Thinking Out Loud: Musicals, and The Importance of a Good Story–Part 4

When Musicals have Good Stories

autumn autumn colours autumn leaves beautiful
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

 Wicked

   One musical that has resonated with me for many years is Wicked. Within recent years I have formed my motto ‘intentions matter more than words’, and even to this day the story of this musical stands up to this belief. I was just listening to the song ‘No Good Deed’. In this song Elphaba is trying to use her words to make things better—her words have a physical impact because she is summoning a spell, and that makes things especially dangerous. She starts off by lamenting about how her good intentions don’t lead to good results, and then it gets into deeper levels of philosophy as she begins to wonder if her intentions were ever truly good. Whenever this question is used right, it can help us to adjust our own intentions towards others. But in this song, she gives up. She probably gave up on herself because everyone else gave up on her without questioning their intentions towards her.

   The story, and the lyrics in the music of Wicked come together to tell us the story. Through this song we are challenged to think about how the cycle of judgement works. This whole musical also shows us why, as humans, we were never meant to be too powerful because we don’t always know what is good—things will always go wrong if we had the power to control everything around us.  It also teaches us not to take other people’s words or actions too seriously or personally because that’s what moves the cycle of judgement, and fosters the delusion of self-righteousness. Did the writers know that they were spreading these messages? I don’t know. Just like how Elphaba was questioning her own intentions, the writers probably didn’t know about some of the true messages they were spreading.

Frozen

I might as well mention the other musical that stars Idina Menzel: Frozen. This musical movie seems to take a lot of inspiration from Wicked. People, and maybe even the writers for this movie branded it as ‘feminist’, and people use this label to either love it, or hate it. Although Jordan Peterson (my favourite thinker of our time) probably wouldn’t like what I’m about to say, I do not regard this movie as a feminist one. In fact, when I first saw this movie I was not fully aware of this kind of agenda. It surprised me to hear people brand a movie with a label that had the three letters ‘ism’ at the end of it as if it was no big deal, but that doesn’t surprise me anymore–It just creeps me out a little. I don’t want art to be marked with an ism. Isms limit the way we look at things.

This is what I took away from Frozen the first time I saw it: Just like everyone else in the theater, I was captivated by the song ‘Let It Go’. Although this song is good, it does have statements about freedom from rules. I’m not going to deny that this is a dangerous message, but ‘Let It Go’ plays in the middle of the show. That message is discredited by the end when Elsa learns that expressing herself to that extent has been hurting the city with an eternal winter. The message of the story itself overpowers the lyrics in the song.

By the end of the movie, the message about freedom from rules turns into a message of familial love. This was valuable to me at the time I first saw this in my early twenties. Around this time, I clung to my family a lot because I couldn’t understand the outside world. I used to believe that I was uncapable of loving others outside of my own family because of my challenges, and I was only capable of liking other people.  Although this belief has been fading away as of recently, I believe that this stemmed from recognizing the limits of my own maturity in an unconscious way. Frozen seemed to be about the journey towards agape love (sacrificial love) that needs to happen before you can genuinely love people from outside or yourself, and outside of your own circle.

I could write about many more musicals such as The Sound of Music, Fiddler on the Roof, or My Fair Lady, but I have already written too much.

In Conclusion

   Stories deserve just as much care as music, and music deserves just as much care as stories. If you take away the goodness of a story, you are left without a foundation. If you take away the goodness of music, you discredit the heart of a story weather it’s man-made, or your own story.

This is the end of the series ‘Musicals, and The Importance of a Good Story’. I hope that you enjoyed it!

Thinking Out Loud: Musicals, and The Importance of a Good Story–Part 3

Allowing the High School Cliché to Flourish

Poodle Skirt

How often have you seen musicals, or the idea of musical theater being portrayed in a high school setting?

Let’s see… there’s High School Musical, Glee, the two musicals that are named after hair products, Fame, can you think of any more?

