The two musicals that I will be comparing are Oklahoma and the West Side Story. Their dance movements, by comparing them both, I would say that they are both in different worlds, as West side story is based in the city and Oklahoma in the countryside so there are many differences however there are also many features of both the musicals that are similar.
The dance scene in West Side Story is based in a gym with two different gangs, the Sharks and the Jets. These two sides are trying to out dance each other (mambo style), but the main part is when Maria and Tony meet each other. This is an important part of the musical as we now learn that from their first meeting that they are both attracted towards each other and the audience is expectant for more of this love story, however in Oklahoma we do not see Curly or Laurey as the dancing is the main part and the rivalry between the cowboys and the farmers is the main focus. This is the only thing we actually learn from the dance scene as it is the only time in the musical were the rivalry between the two lifestyles are shown in depth. In both of the musicals there is mentor that helps to calm the tough tension and attempt to have coalition between the two sides. The composer changes the music to establish the difference of this character with the other characters.
In Oklahoma when the mentor appears the clear ‘umcha’ is not there anymore and not many brass instruments are being used, and there isn’t as many instruments used which could show the composer trying to show the authority of this character, but towards the end of his phrases are burst of brass instruments playing which gives a sarcastic tone, maybe showing how the people thought of advice. In West side story the composer has a different approach to the mentor. He uses a lot of brass instruments to give a silly approach to the activity organized by the mentor. It is like a fanfare which is catchy and is in simple time 4/4. The composer portrays him like this because as he tries to solve the conflict between the two sides, the mentor acts like a kindergarten teacher trying to stop children fighting. In terms of the lyrics or singing, Oklahoma is the musical that has the most singing and underscoring, this is probably because adding lyrics would help to convey the arguments between cowboy and the farmer, also the mentor sings as well to try and bring coalition.
In west side story there isn’t much underscoring or singing, except the occasional shouting of words when they are dancing, this would be to show the support of their ‘team’ when dancing against their rivals. The musical styles with both of the dance movements are completely different, this is probably due to the different areas that they live in and the composer would use the dance music that would be related to the culture or the style of music where they would have come from. In west side story the dance style is mambo, and mambo is originally from Cuba and came over to America, so the dance doesn’t really go with the culture of the Brazilians or the Americans but however because it became popular in night clubs, resort hotels in the heart of New York and Miami, so by using this style of dance and music the composer wants to convey an ‘night out’, although in Oklahoma, the music is very much to do with their culture and style as it is country side music which the composer portrays very well. The main instrumental types he uses is the strings and the brass instruments.
The strings are using a technique called the fiddling which is playing a series of notes very quickly and under this is the brass playing the ‘umcha’ part. The music is in simple time of 4/4 and is a catchy tune as nothing complicated is uses, just simple chord progressions which are all characteristics of folk/countryside music. The banjo is also used which is an instrument that you would use for country music as well. In West Side Story Bernstein makes the mambo piece quite busy and lively by including polyrhythms and many brass instruments and percussion instruments, this shows Bernstein trying to relate to the fast beats of the mambo but maybe of the business of the city. The part of the percussion is composed to be played very fast and is very complicated, this also helps to create a ‘lively city’ feeling. Towards the end of when the Sharks have just finished their dance section in preparation for the Jets dance section Bernstein by adding the percussion that would play music that coincides with the Jets.
For example, percussion is used and it plays in major second which is what the composer usually uses for the Jets so as well as showing them visually you can also know musically that it is the Jets, this also happens at the start of the gym scene when there is just the Jets dancing, and there is a music theme from the opening Jet song which was the . To distinguish both of them, the music for the Sharks the string instruments are used more often and they style is more South American. The rhythm is still fast however there are not a lot of layers and the third beat is emphasized in some cases on the suspension note (falling to the resolution) this helps to create a salsa like feel in comparison with the Jets music with many syncopated rhythms and the instruments that they use are brass and percussion mainly and this gives a harsh type edge, which again might be to promote their modernisms.
The difference is also set in Oklahoma between the farmers and cowboys. When it is the farmers section, it is mainly the violins fiddling as the ‘bass’, with the brass playing the main melody of ‘the farmer and the cowboy and also there is the ‘umcha’ again which gives it that country feel, however in comparison the cowboy’s music has a more syncopated rhythm and this time the brass are playing a clear bass. The composer has been almost adventurous in how he composed the music for the cowboys (towards the end, when the two dance separately) as the tune from the song is not played and sound like a separate tune. I would also say that the farmer’s music is more conjunct as the violin’s fiddling isn’t jumping around too much but in the cowboys section the brass melody jumps occasionally.
Towards the end of the dance scene in west side story, this is when Maria meets Tony the music changes completely, with no connection to Jets or the Sharks music (however he still does have the augmented fourth just before they sing), and this shows how the composer wants the audience to feel both of their chemistry as though it is in a completely different world and he does this by completely reducing the pace, no more fast rhythms and it is striped of many instruments, leaving just a few percussion and the woodwind. When looking at the two musicals, you can see how both of the the composers use characters to move the story along, and both composers differentiate the opposing sides by altering the music however altogether, in my opinion, these two dance scenes are completely different because each composer has his approach to what he thinks the music should sound like in accordance to the story of the dance and the surroundings which it is based in.
Courtney from Study Moose
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