Long before I started writing about music and theater as a career or even thought about “Un-Block The Music,” I took my dad to see his first Broadway musical. While he has since become a huge fan of musicals, he wasn’t so sure he liked it at first. “(In West Side Story) Why are Tony and Maria singing in a death scene?” I didn’t know that exact answer when I was 16, but I did know that it worked and made me cry! Emergency’s Jacob Foy can most certainly answer that question. If you listen to “From Bullets To Broadway, Anatomy of A Show” (FBTB) on Saturdays at noon on WFYL 1180 AM, you will hear about what it takes to put a show on the stage from writers Jacob and his dad, Dr. Jeff Foy who have also written One Night Only (another musical) and The Z Team, (a comedy).
Taking a break (sort of) from working on his stage storytelling with his dad, Jacob took to the virtual stage during the Front Row Fringe Festival last month for a Q&A on the topic of getting your songs ready for the musical stage. First off, to answer my dads’ question…”why a song?” Jacob said, songs in a musical progress a story. “A fantastic song in the wrong spot won’t be as effective. When words are not enough, we sing. Messages need to be clear and easy to understand because the audience only gets one chance to hear it.” Witness the songs Radio Host Sgt. Dan McCaughan has played on episodes of FBTB. Songs like “Forever In Your Eyes” sung by Harold and Betty vividly brings the couples’ 50 year relationship to the surface making the audience truly understand their love and anguish. (If you haven’t heard the song, go to https://www.emergencymusical.com/ or listen to back episodes of FBTB).
Jacob said song messages need to be clear, but words also need to be clearly sung. A complaint that I heard from non-Hamilton fans (I can’t believe there are non-Hamilton fans…LOL), is that they didn’t understand the rapping. Admittedly, with Hamilton or Rent, even Phantom of the Opera, your ear needs to adjust to the song rhythms. Jacob said, when writing a song for the stage, “you have to sing like you speak. Syllabic patterns for lyrics should fall naturally within the rhythm and melody of a line. Large melodic leaps catch our ear, so putting them on important lyrics get musical emphasis.” When Jacob said that, I immediately thought of “She Used To Be Mine” from Waitress. A perfect song, in “Un-Block The Music’s” opinion. You really understand the character of Jenna after she sings it. I’ve written quite a bit about that show, see below:
Aside from the song’s melody and words, arranging a song is what makes it unique and makes it stand out, according to Jacob. “Most songs,” he says, “map out the emotional arc of a song. Emotions are rarely processed linearly, which is often why show tunes are very dynamic.”
When arranging, Jacob said, you must “use melody to inform your foundation. This makes your accompaniment stand out from standard block chords. It meshes your melody and accompaniment to create a cohesive piece.”
During his Q&A, Jacob also spoke about orchestration which refers to the dynamics and clarity of a song. Until recently, “Un-Block The Music” just took this all for granted which is what you should do when watching a musical. YOU should “feel” the music. However,oweve I have experienced first hand the difference orchestrations can make. In addition to creating the orchestrations for his own musicals Emergency and One Night Only, he also created orchestrations for Safe And Sound, The Musical which also played during the Festival. If you listen to the song “Safe and Sound” which was part of a Christmas Show back in December, you will like the song. HOWEVER, Jacob orchestrated that same song for the festival presentation of that musical. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house including mine and I have heard the song millions of times. Jacob said, orchestrations “refer to the emotional map of the song. Musical intensity should match musical intensity.”
Orchestration also connects music to characters. Witness Male Nurse in Emergency! Orchestrations have dynamic timbres, rhythms, countermelodies and pitch ranges.
Jacob emphasizes that placement of the song is of the utmost importance. He said, “ask yourself, ‘what is moving this character to sing right now?’ ‘How has the show changed now that we’ve heard this song?’ ‘What important information have we learned?’” Recently, “Un-Block The Music” has asked dad, “now that you have seen many musical over the years, do you understand why Maria and Tony sing when he is dying?” Through his tears, my dad says, “Yes.”
To learn more about musical theater, The Foys and their shows, listen to FBTB. This week’s episode is a bit different focusing on the Foys’ comedy The Z Team. It’s a funny break from what the radio broadcast is usually about. But, if you want to hear archived episodes of FBTB, go to https://www.1180wfyl.com/ and hit “podcasts.” If you missed the FBTB episode this past weekend, it will be rebroadcast on Saturday, April 10 at noon.