Hello and good afternoon! This is Lauren Romagnano again and I’ll be detailing the Lunch and Learn session today featuring Alexander Sovronsky and Stephanie Hodge. Their presentation on Music and Sound in Shakespeare began with performances of several pieces of music. Sovronsky began his speech by discussing the role of actors and music, stating that music is frequently an actor’s responsibility. While many have written about music in Shakespeare, little is said that can help actors or composers in making new choices about Shakespeare’s inclusion of music in many of his plays. Sovronsky believes that music functions to connect the audience to the present.
Sovronsky begins by detailing his own experiences with music as an actor/composer/director. He has experienced the audience connections of pre-show music through his work with the ASC, working through his blind and developing instincts with no anchors, and seeking out a new angle on music in Shakespearean research. He then delves into the historical roles of music, specifically within Shakespeare’s time.
Elizabethan culture was home to a rich oral/aural culture where music served a form of storytelling that drew communities together. Sovronsky and Hodge work together to read and perform a famous ballad that informs the song Desdemona sings in Othello. They discuss the changes between the ballad and song, such as pronoun changes and line alterations, and how these work to create a connection to childhood. Hodge then examines how understanding this connection offers insights for an actor performing the role of Desdemona, an insight that could not be obtained without this musical research and background.
Sovronsky then states a major point to his argument: original lyrics within Shakespearean plays connote original songs that were not referencing the timeless folk song ballads that audiences would know and love. He begins by mentioning different references Shakespeare makes towards these ballads, such as occurrences within Othello, Hamlet, Henry IV, and others. One of the biggest instances of references to popular ballads is within Twelfth Night. In Act II, scene iii, twelve popular ballads are referenced quickly and in succession. This scene works to rile up the audience as if it were a rock concert or a football game. This then helps fuel the distaste of Malvolio, the one who enters and disrupts the party.
Next, Sovronsky moves towards a song he believes is truly, undoubtedly original. Feste’s song, “Come Away Death,” is a piece of original lyrics. While the scene may reference another ballad of the time, Sovronsky believes this original text is a new song because it discusses a new topic and is sung by a new character. The audience then hears the song with new ears and the song gives the actor a clue in towards the character. He performs this piece, composed by Sovronsky himself, and allows the audience to see what he means by “hearing with new ears.”
Finally, Sovronsky moves towards a play with no sung music, but many of musical references. In Romeo and Juliet, the famous sonnet spoken between the two lovers is in itself a musical reference that strengthens the audience’s view that these are true, perfect lovers. Elizabethans believed that dancing was a form of mating and perfect harmony was synonymous with perfect love. However, the sonnet itself references several words from a famous love ballad of Shakespeare’s time. Sovronsky argues that these all add up to guide the audience towards the belief that the two lovers are in fact perfect for one another. He concludes the session by performing the aforementioned ballad and concluding with the scene from Romeo and Juliet, showing the audience how music can affect and transform one’s view of a scene.