- MUSICAL PRODUCTIONS - Part 3
As we were saying last time: Your hardest job is to make the musical, emotional, and spiritual high points in your musical hit at the same places.
In our musicals If My People and Heal Our Land, our goals were to lead people into prayer for the nation, whatever their nation might be.
We knew our audiences would consist of both seasoned intercessors and folks who haven’t progressed much beyond “Now I lay me down to sleep.” So, we started basically and simply, and built in spiritual depth and intensity, leading gradually to the goal.
We marked the scriptural points we needed to cover along the way. We decided what we wanted the narrator to teach and what we wanted the songs to “teach”. We emphasized all the major principles with songs, because we know that while the narrator’s words may soon be forgotten, a simple, hooky, easily learned chorus can stick in the minds of our listeners for years.
Emotionalizing Your Message
Songs emotionalize each principle you’re teaching, rather than simply stating facts. Let your songs personalize the message or allegorize it; whatever stirs the heart.
Whenever possible, in a performance of a musical involving choirs, we prefer to project all the lyrics on overhead screens. This involves the ears and eyes of the audience as information receptors. Because you can’t always depend on having good sound, (things can go drastically wrong), words projected on screens are very helpful in enabling people to participate.
The songs done by only the performing group, rather than audience participation songs, have more complex lyrics, and carry important messages. Be sure the audience gets those messages. They will if they can see the words as well as hear them.
Once you have an outline, start anywhere inspiration strikes. Do the finale first, for instance, if you have a great idea for that. Then build toward that point.
If you can start at the beginning and go straight through, it makes it easier to get your continuity and variety right the first time around. We never seem to manage that, and once we’re well into the writing, we usually find we have more material than we need.
How it happens is a mystery to us, but we always have two or more songs in a row that are too close in tempo or theme, or a song that on close inspection doesn’t go with the flow. Something has to go.
We are faced with a major task: editing. Here’s where you must be objective, not to say brutal. If you can’t do this without too much whining, (especially if you’re co-writing,) you’ll never be as good as you could be. Re-writing separates the pros from the amateurs.
When you think you’ve finished your musical, leave it alone for a few days. When you come back for a fresh look, you may decide it could use some changes: that song in the middle is weak, for instance, even though you tried to tell yourself it isn’t. It must be rewritten or replaced. Someone has called it “murdering your darlings.”
The whole structure—plot, dialogue, music, lyrics and background music—must be tested for proper pacing and emphasis. If you have to do some major cutting, don’t erase anything, put them in a folder for possible use in another project.
K. I. S. S. (Keep It Simple, Stupid)
Of the dozen or so musicals we’ve written through the years, it’s the musically simple ones that have been the most widely used.
If you’re writing for professionals only, you may stretch your wings a bit in terms of difficulty. But if you’re writing music to be performed by the average church choir or praise band, remember you’re writing mostly for amateurs. It must be performable by them or it may not get published.
Publishers know the general abilities of average church musicians, and some of them even give their writers lists of specifications. If you exceed those limits, publishers may not want to invest in it.
Does this mean you shouldn’t write big production musicals? Not at all. Big churches, especially in college towns, need them. But if you write these extravaganzas, remember the limitations of range and abilities, even for large churches.
By the way, when we use the term amateur, we don’t use it in a demeaning way. Although it does mean “one having less than professional ability,” it also has another meaning. The ama comes indirectly from the Latin amare, meaning “to love,” and amateur means someone who does something for the love of it. That’s not bad.
The problems in writing for churches—as opposed to writing for professional musicians and actors— are far outweighed by the advantages of seeing groups of talented, dedicated people working together and praying for God to anoint their ministry; then watching the result when He does.
Sometimes the result is thousands of people in meetings all over the world worshiping together, and men, women and young people publicly giving their lives to Jesus Christ. We have seen God use our little musical presentations as a catalyst for the work of His Holy Spirit. The world has nothing to offer that can compete with that.