A Musical Dramaturg

Submitted by Andy on Wed, 03/31/2010 - 20:59

Last weekend was the university's annual Jakobsen Conference, wherein all the graduate students get together to play house conference and have a bang-up interdisciplinary time. Maybe it was due to having significantly fewer nerves than last year, but it didn't seem nearly as well attended. This could have been due to the conference not really starting until after lunch, with the morning taken up by the undergraduate research festivus. (That I helped judge, and they were all just adorable.) But come on guys, free lunch!

My panel was a broadly interdisciplinary gender-issues bunch, wherein I contributed a paper about Freddie Mercury that I think really lightened up all the talk of colonial identity and hegemony and other heavy stuff. More exciting was Angela's mini lecture/recital about the dance and improvisation elements in two Ross Edwards solo oboe works. Her panel was ostensibily built around structures in artworks with two musicians, a personal essayist, and a dramaturg. I will fully admit to not being entirely sure what a dramaturg was before, but I will also fully admit that it's kind of awexome.
To do a terrible job of explaining, the job boils down to all the academic work that could possibly go on inside a theater. Anything can could be improved through research essentially comes down to the dramaturg including program notes, script revisions, and coaching for actors and directors. My immediate and obvious thought was: Why don't musicologists do this? We get to write program notes and give pre-concert talks if we're lucky, but otherwise we're basically told to stay as far away from performances as possible. A position a large portion of musicologists are perfectly happy with, by the way.
My fevered brain jumped at the idea that maybe my ever-growing and diminishingly useful knowledge of notation could useful in this sort of way. We've all seen overnotated scores out of the hands of student composers, but notation can be such a personal thing. Especially someone coming from a non-composition background, who's to say they won't reply with "Who the fuck are you to tell me not to notate things this way?" One could then respond that no matter what a work of genius it is that no one will give it enough of a chance if you insist on putting the piano part on five staves, but by then lines of communication are closed and no one is doing anything.
Angela was quick to point out that all the research and colloborative stuff is already being done by somebody, you know, that guy up front with the stick. Disappointing for me but it's good that the work is being done. The only problem with this is that it's a bit of secret that this is part of conducting. If you learn to conduct from a crappy teacher that doesn't do this work, then how is the student ever to know?
Now, I might be glorifying the role of the dramaturg and there could be hundreds or thousands of actors, playwrights, and directors with seething resentment towards them. I'm just saying that it seem like it could be fun work. To my fellow performers: Let me help you, we'll have a good time and if not I'll bring a sixer next time

Submitted by Peter G (not verified) on Wed, 04/07/2010 - 06:46


I don't know how musicologists would react to theatrical pecking order. As I understand it, sometimes the dramaturg will research the director's overarching (Beatitintotheground) Concept. So if Guys and Dolls is set in the Fascist Spain (and I'm sure it's been done before), there may be a bit of research into Frank Loesser, but there will be a whole lot of research into signifying resistance, scenery, what have you. I'd love for something along the lines of Regietheater in opera to take place in instrumental music--preferably without being so gimmicky that they're jokey. (Yes, I'm looking at YOU, Peter Sellars.) I have no idea what that would look like, but it's the essence of curation, I suppose. At any rate, musicologist in performance contexts too often become code enforcers (or translators) rather than interpreters or enrichers. Actually, I do know what this would look like, and it terrifies and excites me in equal measure: kiddie concerts for adults. [strokes imaginary beard, thinks "hmm...", trails off mid-sentence]