This would be okay if we weren’t already steeped with the romanticisation of high school from the time we were little kids. I don’t know why that’s been happening because high school never necessarily seemed like an adventurous time. During this time, the grand bulk of our waking life consisted of trying to keep up with school work, didn’t it? I never really liked this trope from the time I was a little kid passively watching the Olsen twins because my sister and friends liked them (I enjoyed them for a little while, but that enjoyment faded quickly).

Whenever I’ve witnessed this trope, something often felt empty about it, but I was never exactly sure what it was. Maybe it’s because the ages of these characters, and the setting makes for simple stories—the writers must think that simple young minds, plus a simple setting, equals a simple solution to a problem.  Did the writers trust children and teens to negotiate between right and wrong in a heartfelt way so that they could gain real respect from themselves and others, and real character?  I’m not going to assume that they didn’t.  However, often the issues presented in these stories seem to be too extreme or shallow to be dealt with in the simple, non-philosophical ways that they are handled. While some people are scared of philosophy in a story, I’m scared of the lack of it as characters move through life faster than their maturity has taken them so far.  I can’t make sense of this no matter how I look at it.

Let’s get back on track. If the musicals (and television show) listed above were made without being musicals (meaning that the only time characters were singing was when they were performing), what would they be like? Glee would probably look like the typical high school sitcom for older teens, High School Musical would probably look like one of Disney’s live action television shows about dating, and Maybe Hair Spray would be okay, but Grease and Fame would seem a little tired. Is that just me? Why stick to this trope if it’s just a simple platform to paste music onto?

Tomorrow, I’m going to talk about some musicals that I believe have good stories.  It will be the very last post in this series.

Thinking Out Loud: Musicals, and The Importance of a Good Story–Part 2

Excessive Comedy

Comedy and Tragedy

I understand that my previous statements are related to opinions about a musical that I have never seen, so excessive tragedy might not even be as big of an issue as I thought it was. However, I have a hunch that excessive comedy may, in fact, be truly serious.

Are you familiar with the musical Mama Mia? If you have seen it, you probably either love it, or you’re thinking… meh, the music’s good.

I’ve recently seen the sequel. While it is a little less risque than the previous movie, whenever the story jumped to the past, I never knew what was happening because the daughter and mother at the same age looked the same. The mother died, but I never knew why, or how. We, the audience, were looking back in time to the mother’s carefree dating life where she was making bad decisions. But this wasn’t what we were supposed to think about, because the characters were singing and dancing to Abba music. Abba music is good, but would the music have held up better with… a different story, or maybe no story at all? Because it sure seemed like the music was telling us how to feel about unknowns–just dance them away as if they don’t matter.

The first movie was worse at doing that. Do you remember what happened after the mother met the three plausible fathers of her daughter? Her friends told her through song that she was “The Dancing Queen!”

Something that many people, including myself, have been wondering about is the possibility that laugh tracks can be used to tell us what to find funny or light-hearted. If laugh tracks can tell us how to feel, can music do the same thing? Music provides many more emotions than the sound of laughter. Maybe it can tell us what’s cute and light-hearted, what’s comforting, or what is any of these happy feelings before our gut instincts have a chance to kick in.

Tomorrow I’m going to be discussing the use of the high school trope for musicals, and why I believe that it’s used too often.

 

Thinking Out Loud: Musicals, and The Importance of a Good Story–Part 1

Excessive Tragedy

Comedy and Tragedy

Back in high school, my musical theater friends and I have practiced medleys and songs from many different musicals, including plenty that I have never heard about before aside from brief tellings of them by our choir director. I remember she was hesitant about telling us about some of the dark themes such as the one for Miss Saigon—it was about poverty and prostitution, but she loved the song “Sun and Moon”—this is, in fact, a beautifully written song, but I know that I could never watch this musical. It seems to be all about hopelessness, and looking for dignity in a world and era that didn’t believe that dignity existed. Sometimes darkness is needed to empathise with the audience, but too much of it can make it hard to find the way towards the light, or it can keep the personality of the main characters from being known. So besides the fact that it was a romantic song, and at the time I was stuck in a stage of finding anything romance-related mushy for maturity reasons, the story behind this song made it hard for me to connect to it. Yes, I’m saying this, and I recently enjoyed reading the story 1984 which is also brutally dark. Please forgive my cognitive dissonance.

