and dear to my heart Richmond Shakespeare Theatre has become. I love working with them, they seem to enjoy having me in their shows (thank God), and I enjoy SEEING their productions as well. Though they don't have an official "company" of performers, I feel part of one with them - there's a camarederie that exists there you don't find many other places.

    Sure, I'll work with other theatres. But coming to work with (or see a production of) Richmond Shakespeare is feeling, to me, like COMING HOME.

    Enjoy your debut weekend with "Henry", and I'll see you back "at home" soon.

  • At 7/14/2007 10:40 AM , Anonymous Javquie O. said...

    Hey Andrew. I happened to be looking over at you last night while waiting to go on for my fight scene and noticed that you had scored the show on paper. I have to tell you how impressed I was by that. You were tossed in a week ago and I saw James B throwing his thoughts at you as we ran it. I know what a long frustrating day that was for you. Your dedication to making this producation shine even more through solid music (and the wonderful fun themes you have created for some of the characters)is impressive and has not gone unnoticed by the cast. So I want to say thnk you to you...and I hope you get to go to a nice tropical Island after we close for a least a week (FROSTY ADULT BEVERAGES.) You deserve it!

  • At 7/14/2007 10:51 AM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    Oh, I forgot to say congrats on Richard II! I will be cheering you from the audience!

  • At 7/14/2007 11:07 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Congratulations are not really necessary, but thanks. One of the perks/responsibilities of being on the staff of the company is that I have a responsibility to be on the artistic team for every show I can manage. In addition to keeping me sharp and giving me a chance to help mold the company aesthetic into the productions, it defrays the cost of an actor, director, or composer. I don't know what part I'm playing yet, just that I'm acting in Richard, playing music for Christmas, directing Show 3 (TBA) and acting in Show 4 (TBA).

    James and I had spoken a bit about what we wanted before last Saturday's rehearsal, so I had some ideas already. It's been a real luxury this summer to compose for two directors I've already worked well with. It wasn't frustrating, it was just HOT, and I knew I had a performance of Tempest that night, so I was pacing myself. Honestly, it took a few days to get rested up from that single day of work.

    I love having a citronella candle under my music stand. It adds so much to the ambience.

  • At 7/14/2007 11:08 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    By the way, Jacquie + sword + long leather coat = incredibly hot.

  • At 7/14/2007 7:30 PM , Blogger Dave T said...

    Now don't go leaving out the spiky-heeled boots and the significant decolletage...they're what raises the look from spicy hot to burning-the-house-down hot.

  • At 7/14/2007 11:34 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Well, I was ALREADY planning to see the show, guys...I didn't REALLY need any extra incentive, but alright, already! I'm checking my calendar for the first available date to go back to Agecroft!!!

  • At 7/15/2007 9:05 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    James Alexander Bond has a penchant for taking male Shakespearean characters and making them not only female but freakin sexay as hell. In Julius Caesar it was Terry Gau's Casca, and in this show it's clearly Captain Blunt. Is her name still Walter, I wonder?

  • At 7/16/2007 8:49 AM , Anonymous Jacquie O. said...

    Wow guys! You know how to make a gal feel great! BTW I decided her name is Winter - Captain Winter Blunt. I stole it from a waitress at Joe's in. Cool name, no?

  • At 7/16/2007 10:10 AM , Blogger Andrew Hamm said...

    Excellent choice. Keeps the scansion intact.

  • At 7/16/2007 10:18 PM , Blogger Frank Creasy said...

    Huh huh, huh said "scansion". Awesome.

    Yeah, keep it intact. If you pick it, it'll bleed.


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