October 28, 2013

I was listening to Aaron Tveit’s live album, The Radio in My Head, which includes lots of standards and musical theatre songs. Tveit recorded this album live during a concert, a concert at which (by all accounts, I wasn’t there) simply stood and sang songs – no pyrotechnics and no back-up dancers. Truly, I’m sure it was riveting. 

So I started thinking about the difference between radio songs versus songs you sing and interpret in a concert: the difference is storytelling.

The great songwriters of yesteryear and the great ones of today told/tell stories in their songs. When you see them performed live, you don’t need bells and whistles. You just need a full orchestra and a great singer. Radio sings are not necessarily meant to be listened to with such focus and attention and they don’t tell stories. So when you see those songs performed in concert, you need a spectacle – you need lights and lasers and back-up dancers and smoke and mirrors and razzle dazzle. The Rodgers and Hart song “My Romance,” for example, is so simple – you don’t need anything to make you understand and feel it. Today’s disposable pop songs can’t say the same. 

And that’s a reason some people can’t relate to musical theatre these days – they’re not used to having stories told to them through song, and they don’t know how to focus on the music and lyrics, since they typically listen to music while doing other things. The music is just background noise. 

What a shame.