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an appraisal of the role of Music as Language for Communication: The Sound of Music


This paper concentrates on the efficaciousness of music to the human psyche and its communicative inherence; it deliberates on its sonorous alluring effects in softening a heart that seems inflexible with its powerful suasions, as well as on its rhythmic harsh resonance in rebuffing an unacceptable behaviour in the society. Music as an art form, like every other arts, in spite of its particularity for organizing sounds, the supreme aim of music is to communicate to its audience, to project a musical discourse from a source (singer) to a recipient (listener). Aristotle postulated that music is one of the six elements of drama (tragedy) by saying that the “song-composition of the remaining parts is the greatest of the sensuous attraction” (93). Indeed the sensuousness of music has a strong pulling on listeners, and because it has consistently be part of the theatre.

The Sound of Music as a filmic medium, transported and adapted to the theatrical medium onto the stage bears numerous communication elements. Hence if this topic should be typified under any performative or theatrical genre, for the sake of nomenclature, considering the syncretization of dramatic features and musical features, better say, hybridization of drama and theatre, it then stands asa case of musical theatre.

Arts as the Fulcrum of Communication

It is an established phenomenon for centuries that all forms of arts have messages and aesthetically communicate to us in varying creative dimensions.Without arts, apparently there would be no communication. The whole gamut of arts, traditional and contemporary, encompasses activities as diverse as:

Architecture, music, opera, theatre, dance, painting, sculpture, illustration, drawing, cartoon, printmaking, ceramics, stained glass, photography, installation, video, film and cinematography, to name but a few (Art Glossary, Encyclopaedia of Art).

All the above forms of arts communicate to man but in differing medium. The performing arts which is commonly referred to as public performance events broadly consist of acrobatics, busking, dance, drama, marching arts (brass bands), music and many others, all communicate messages to their audiences in unique ways. The plastic and visual arts which have to do with painting, sculpture, film and photograph also communicate to us. One thing we cannot underestimate about the arts is the preponderance of its whole valuable messages pointing at, and feeding man. Speaking of the sole aim of the arts, Jack Bornoff unequivocally states that, “the whole of the work of art, its all- embracing message, is directed at the whole man, his intellectual and spiritual being, his emotions-perhaps even to the subliminal” (20). Another undeniable feature of all arts is that they are imitational and representational, that is, they either imitate nature or represent reality, and their source is life and nature and social realities.

Hence focusing on the functionality of music as a performing art in theatre productions.The commonly known or conventional role of music in theatre production is the interlude (a musical composition inserted between the parts of a longer composition, a drama, or a religious service), such as the chorus in the Greek theatre; just to foreshadow and to fill in the “inaction” time of a dramatic plot, a fragmentary role to sum it up. John Russell Brown’s testimony about this is just as remarkable as he states that, “Music that is played or sung is signaled by stage directions, and its contribution to how the play works is usually limited to particular moments” (45). However, the place of music in the performing art is quite invaluable irrespective of the limited allotment usually given for its interlude role in the total theatre;John Russell Brown further throws more light on that “Music sustains its effect over longer time spans than words do, and, when sung by a particular character, it holds back other dramatic development for its duration” (45). This obviously points out the effective power of music; this intriguing feature of music is one vehement functionality that manifested in TheSound of Music on the live theatre at the Open Air Theatre, University of Abuja. If music could hold such magnitude of effect, how about when a whole play is like a collection or a piece of music? John Russell Brown also gives a smuganswer by stating that:

In a very surreptitious way, a whole play can be like a piece of music in performance, and when this happens an extra assurance is felt onstage and in the auditorium; everything seems intentional and to have power beyond the ordinary. Movements, then, become something like dance, seemingly inevitable and delicately meaningful (46).

When a whole play is fused with a combination of musicality and drama in its plot or narration it could be termed as scenic oratorio, musical play, scenic cantata, melodrama, music theatre or even total theatre.

Music Theatre

The Sound of Music on stage can be termed as a music theatre for the sake of genre classification. There is more than a question of semantics in the use of the term ‘music theatre’, as opposed to ‘opera’. Music theatre has become current in several decades among the more sophisticated public, mainly in German- speaking countries, as well as well embraced in Broadway contemporary American theatre.

What is music theatre? It can mean a production of a standard opera, which stresses its theatrical or dramatic aspect; as it can mean a work which eschews the classical musical forms of aria, ensemble, chorus, etc., in favour of the dramatic continuity. Music theatre is like a melodrama, a combination of dramatic recitation with speaking, dancing, singing and miming. According to Jack Bornoff, music theatre can be considered as “mixed forms, used in various combinations and to varying degrees, which in our view make up the contemporary music theatre” (19). Wikipedia describes music theatre as “a form of theatrical performance that combines songs, spoken dialogue, acting and dance”. It further explicates that the story of musical theatre is somewhat emotional in content – humour, pathos, love, anger – are communicated through the words, music, movement and technical aspects of the entertainment as an integrated whole ( see Musical theatre, Wikipedia).

Background of the Sound of Music

On March 2, 1965, “The Sound of Music” premiered inside New York City’s Rivoli Theatre. Today, it remains one of the most popular films of all time. In inflation-adjusted dollars, the Oscar-winning movie remains the third-highest grossing film in history, trailing only “Gone with the Wind” and “Star Wars.” “The Sound of Music” was based on heroine Maria von Trapp’s 1949 book, “The Story of the Trapp Family Singers,” but the Hollywood treatment took some liberties with the true history of the von Trapp family, including the following eight ways.

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