About the Music
In Conversation with Composer Lydia Arachne
How did you become involved in this project?
Fuse Theatre's Lara Morton has been a great friend and a great supporter of my creative efforts since we met in 2013. Most recently, we worked together on Fuse's 2020 production of The Lion King (Jr.) for which I was musical director. As that show came to a close, Lara asked me if I would be interested in writing some original music for her next project, an adaptation of Midsummer Night's Dream. I said yes.
What was your specific contribution to the conceptual aspect of the show as a whole?
The first thing I wanted to do for the show was to develop a unique musical language for the fairy world that would make it different from the human world... which just means I sat at the piano and tried out weird stuff. I didn't want to set Shakespeare's text to music just for the sake of completing the exercise, I wanted the music to be motivated and original - and to sound like me, and not, say, Stephen Schwartz (although, fair warning, the first song in the show is pretty Stephen Schwartz-y). In looking for ways to make the music weird yet accessible, I realized this show could also be a good way to introduce young performers to some more advanced ideas in music theory (quarter-tone transposition, non-standard scales, metric modulation) while still remaining mostly rooted in rock and pop music. As I sent around demos of the first few songs I came up with, I also got to see what other members of the creative team were working on, and that sharing process definitely helped the show become what it is: one of my songs might have helped give creative vision to a character or a scene (or in the case of "Disparage Not the Faith", it turned a scene into something far slower and more dramatic than that scene is usually played, whoops) - and then in the other direction, seeing the sets and costumes and performances of the individual actors helped inspire the rest of the music. "The Course of True Love" is a song I never would have written in that way if I hadn't already known and been working with the actors who sang it.
What inspirations/influences did you focus on in the early stages of your process of creation/design/writing/conceptualizing your contribution to this project?
For whatever reason, Genesis was on my mind a lot as I was working on the music for this show. In my mind I heard the voice of Peter Gabriel singing for Oberon, and maybe even Phil Collins singing the fairy solo in Act II. We made a conscious decision early on to avoid the Medieval England tropes that Shakespeare is so often saddled with, and I guess one way of doing that is by turning to 1970s England: Jethro Tull, XTC, The Police. Comparisons to Paul Simon, Stephen Sondheim, or Frank Zappa would also be both flattering and (I hope) not inaccurate.
What was your creative process? Please give examples.
For most of the songs, I stared at a small excerpt of the play and read it over and over, in my head and out loud, until a rhythm emerged out of the words, and maybe some hints of a melody too, if I was lucky. “Bottom's Dream” worked like that - that song was built from a scene that was purely prose, not even written in typical Shakespearean meter, so I had to read through it again and again until I could feel it intuitively divided into verses. Then I tried to force those verses onto this sparkly, mysterious guitar part inspired by “Pilate's Dream” from Jesus Christ Superstar (because, you know, that’s just what you do when it's a song about a character's dream) and that didn't work at all. So I went back into the text and read it some more, and eventually I couldn't avoid the fact that in this line: "The eye of man hath not heard" - those last three words really want to be on syncopated off-beats, like a Latin jazz rhythm. And so, we can now present to you a Latin jazz-inspired “Bottom's Dream”. The one big exception to this creative process was “Things Base and Vile”, the song we're banking on to be the big crossover pop hit (I say with all the irony of an independent musician trying to make it in the age of Spotify). With that song, those words just fell right into this melody that I had written a decade ago but never used for anything. Good thing I didn't forget it, yeah?
Has any aspect of this project surprised you? If so, what was it and why?
So many things about this project were things I never could have come up with on my own, but this is a page about me, so let's talk about me a little more. The last album of music I put out into the world (Sister Administrator by Semaphora, look it up, you won't be sorry) took about three and a half years from start to finish - I don't think of myself as someone who works quickly. But for this show, I was somehow able to create eleven songs in six months, and it's really a credit to my collaborators - the rest of the creative team, and Shakespeare himself - for providing a vision and focus (and deadlines) that led to the production of practically an entire musical in a rather short period of time.
If you could choose one aspect of your contribution that you are most satisfied with/proud of, what would it be and why?
Let's talk about "On the Ground", sung by Puck at the end of Act III. It's only a minute long, and it's not the tune you'll hear the most, but it's what I think of as the central musical theme of the whole show. First of all, it's written mostly in what's called the acoustic scale, which is a major scale with a sharp 4th note and a flat 7th note. (It's also called the Lydian dominant scale, and, well, sometimes she can be.) The melody has all sorts of awkward interval jumps that are awfully challenging to sing - but then there are also points where it feels like the melody has moved somewhere new, when in fact it just took a big circle to land right back where it started. It's weird, and it's just my favourite. Out of all the music in the show, it's the piece where I feel I got the furthest toward my goal of creating something truly new and innovative.
What has it been like working with the FUSE Team on 'A Midsummer Night's Dream- The Rewired Musical'?
Phenomenal. Every member of this creative team is so great at what they do, the show has gone far beyond what I was expecting when I first signed on. Please watch this show. Tell your friends.
Your own words- is there something you want to talk about or share that we haven't covered in our general questions?
Climate change is a real threat that could critically endanger all life on earth within our lifetime. As individual private citizens we don't always have much of an opportunity to do anything about this, but if we keep it in our minds we can be ready to take those opportunities when they come.