Make the Music A Consequence
MMC is an abbreviation for Make the Music A Consequence. The short explanation is that music should seem as if it comes as a result of something a character does or something we see on stage. Music is part of the auditory part of our sensory world. Consequently, like all other sounds in the natural world, something has to make them occur for a sound to be made.
As a performer, our job is to convince the audience that the music is a product of the imaginary world we are creating and not there just because there are instruments playing music written by a composer. The music needs to seem to be a spontaneous result of what we are seeing in front of us. In short, the performer’s job is to make visual sense of the music the audience is about to hear.
Pay attention to the big blockbuster movies, Disney movies, the best moments of musical theater, opera, or live popular music performances. You will notice that the best artists with enough time, money, and a desire to create good art end up learning to make music a consequence.
MMC in Nature
Light travels faster than sound. We see what we will later hear. Think of thunder and lightning. Which one do we sense first? Why?
Music is a part of the sound group of experiences we have of the world around us. We perceive “sounds” as a consequence of something we see. If we hear a sound without seeing what could have logically created it we start looking around for what could have been the logical source for that sound. This is a deeply rooted survival response. We can either capitalize on it in the theater or battle a response that is reinforced almost every moment of every day.
In general, the natural pattern in everyday life is that we see something then hear it. As a performer, we want to give them a logical explanation for the sound they are hearing in our actions or in what they see on stage. If they see a logical explanation for the sound they are hearing it helps them do what they want to already do and forget the actual source of the music. Instead, the music becomes another tool of communication and storytelling and not just instrument playing.
MMC in Normal Conversation
Our brain moves faster than our mouth. Consequently, the speaker and hearer have already finished the current sentence before it has been spoken and start communicating the next sentence with their body as their mouth is finishing the previous sentence. Our body language and especially the gestures tied to limbic responses respond much quicker than our mouth can speak words. So, even in daily conversation, we see in the speaker’s body language what we are about to hear them say with their mouth.
Look for it in your conversations. Try to not follow this pattern and notice how robotic and awkward communication becomes. Now watch singing performers of any genre. Notice the difference between when they follow this pattern and when they don’t.
If what we see in their body language doesn’t match what we hear come from their mouth we know something is wrong. For example, if someone’s body language says they are sad but that doesn’t match what they are saying about being happy we intuitively identify that someone is lying or not telling the truth. We trust what we see more than what we hear. What do you do if you think someone is lying to you? For one thing, you don’t listen to what they have to say anymore.
The audience has the same reaction to performers on stage. Even if the audience cant consciously identify what it is that made them stop listening or why they don’t care about the performance one of the root causes is most likely something isn’t matching up and is giving away the lie. If as an actress you are wanting the audience to believe you mean what you say then the words, your body language, and the music have all say the same thing. Body language will always lead what is about to be said with text or with music but they all have to be working together to communicate the same message.
Picture a singer who sounds amazing and is extremely expressive with their voice. But they are standing there like a deer in the headlights doing absolutely nothing with their body. What will your reaction be as an audience member? Hopefully, it is to close your eyes and enjoy the music letting your imagination fill in for what the performer is missing. The likely scenario, especially considering audiences are growing more visually adept and not less, is not as promising for the performer. So cover it up with a pretty set, lights, and costume! Many do but it just isn’t as moving and engaging. It can be impressive and awesome but it lacks the wide range of expression and audience engagement that can be had by a performer who is an excellent communicator. Why not have your cake and eat it too?
MMC in Performance
As a performer, it is your job to make visual sense of everything in the music that is “your characters music.” How do I know if it is “my characters music then?” If you are the person singing it is probably your music. If that music comes up frequently when your character is talked about or your character is on stage and singing it is your music. If the music is a reflection of your character’s inner world then it is probably your music. If you aren’t sure then claim it for your own. The character that makes the music a consequence is a character in power on stage. The audience will naturally look at them because their actions are the ones that make the music make sense. Remember the deep-rooted defense mechanism for survival? Our brains can’t look for a logical explanation of what they hearing. This is especially true of excellent music.
As a director, your job is to make sure that something visual explains the necessity of the music we are about to hear. It can be actors moving, lights changing, focus changing on stage, props being used, or anything else you can think of to make sense of the music. What you can’t afford is to not make music a consequence when you have music that is calling for something to be done because it is unique and ear-catching for the audience. Once you do that the magic spell is broken and can take a long time to recast on the audience.
If you watch a movie with bad dubbing you will realize that our ears are much more forgiving if the sounds come a bit too late and immediately register something as wrong if the sound is just a hair early.
For something to feel “natural”, “organic”, or “right” it has to follow the pattern of behaviors and events that match our usual life experience. Whether or not something follows natural patterns determines if something is believable and clearly communicated to the audience. When we don’t follow these patterns we will at best confuse the audience with mixed signals. If we follow these natural patterns we are also much more likely to have variety as well.
But what about stylized performance genres?
For the sake of argument it is worth pointing out that stylized or not naturalistic acting can be extremely moving and engaging. The definition of stylized is that it doesn’t follow natural patterns of behavior but that the actions follow a unique stylized pattern of behaviors. They key to stylized performance is that the natural patterns of the imaginary world you are creating have to be established early in the performance and be constant. So you are still following natural behavior patterns but not ones that are natural to our normal world.