On the Merits of an Integrated Script/Score

Because it’s a musical…

So, I have spent the last couple of months cleaning up the score, harmonizing the past versions of the music and script and lyrics with new updates from my collaborator (Katherine) shuffling some songs, resurrecting an old song from the archives (“No Means No” - so important!). It’s been a long, exhausting, but ultimately rewarding process. The show is better, the music and script are cleaner, and I think we’re ready for rehearsals to start on June 17! (so excited!)

At the very end of the process, I spend about a week producing the “Integrated Script-Score”, also called, just the “Integrated Score”.

The integrated score is unique to musicals, because a musical has both dialog and lyrics which need to be integrated together. Opera doesn’t have an “integrated script-score”, it just has “the score” - because people sing everything. And plays, of course, have no singing, so no need for music.

And so we have the musical, a special beast, with a special printed representation for this uniquely art form.

In a truly “integrated” script-score, the script and the music are in order, from start to finish. This way, the actors and the musicians can simply following along from start to finish, play whats on the page, and then you’re done.

In “less fully integrated” versions, the actors are given a script, and then the music is provided, essentially, as an appendix. Or sometimes there is no music at all The Actors just learn their songs by ear, and then sing the song where it needs to go.

And that’s all fine. After all, Musical Theater is a pretty big umbrella. A small show with folk musicians singing songs with some dialog can be just as wonderful as some complex musical construction.

But for my music, and I think this is because I come from a conservatory / opera background, I really, really love the integrated score. And I think it has to do with “what is the purpose of music in a musical?”

Well, first there’s the song itself. These are heightened sonic and dramatic moments in the show which expose a characters innermost feelings through song and music. The words express their thoughts and the music expresses their true emotions (the music always tells the truth).

But then there’s also the sonic texture and sound world. This is also musical. It sets the scene and the “feeling” of the place and time in the best and most engaging way possible. People listening to the music should feel like they are there, at that specific place and time (even if it is an imaginary place and/or time).

And let’s not forget the characters! The music does more than anything else to communicate the personality of the character on stage. After all, the character is singing the song ‘from the heart’ (because that’s the only way any song can every be sung). And so when they sing the song, that is the character. There is no way around it.

Okay, but does any of that require the script/score to be integrated? Perhaps not.

But music also sets the pace. It controls the tempo of the action on stage. After all, music, literally, has a beat, and the actors on stage will be forced to move at that pace by the logic of the musical composition. This controls the character motion and movements, the entrances, the exits, the blocking and the staging.

Now we begin to see the advantage of the integrated script/score. Because you see all of the action from start to finish, the music-controlled action becomes integrated with the stage action very naturally with the integrated score.

What else? Well, lots of musicals have dialog in the middle of the song, or songs stretched out over scenes. In this case, you get a bit of music, a bit of dialog, more music, more dialog, and so on. Really the only way to see how the scene is supposed to fit together is to see the dialog and the singing on one continuous set of pages, music and words together.

Also, I like to do text painting in my music where appropriate. This is where the music paints the picture of the words. If the words talk about “soaring higher and higher” the music will too. If the words talk about flowers, or smells or bouncing or skipping, then the music should mimic (in sound) these actions and feelings.

Even more, there’s action-painting, often (derisively) called “Micky Mousing”. I happen to like having the music mimic the action on stage where appropriate. Doing it too much is tiresome, but occasional action-painting is really delightful. Examples in Black Hole Wedding include music traces a zig-zag golf ball, toast popping up out of a toaster, someone getting tased with a taser, the black hole crashing, the black hole turning on, a whole ‘sneaking around’ scene and a whole chase scene. Fun stuff! Basically, if there’s action in a song, I can’t resist writing some music for it.

And it can be SUPER powerful. In one of my pieces, set in the Stonewall Inn, as people (and police) were trapped inside, I musicalized the pennies being thrown against the window by protesters outside. It was scary and spine-tinglingly effective.

And so, we have the integrated score, a composer’s best friend. We often say: “the music in a musical is a key element in the drama of the show”. It determines pacing, sets character, sets the mood and environment, paints the words, paints the action controls the scene and just generally stitches the whole show together.

And for all of this, I love the integrated score. A uniquely American solution to a uniquely American art form.

Because it’s a musical!

Paul NelsonComment