No Wrong Time For Sondheim

I’ve dabbled in musical improv since workshopping with the wonderful Heather Urqhart and Joe Samuel (of Brighton improv powerhouse The Maydays) last year. The workshops focussed on basic musical improvisation skills and some trademark song structures that enable groups to improvise songs. These were phenomenally successful when we introduced them into our shows, completely altering the group’s outlook on what we could achieve on stage.

Last Tuesday I was at a jam led by Joe and another long-time Mayday, Katy Schutte, where music was once more on the agenda – but this time in a much more authentically driven and free-flowing way. The inspiration behind this was Broadway legend Stephen Sondheim, whose work I’m sad to say I haven’t seen or heard a great deal of.

Over two hours we got used to translating and projecting our own stream of consciousness  into song with the minimum of anxiety and hesitation. The results were surprising, gripping and occasionally moving. Freeing up the unconscious really allowed people to be carried by themselves, each other and the music to places you could never get through more ‘heady’ association. The songs were peppered with moments of  poignancy and synchronicity that were truly inspirational.

The take-home for me, however, was that while song structures can carry a team and give people security in their various roles, there’s a place for something much more genuine and unconstrained in musical – something which the long former in me did tiny back flips about.

I don’t think I’ll ever be a massive musical theatre nut, but now I definitely understand the attraction.


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