Day 5 Topic 2
Phrases are the building blocks of communication. There are markers in different kinds of phrases that tell us when a phrase is starting, building in tension, releasing tension, and ending. You can find research and literature that discusses prosody and taxonomy for both music and text. The question we are exploring here is, “How does what is on the page or coming from our mouth in the form of music or text translate to what we do with our body?”
We can be thinking amazing wonderful things but if you can’t show it to the audience with what you do with your body then the audience cannot see it. If the audience can’t see it then, as far as performing is concerned, those amazing thoughts mean nothing to the audience. Since body language accounts for the lion’s share of communication, especially in live performance, we should at least give it a proportional amount of attention as we practice. Let’s talk about how to bring the phrases on the page to life in your body.
Definition of a phrase Text & Music
A definition of a phrase of written or spoken text is a group of text that communicates one complete idea.
Clues that tell us when we arrive at the end of a phrase of text include punctuations on the page and a breath being taken when a person is speaking.
The definition of a phrase of music is a unit of music that communicates one complete idea.
Usually we know we have arrived at the end of a phrase of music because we have some kind of cadential formula.
Our audiences hear it in the music and can identify it in the text intuitively without being conscious of the fact that all they are hearing is a series of phrases. As artists who want to make deliberate choices though we have to understand how it works. We want to make sure that each element we are offering to the audience is communicating what we intend to communicate. But how would you define what makes a phrase of body language?
Imagine you are watching a discussion taking place through a soundproof window or on a TV with the volume turned down. We can see just by heir body language when they are about to say something, when they are saying something, and when they are going to stop talking to listen or to leave the conversation. What is it that they are doing?
Definition of a phrase of body language
The definition of a phrase of body language is a pattern of behaviors that communicate one complete idea.
Clues that tell us when we arrive at the end of a phrase of body language is a shift in directions of the eyes usually shortly followed by a person taking a breath with the energy required to show the emotion and speak the length of the coming phrase.
Try it. Try not to shift your eyes and think new thoughts. Watch the people around you. Notice when their eyes shift in relation to their speech. Even when we aren’t talking our eyes shift when we have a new thought. In natural day to day life every new idea is first seen by the outside world in your eyes shifting direction. Everything else you do with your body follows after this shift in your eyes. Again, we will talk about this later in the course when we talk about gestures.
Tension and release in phrases. Phrase shaping.
In both spoken and written text, the tension should build and release throughout a sentence. Another way to think of it is that we need to accent important words and not accent unimportant words. If we didn’t do this we would sound like a robot and it would have less expressive power. The tension is either building or releasing and rarely if ever static.
Musical phrases follow the same patterns of stress and release as spoken text. We shape phrases so that most of the time the loudest and longest note of a phrase is often the most important word of the phrase and everything falls into relative importance underneath that most important moment. As with text music is also always building or releasing tension.
How this pattern of stress and release is shown in body language will be discussed in further detail when we talk about gestures. For now, the important points to identify are that like text and musical phrases body language is also either building or releasing tension and that our body language should always be showing what we are about to hear in the music and mirroring the same ebb and flow we hear the text and music. As long as there are humans tied to time there is always either a building up or release of tension. It is that ebb and flow of tension that captures life and humanity.
How the phrases line up
The tricky part is how the phrases line up over time. Music and text phrases line up in time. They might extend the idea but they work as one unit. The music follows the stress and release patterns of the text and the beginnings and endings coincide with each other. This works because both the text and music are both aural elements (things we hear). You will remember though that we have to see what we are about to hear to make the music a consequence. You will also remember that with just regular dialogue between two people in daily life your body starts to show what we are about to say as we finish a sentence. So if we diagramed it out it would look like this:
The body language phrase would start before the music and text phrases and end before the music and text phrases because you would then need to be showing what was coming in the next phrase of music.
What is so exciting is that because music determines the timing of phrases and especially the timing of transitions of phrases by how long the final note is held we can be much more precise and specific about when the new body language phrase happens to start.
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