A well-organized mind: Death and mortality-related symbolism in select musical theater literature and the composition of a new original song cycle
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Musical theater has long been a conduit for the human experience. Whether an audience is witnessing the wedding of two elated lovers or looking on as a band of warriors storms the battlements, the goal of the international theater-goer remains the same: to find themselves in the work. This is not to say that the average person hopes to become an actor, but rather that theater can be a cathartic experience in which one’s own personal abilities or shortcomings are made evident through the fictitious experiences of a character. A good on-stage portrayal holds up a proverbial mirror to mankind in such a way that an audience member might find themselves reexamining their relationships with their romantic partners, their children, their parents, and even their God. While this assertion presides over the physical realm, I hope to extend its properties to the metaphysical realm with an in-depth examination of the great unknown: death. By examining six existing musical theater pieces and comparing them to my own original compositions, I intend to explore the human understanding of mortality and death through a musical and theatrical lens. In the same way that one might see similarities between themselves and an on-stage character, I assert that an audience member’s understanding of death could be deepened and improved by a character’s death-related experience (be it someone else’s or their own.) To illustrate my point, I will compare and contrast the six existing pieces with my three original pieces, using theoretical, lyrical, and subject-matter analyses to closely examine the way in which an on-stage character experiences or relates to death. In the composition of my own original pieces, I will endeavor to not only draw inspiration from the six existing pieces, but also to represent the experience of three characters as they relate to their own deaths, the deaths of loved ones, and the possibility of taking their own lives (respectively.) This examination of the minds and lives of on-stage characters will, in turn, serve to reflect on the human condition as a whole. While many of the world’s most famous musicals deal with difficult concepts (such as war, poverty, and racism), death continues to be one of the most mentioned subjects. This document will continue the discussion of mortality and death-related content as it pertains to the American stage while simultaneously searching to contextualize this conversation for a modern audience through the composition of a new work.