All in all, this issue begs a question at the back of my mind: Is it okay to deal with exceptionally serious issues in plays with singing? If it is okay, should a way towards goodness and dignity be provided through the cause-and-effect process of a story? Maybe. Maybe Miss Saigon does exercise this process, but I might never know because I learned about that one theme, so I never gave it a chance. Maybe it has so many more themes than the one I know about. Come to think of it, the reason I enjoyed the book 1984 was because Winston was fighting to keep his feet on the ground by using this exact same, objective process of cause and effect that we see in stories, and all around us. But on the other hand, I do NOT want to see a 1984 musical… or would I?… Nah! Most likely not. However, there is also ‘Les Misérables’. This is a dark musical, but I think that it has managed to reach the light sometimes.

Tomorrows post will be about Excessive Comedy.

Thinking Out Loud: Musicals, and The Importance of a Good Story–Introduction

ancient antique architecture art
Photo by Fancycrave.com on Pexels.com

When I was younger, I was part of the musical theater community in high school. A number of the students including my sister cliqued into it, while the rest of us loved music, singing, and dancing, but never regarded the act of performing as something that defined our personalities and interests. Don’t get me wrong–everyone there was an individual, but there was a definite split between those of us who can love any musical as long as the music was good (aka the Glee fans), and those of us who couldn’t share the same interests even if we tried to. Even so, it was a very nice group of people.

I will try to explain the reasons why I feel the way I do about musicals. It might have something to do with excessive levels of comedy and tragedy being amplified by specific styles of music. Maybe music can tell us how to feel about a story rather than let the story flow into the emotions itself before the music locks us into it. It’s possible that when the story isn’t regarded as important, music can be used as a crutch to try to hold up an unchallenging story. I have no idea how often music is being used like this, but I believe that I have seen this happen. I will also discuss how good music can be used to allow clichés to flourish. In this case, I’m going to talk about the high school trope—my personal pet peeve.

I’m going to discuss this subject through a series of posts.  In the next four blog posts starting tomorrow, I’m probably going to say things that you don’t agree with. I’m going to state my own opinions that might change in the future; however, through these posts, I want to encourage you to never let a weak story pass you by just because the music that went with it was good. A good story can help us to learn how to socialize in an honest, and forgiving way that helps us to know the truth, and keeps us from being stuck with our pride, shame, or our own opinions. Let’s not lose our capacity to move beyond ourselves—we are strong enough to handle tales that go against the grain of our limited perspectives, and that show us something we have never seen before. We have to be because this kind of strength shapes our own intentions towards others, and helps us to form relationships in true humility. In a world that seems to be in the process of swapping humility for pride and shame, moving beyond ourselves has become deeply crucial now.

The first subject that I’m going to be discussing is excessive tragedy.  It will be up on this blog tomorrow.

Macaroni and Please Help Me! (Part 3)

Natasha scooped the pearly white sauce with a spoon, and tasted it. Her eyes narrowed. “It’s like…” she said, “it’s like… crème de la crème.”

That sounds nice, I thought. That did sound nice, but I never heard of a cheese sauce being described in that way.

Beth gave it a taste. “Wow! This is decadent,” she said.

“Not only that, but it’s sweet. That’s probably because of all the butter and cheese we added,” Said Natasha.

Beth nodded.

As for me, I never thought of butter and cheese as ever being sweet. Maybe Natasha wasn’t saying that the sauce was literally sweet. Maybe ‘sweet’ was just another way of describing food as ‘rich’.

food pot kitchen cookingI spooned some of the nearly translucent, shiny sauce, and licked it from the spoon. It tingled my taste buds with an unexpected flavour of cheesecake, only sweeter. They were not kidding. I wrinkled my nose. Something wasn’t right.

