Music is so powerful. The story that it tells. The emotion it envokes. The way it can speak to you as if it were being written and performed for your situation. For your life.
I’ve always loved music. Some of my most fond memories in life revolve around music.
During summers as a kid, I would go to work with my dad on Fridays. Fridays were always his “light” day, so he didn’t mind me tagging along. What’s most vivid in my mind, though, is riding down the road listening to music. Motown, specifically. Dad loves Motown. He had this one cassette that contained intermingled songs from The Temptations and The Four Tops. This was always our favorite. I still remember one song in particular, “The Same Old Song” by The Four Tops, that we would “jam” to.
It still makes me smile.
From 6th grade all the way through college, I was in some kind of chorus class. Singing made me feel part of something. Part of a group. Even part of a family. I wasn’t half-bad, either. I auditioned and was accepted to the All-State choir my sophomore, junior, and senior years in high school. Of course, this was also after disappointing rejections in my 8th and 9th grade years. I certainly liked my high school chorus and we had some great performances, but no experience could compare to All-State. There were singers there and songs we sang that gave me goosebumps from the moment we sang our first note. And when our performance finally came after 4 days of practices, I would dread the moment we finished our last song. Because that meant I’d have to wait another year to enjoy it again.
I distinctly remember the feeling of singing in such a large group. The feeling you get when so many voices join together to produce a powerful sound. When done right, it can be beautiful. So beautiful that it can take your breath away without you even knowing it.
Music also led me to enjoy the performing arts. More specifically, musical theater. I think it’s because I know what it takes to really nail down a part or song. There are endless days of rigorous rehearing, sometimes spending all day and most of the night getting it right. Getting it perfect. You practice so much that it becomes second nature. You can’t turn it off. It becomes another lens from which you view the world.
That’s why musical theater excites me so much. When you attend a musical (live musical theater, I should say), you are witnessing a production in which hundreds of thousands of man-hours have been put in. The dedication of so many are evident in the set, the costumes, the hairstyles, the preparation of the actors, all of it. It’s (mostly) flawless. And even when there are flaws, you appreciate them, too. Because you realize at that time that these are not robots. They are real people. Performing impossible feats right before your eyes. Sure, they will mess up from time to time. But it’s okay. Because you know what? They’ll get back up and do it flawlessly the next 999 times.
Jayme and I had the pleasure of going tonight to see Wicked at the Fox Theater. It was the last performance of the show here in Atlanta, so the place was absolutely packed. I turned to Jayme and told her I hadn’t been to the theater since we went to see Les Misérables in London…around 2003. Had it really been that long? The show started and everything came back to me. The lights. The roaring music. The singing. The excitement.
I won’t go in to the story of Wicked itself right here, but it’s based on The Wizard of Oz. Instantly, you’re familiar with the characters and the world in which they are set. With that out of the way, you’re free to simply enjoy this new twist on a very familiar story. It was, simply put, amazing.
While I was watching it, though, I was brought back to why I loved this genre of entertainment so much. The opening number had a group of about 15 characters involved in it. When they reached the final bar, all voices were joining in to throw a last-second punch at the audience. As they crescendoed together toward that last note, the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. When the final note had faded, I actually turned to Jayme and whispered, “That’s why I love the theater”.
It makes you excited. It gets your adrenaline pumping. Knowing what they’re doing and how well they’re doing it. Live, in front of you. It’s awe-inspiring. I can sing, sure, but I can’t do that. I don’t have the gut voice like they do. They have the unique ability to hit a note (which is the one thing I can do) and project it from the depths of their diaphragm all the way across town (which I have never had). I have to sing in my head once it reaches a certain pitch. These people can sing from their chest. They let it rattle around to produce a resonant and booming vocal. And did I mention breath control? My god! They can punch a note…hard…and hold it for ages. It’s unbelievable.
I just don’t understand people that don’t get excited about musical theater. The human drama alone in relation to the actors on stage is enough for me. And that’s even before you get to the actual story of the show. It’s riveting. I dare someone, anyone, to watch a particular scene from Wicked and not get goosebumps. At the end of the first act, right before intermission, the company does a song called “Defying Gravity”. Everyone on stage eventually comes in to sing, but the song is centered around the character of Elphaba. She is coming to terms with the fact that she has to take a new turn in life. Everything she once knew, everything she once believed was now broken. She needs to look in a new direction. On her own. Doing things her way. Sit through that scene and that song and tell me it doesn’t shoot the goose bump factor through the roof.