Scoring "Henry IV, Part 1"
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.