“It tastes like a dessert,” I said.

cake dessert berries icing sugar

Natasha tried to convince me that cheese and butter can make food taste sweet, but I didn’t buy that.

“Maybe we made sugar,” I said.

I wondered if the flour in the sauce broke down into sugar, but Natasha reminded me that the flour wasn’t cooked enough to do that.

yellow pastry on white powder on brown wooden table

Beth went to the pantry as she carried the flour, and opened it. “Wouldn’t it be funny if we used icing sugar instead of flour?” she said.

We all chuckled at the thought. It would have been funny.

Right after my sister put the container into the pantry and closed the door, she opened it again, and took a good look inside. The sugar was sitting to the right of the container we used, and sitting to container’s left was none other then a fat paper bag of flour.

“You know what?” she said, “I think we really did use icing sugar!”

There was a moment of silence – a moment that neared a sense of disbelief before we burst into laughter!

I was going to throw it out, but Beth told me not to. We went though with the project, and added the sauce to the Macaroni, diced up the bell peppers, and decorated it before we popped it into the oven.  For Canada’s 150th birthday, we had a casserole that looked like a Canadian flag and was made with sugar-glazed macaroni at our mom and dad’s house. It was a good thing that my mom prepared real food. We all enjoyed eating that bizarre casserole – not because it tasted really good, but because it tasted like something to remember.

Picture1

 

Macaroni and Please Help Me! (Part 2)

This was how I described the mixture as I was texting my mom: “It looks like curdled milk in butter.”

My mom replied, “Perhaps it just needs a little processed cheese? :)”

She was kidding. She knew how I felt about that stuff. I always thought of these kinds of cheeses as fillers in food. To me, processed cheese tastes more like salty cream than cheese. It also has the potential of giving food a pasty texture.

“Hahaha, no.” I texted.

Grilled Cheese
This sandwich has the potential of being good, but sadly it’s made with cheese that had it’s cheesiness taken away. If you strip away it’s cheesiness, you strip away it’s dignity. 😥

Beth came into the house right after she finished mowing the lawn. I lifted the lid from the pot, and I gently tipped it to show her it’s soupy, residuey content. She agreed — something was funny about that sauce.

A few minutes later, our third house mate marched back into the house from work. Natasha is a girl who grew up in town, and it shows. She is confident in her surroundings, and navigates them quickly and efficiently.

When she reached the kitchen, she lifted her nose, and smelled the air. “Hm,” she said, “It smells like popcorn here. What are you guys making?”

“It’s supposed to be macaroni and cheese,” I said, “But I think that I ruined it.”

I’ve discovered from the time that Natasha lived with us that she is quick to act in any given situation. If she sees a job that needs to be done, or a problem that needs to be solved, then she’d step right into action. To her, there is no process — there is only the end product.

So being the girl to get things done, Natasha swooped in to the rescue, and called her mom who knew a recipe for cheese sauce by heart.

antique black call classic

“Give me the flour,” Natasha said. “We’re going to fix that sauce.”

I opened the pantry, and took out the container that sat next to the sugar.

Natasha put Beth in charge of the flour and cream as she was stirring the pot. She put me in charge of grating some more cheese. The cheese wasn’t the same as the stuff I had ruined, but at least it was still a nice white cheddar.

flour in a jarAs I grated, I thought about how ‘grate’ it was that the other two girls were so willing to help. I chuckled inside a little at my own pun.

“We need a little more flour,” said Natasha.

Beth had already added half a cup of flour to the mixture just like Natasha’s mom said to do, plus a whole lot more. None of us questioned why it was taking so much flour to thicken the sauce. Instead of questioning it, I made sure to grate a lot of that cheesy goodness that would cut through the floury taste.

grating-cheese-4271670We stirred in the cheese, and then we were done–we were finally done! It wasn’t the texture I was originally looking for, but that was okay considering that we were trying to fix the sauce that was already ruined. It was thick and white – good enough for me. What mattered now was the taste.

