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Composing for musical theatre: approaches to interdisciplinary collaboration

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This study investigates how a composer negotiates the transition from previous solo working practices into an interdisciplinary setting, through the creation of four original works of musical theatre. Experiences of composing within three contrasting collaborative models are considered within a framework of socio-psychological, organisational and creative collaboration theory, and cross-referenced with interview evidence from contemporary musical theatre composers. A five-stage process in the development of a collaborative musical theatre project is presented, illustrating key factors influencing each phase. The musical theatre environment is shown to be an ideal setting for both research into collaborative creativity, and the nurturing of collaborative skill. By consciously exploiting diversity as a resource, the composer can both enrich their compositional practice and learn to collaborate more effectively. Auto-ethnographic research can further enhance this development, with the mental act of self-observation fostering a sense of self-awareness that promotes innovative approaches to the compositional process. The role of composer-researcher demands a flexibility of thought and approach that supports the duality required to effectively shift between collaborative and solo contexts, and the microcosm and macrocosm of the show.
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Thesis
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This PhD study starts with a single question: ‘how do songwriters collaborate to write effective songs?’ I will test several hypotheses, including ‘amateur and professional songwriters demonstrate different behaviours’, ‘songwriting represents the collision of existing ideas’, ‘song form is market-driven’, ‘songwriters learn by hearing extant songs’ and ‘process and product are interrelated and it is possible to change the latter by consciously manipulating the former’. In testing the hypotheses, I will discuss the titular ‘Four Cs’ – Constraint, Creativity, Copyright and Collaboration. The last is explained easily in the central question; the first is necessitated by the inescapable fact that popular song exhibits statistically probable norms relating to characteristics such as harmony, form, lyric theme and rhyme. The second (Creativity) obviously requires originality, which in music manifests itself as the third – Copyright. Therefore, it is necessary to explore the constraints of song, and to consider songwriters’ ability to cross the lower originality threshold of creativity defined by copyright. The research is itself constrained to a study of the work of ‘professional’ songwriters, defined as individuals whose work has generated income through royalties. I take the philosophical position that songs can only exist when there is an additional listener to hear them. Historically and culturally I define ‘songwriting’ as British and American popular songwriting as practised between 1952 and 2012 (the first 60 years of the ‘singles chart’ in the UK), although in some cases it will be necessary to make reference to slightly earlier sources. Three evidence bases are used: real-time recordings of songwriting sessions, immediate retrospective reports by songwriters, and later retrospective interviews. The first of these is auto-ethnographic; I have documented my own collaborative processes across a variety of real-world composition and songwriting projects. The research draws on existing academic literature, particularly in the fields of popular musicology and cognitive psychology, but also making reference to tertiary fields such as law, sociology, literature and philosophy. This thesis does not posit a ‘template method’ for songwriting – even a cursory examination of the evidence suggests that no such thing exists. Rather, the intention is to identify and analyse the way songwriting teams negotiate the creative and problem-solving challenges of writing effective songs.
Chapter
Composing is often viewed as a solitary activity offering little opportunity for collaboration. Yet the working methods of ensembles in different performance traditions provide varying opportunities for creative collaboration between composers and performers. Those music ensembles whose focus is the performance of new music often co-construct works with composers in a form of creative collaboration. By contrast, composers who write for orchestra are rarely present through the rehearsal process and are dependent on ensemble members working under a conductor to realize and perform their work. In such settings the score becomes the primary, if not the only, means by which composers can convey their intentions, as performers expect more from the score and less from direct communication with the composer. This chapter reflects upon a workshop for emerging composers provided by a professional symphony orchestra.
Article
Contemporary composers frequently find themselves working with other artists in composing. The paper presents a framework which aims to provide a better understanding of the working relationships found in such situations, and the factors which affect the type of working relationships which develop. A distinction is drawn between dialogic creative activity—the universal situation of creating in a context—and creating with others actually present. Four different types of relationship which develop when working directly with others are defined. This typology can help in the better understanding of the relationships which composers establish and can act as a stimulus to the review and further development of compositional practice. The relationship between the language of an art form and the language used for communication between creative partners is identified as a key factor in affecting the type of working relationships which develop between artists.
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This article addresses the problem of comparing individual creative processes in music composition, across aesthetic visions, research concepts, data collection and analysis methods. Eight professional composers are studied in a real-world setting in search of broad compositional activities that are both common to the composers studied and that are meaningful for individual compositional processes. To compare individual creative processes, the analytic route, specifically the last analysis phases of the research process, is made as transparent as possible. The need for a synthesis phase is clarified by presenting two visual syntheses, apart from four textual synthesis themes: an “events time line” – a general chronological account of salient compositional activities – and a “music in progress” visualization, displaying the development of the new composition. To apply similar criteria in the analysis of eight creative processes, an analysis framework is proposed, consisting of four main compositional activities (planning, exploring, writing and rewriting) and three attributes (productivity, level of musical abstraction and creativity). The results of the study show how the eight processes are individually characterized by a specific configuration, that is, the four main compositional activities appear in a selective presence, chronological order and hierarchy. Although no activities or strategies common to all eight composers were found, some configurations were also recognized in creative processes outside the current study. Finally, indications are discussed that general models of compositional processes and actions, such as evaluating, may be related to specific configurations of the four main activities.
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Although many psychologists have expressed an interest in the phenomenon of creativity, psychological research on this topic did not rapidly, expand until after J. P. Guilford claimed in his 1950 APA presidential address, that this topic deserved far more attention than it was then receiving. This article reviews the progress psychologists have mane in understanding creativity, since Guilford's call to arms. Research progress has taken place on 4 fronts: the cognitive processes involved in the creative act, the distinctive characteristics of the creative person, the development non manifestation of creativity across the individual life span, and the social environments most strongly associated with creative activity. Although some important questions remain unanswered, psychologists now know more than ever before about how individuals achieve this special and significant form of optimal human functioning.