This spring at Gannon University, the theater department decided to be ambitious enough to put together Andrew Lloyd Weber’s acclaimed musical Evita. I was cast in the ensemble in this production. After the first vocal rehearsal, I realized that this production features incredibly complex music with insane time signature and key changes. The music also features many vocal harmonies, and (so far in rehearsal) the orchestral accompaniment has a tendency to confuse the vocalists.
This means I have to put additional effort into learning the music. Patrick, our vocal director, advised the entire cast to listen to the soundtrack for Evita everyday in order to fully learn the music. He instructed us to bring our phones to rehearsal so we could record our vocal parts and listen to the recording in order to learn our parts in the vocal harmony.
While I have been recording my vocal parts at each rehearsal, I found a different way to learn the music. I would read the music and play my vocal part on my violin or guitar along with the recording until I can sing the vocal part without an additional musical instrument to help me.
After a week of constantly listening to the music and teaching myself to sing the vocal harmonies, I developed a new appreciation for complex musical scores. So now, this begs the question: what does this mean for my career as an educator?
Many educational experts recommend using music in the general education classroom. New Jersey third grade teacher Gaetan Pappalardo wrote an article used in my Expressive Arts class titled “Using Music in the Classroom to Inspire Creative Expression.” In the article, Pappalardo includes two tips for including music in the classroom.
Pappalardo’s first tip says that music should be instrumental unless it has engaging lyrics. Evita rehearsals helped me realize a way to include instrumental music and music with engaging lyrics into the classroom.
In one of our vocal rehearsals, Patrick had us focus on phrasing and creating a character with our ensemble vocal harmonies. In one number we are breaking down in astonished sadness and in another number we are snotty, upper-class members of Argentine society. While our songs include lyrics, they include a major commonality with instrumentals, musical phrasing. John William’s Star Wars theme includes a militaristic heroic title ensuring triumph of the light side of the force just like “The Chorus Girl Hasn’t Learned the Lines” features a snobby upper class person in disgust of a lower class woman finding her way in Argentine politics.
Because I am a language arts teacher, my lessons include literary elements including plot outlines and character types. Because the stories my future students will read will feature heroic protagonists, nerve-wracking conflicts and emotion draining conflicts, they would feature incredibly expressive music if they were in a movie featuring the music of John Williams. This leaves me with an idea for an activity. Based off the plot and characters of a story, the students can include instrumental music they would use during certain times in the story. This teaches both music and literary analysis skills.
Evita includes some incredibly smart lyrics, but they can be a mouthful, especially in the first rehearsal. After not being able to sing them a couple times the first rehearsal, I realized how genius they really were. Because many musicals include some of the greatest song lyrics, music with intelligent song lyrics could be used to teach literary devices. Song lyrics are essentially poems set to music. If we analyze poetry in class, then why can’t we analyze song lyrics as well?
Pappalardo’s second tip is to include multiple genres of engaging instrumental music in the classroom. Many teachers use classical music (which is known for being complex), but after awhile students become bored of it. If I were to include the overture of a musical, the music would add a change of music used in the classroom. Evita has many pop/rock influences and an equal (if not greater) complexity to classical music, and it provides a stylistic difference from even your average classic Broadway musical. Andrew Lloyd Weber would be a great instrumental choice to sneak into the classroom.