Monday, March 26, 2012

I Love Music

When the opportunity arose for me to do the sound design for Finding Peace in This House, I jumped at the chance. I had done it before, but never in a professional setting such as it was.

I was tasked with choosing music to play between each story. This was difficult. I analyzed each piece to determine the “house” in which each person found their peace. This helped shape the tone, and was a good jumping off point.  

I connect most with orchestral music. This stems from my love of movies and the scores that accompany them. My goal was to amplify the themes of individual tales from Finding Peace. I wanted to find short sections of music that would allow the audience to reflect on what they had just seen while transitioning to the next.

My initial plan involved five songs, bookended with sections from Beethoven’s 9th. As it turned out, the five songs happened to be all by female artists…which I decided to continue even when hunting for new music.

I met with the director, and things changed. We had a discussion about how music communicates through tone and lyrics. I was more in the “tone” camp, and the director in the “lyric.”  Needless to say, it was a fascinating conversation. The decision was made ONLY to use the five songs, add a sixth, and have NO pre-show or intro music. That was a bold choice, and it served the production well.

The first story involved self-injury. Deb spoke of her struggles with these impulses and how she continues to fight onward. The song chosen to follow Deb’s piece was "Home" by Meg Hutchinson. The director suggested this, and I have come to love it. With such a heavy opening story, this song provides hope. It highlights the forward momentum of Deb's journey.

The second story tackled abuse, neglect, and mental illness in families. Ramona explains her difficult childhood and her battle with homelessness. "Gotta Knock a Little Harder" by The Seatbelts was selected. I first heard this song in Cowboy Bebop: Knockin' on Heaven's Door, the feature follow-up to a popular Japanese anime series. The section used emphasizes Ramona's passion, tenacity, and drive to make things better NO MATTER WHAT.

The third story looked at the transgender journey and the potential issues surrounding it. Candice, formerly Ken, shared her struggles with growing up, self-image, and relating to her children. We used "Born This Way" by Lady GagaIn this version, Lady Gaga is jamming backstage with her backup vocalists, sans instrumental support. It's fantastically simple and lovely. The message here is obvious, and powerful.  

The fourth story dealt with eating disorders. Katherine told of her fight with body image expectations and how she came to find hope through others. Alanis Morrisette's "Everything" was chosen. I have always enjoyed her music, ever since high school. She is authentic as hell. We used the chorus to signify the strength that comes from sharing one's mental illness with another and its acceptance.

The fifth story was about substance abuse. Brian shared his experiences with depression and how that led to substance abuse and jail. We opted to use "I Ain't Giving Up On You" by Allison Moorer. A friend of mine suggested I familiarize myself with this artist. The importance, again, is quite clear. Brian’s story was very heavy and ends in a gray, yet hopeful place. "I Ain't Giving up on You" drives home his hope and courage. He has every reason to give up, but refuses.

Matthew told the final story about his depression and its co-existence with his physical disability. Avril Lavigne's "Keep Holding On" closed the show. Matthew's story inspired the audience and highlighted Matthew's fortitude, which was also a major theme for the entire the production. We used "Keep Holding On" for curtain call as well. It was a magnificent note on which to end.

Excellent feedback was received on the music choices. It was a unique experience, and I am curious to see where this sound design interest may lead.

What do you, the delightful readers, think?  The songs are linked above. I am very interested to hear your opinions on how they relate to the mental health issues portrayed in Finding Peace. I’ll even go a step further…what music do you find connects with mental health issues and why?  Are there certain songs you associate with other ETD stories?  Sound off below! Let’s get some comments going!

-C. Weise

Chris Weise is a member of ETD's Ambassador Council and has previously designed, production-managed, directed, and told his story for ETD. His blog posts often focus on the connection between mental health issues and pop culture. Click here to check out all of Chris's posts.

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