Macaroni and Please Help Me! (Part 1)

I originally wrote this story for a short story competition, but the deadline to send in my manuscript ended before I was finished.  But that’s okay, because I can post it here for Canada Day!  This is a true story, but the character’s names are different, including my own.

What marks a special date, whether that be a holiday, or big transition in life better than a work of art?  Art can be written, painted, or in this case cooked, and baked in a casserole.  Do the great memories of these special days stick with us for the perfection of the art that was made to celebrate that day, or the mistakes that made them so far from perfect that we can’t even contain our memory of the beautiful tragedy?

I have divided this story into three parts, and each part will be published within the course of three days leading up to the 1st of July, 2018.  Unlike my previous posts this should be easy on the brain (at least, I hope it will be).  So sit back, get yourself a glass of virgin moose milk that’s either perfect, or curdled because of some freaky fluke, and enjoy my own failure!  🙂

You can’t tell from this picture that I cropped to conceal my identity, but I was making a sad face. 😦

“B-but Beth” I said, “you didn’t even look at it yet.”

My sister calmly turned the lawn mower off. She swiped away from her glasses the loose hairs that had blown out of her braids and smiled. “I’m sure it’s fine” she said – again – as her eyes that always seemed to be smiling sparkled with optimism.

The phrase ‘I’m sure it’s fine’ was driving me crazy every time that she said it! There were many times when I appreciated her gift of optimism, but not at that moment. It was like she was denying the pain of my own failure by blindly believing that the project I was working on inside the house was totally ‘fine’.

“It will be fine!” she said, “Maybe it just needs a little more time on the stove to thicken up a bit.”

Nope, it was too late. I had already added the cheese to the so-called ‘béchamel’ sauce. It was expensive cheese too. It was a beautiful block of extra sharp Canadian white cheddar that Mom was kind enough to pay for at the grocery store.

sliced yellow cheese

It was a special year as well, so I was determined to make it right. Not only was it Canada’s 150th anniversary, but it was the year of my Dad’s retirement from the Air Force. It was the year that our family finally settled in a place that we will call ‘home’. After years of experiencing different homes and new adventures, we settled on Prince Edward Island, so we were now transitioning into new kinds of adventures. Beth and myself, Kailee, were beginning to live as housemates, learning how to navigate the waters of adulthood in Charlottetown. The only family member who wasn’t on the Island yet was our brother who was finishing university in Ontario.

So now you might understand why in my heart I believed it was going to be something good, and hopefully something to remember. It was going to be a creamy white cheddar macaroni and cheese casserole with diced red bell peppers sprinkled over a maple leaf stencil on top of it to look like a Canadian Flag.

canada flag with mountain range viewThe lawn mower began to roar again after Beth told me to just keep trying. The lawn mower cut me off from complaining. That hurt.

I ran into the house, threw on the one-of-a-kind apron that I had made for myself, and adjusted the cape of it’s nautical collar before I tied the back. Every project I took on for myself was like a mad science experiment. There were times when I was successful with a project, like when I made the apron I was currently wearing that made me look like a ragdoll at sea.  This is my favourite apron. There were also times when I feared my own creativity after ruining a project, like the one I was currently working on.

This was the first time I had tried making a cheese sauce with high-quality cheese. I was afraid that this was my mistake as I turned the heat on again, and stirred the monstrosity in front of me.

In my heart of hearts, the sauce was going to be smooth and creamy with a tangy flavour, and gooey enough so that when I lifted the spoon it was going to ooze down from it like a cheese fondue.

Cheese FondueBut as you know, my eyes saw what my heart didn’t want to see. I wanted to cry as I stirred the mixture that looked like curdled milk in butter.

brown highland cattle on field of grass
It was a ‘dairy-saster’