Have you seen Twelfth Night already? If you have you’ll remember the beautiful music and songs that our talented cast lend their voices to. This year, Bard newbie Jeremy Spencer rose to the challenge of composing a style of music that would illuminate 1913 Illyria and he did it all from Calgary! We found out from the man himself how this all came about.
What brought you to Bard this season?
This is my first show with Bard, and I am truly honoured. A few months ago, Dennis [Garnhum] called me up and asked if I would be interested in composing the music for this production of Twelfth Night. It sounded fantastic, so I gladly accepted the offer.
How did you decide upon and create the style of music?
Initially, we didn’t know 100% what this “world” would sound like… especially since it’s not your traditional Shakespearean period setting. Based on the geographical location and era, I drafted a few pieces utilizing instruments such as Dulcimers, Accordions and Fiddles, giving the music a very traditional Gypsy feel. Dennis liked the themes and melodies, but the overall tone wasn’t working. We then decided to try something with a Ragtime feel, based on “mainstream” music of the era. Keeping the same themes and melodies,
I composed a few renditions in this fashion… and that was it… we found the world of Twelfth Night. I have never written music in this style before, so it was all brand new!
I then immersed myself in Ragtime music, listening to as many different pieces as possible (circa 1900-1918) and learning the piano techniques. I based many of the songs on Ragtime, and honestly, I had a blast… it’s such a fun, energetic style. For other cues during the show, I still used some of the Gypsy instruments (as a subtle reminder of where the play is set). There are also several pieces that are nostalgic sounding for the era, and sections that contain big, lush orchestral passages to enhance certain emotions within the scenes. I used a clarinet and oboe in certain places, which symbolically represents the twins.
What was it like working with director Dennis Garnhum and the actors from Twelfth Night?
I have worked with Dennis on other productions, and it is always a great pleasure. I am based in Calgary, and wrote the entire score without ever seeing a single run. The thing I really love about working for Dennis is that he has way of painting a virtual picture of how he envisions a scene. I tend to know what he’s looking for once we find the “world”. This is the real challenge of live theatre. Unlike writing music for film, you rarely get to write the music after the rehearsals are well under way. In the case of Twelfth Night, I had all of the songs produced long before the rehearsals began.
Were there any funny or fascinating moments during rehearsals?
Actually, yes. When we were trying to find the right key for one of the songs, I was sent an audio file of the rehearsal for that scene. In between verses, I could hear hysterical laughing from the cast, and it was driving me nuts; what was so funny? (I laughed hysterically myself!) I was later filled in on the scene, and it then made sense, but totally not what I was envisioning!
[You’ll know what scene Jeremy is talking about when you see the play!]
Along with the actual songs, I provided sheet music for each part/harmony. In my studio, it’s often difficult to imagine what the songs will sound like once humans actually sing them and add their own unique touch. Once the songs were learned, I was sent a few recordings, and was blown away. (Special thanks to the wonderful cast and musical coach Gillian Barber!) For a composer, it’s moments such as these that are the “pay off”. There’s no greater reward then hearing people sing your songs, and seeing an audience’s reaction to a certain musical passage.
To see the full schedule for Twelfth Night click here.