What Is This Feeling?

I made a goal to see more theater (musicals especially) and this year I’ve succeeded. The Book of Mormon, then Once, and now Wicked, which I saw on Thursday. I loved the music of Once in its own right, but it’s different from the others, which are more traditional showtunes. That said, there is something I love about showtunes I can’t easily describe. It’s almost entirely about the music itself, not the show’s plot or characters. I consider the people who write them to be craftsman of the highest order.

Consider “What Is This Feeling?” from Wicked (above). The first go of the chorus (which starts at 1:12 in the video) is a sparse iteration that builds to the second chorus, which adds the undulating strings beneath the backing band that’s punctuating the singers’ lines. The final two choruses are even bigger and better with the ensemble chiming in and the leads cranking up the melody. The chord structure of the orchestral undertow isn’t anything elaborate, nor are the sung melodies and harmonies; but when combined, it’s like beautiful musical alchemy.

That’s just one example of the many songs created for both the stage and screen that tap into the deep power of music. While I’m sure entire books and dissertations have been written on how music affects emotion, for me it’s not academic. I don’t know why the chorus of Anathallo’s “All the First Pages” gives me goosebumps. Or how the heroic strains of Copland’s “Appalachian Spring” makes my heart soar. They just do. And the people who make that music get a standing ovation from me.