For the past seven years, composer Christopher Hoag has conjured up battle scenes, storms, romance, and adventure with his music for Kingsmen Shakespeare Company’s annual summer festival. If you’ve seen one of their productions, you know how beautifully his rich orchestral scores enhance Shakespeare’s text on their outdoor festival stage. He’s back again this year writing music for two shows: the currently running Henry V, and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, opening July 15. Here he talks about the process of bringing the world of Shakespeare’s plays to life with music.
Chris, you’re working with director Michael Arndt on Henry V. Where do you find your musical inspiration?
The reasons why the director and I make the stylistic choices we do for the Kingsmen scores are always varied. Sometimes it’s the period, sometimes it comes from a conceptual approach to the play. In the case of our Henry V, it was a combination of both. The score really stems from Michael’s idea to put the Chorus in modern times as a documentary narrator/TV reporter, and the actual events of the play proper in a more period setting. I had to bridge those two worlds. So I thought it would be fun to do a very electronic sounding score; one that’s still dramatic and orchestral in nature, but using predominately electronic orchestrations towards that end. The score is really an homage to the electronic scores that I grew up with in the 80s by composers like Vangelis, Michael Stearns, Tangerine Dream, and Wendy Carlos. It’s been great fun exploring these sounds both in a modern and period context.
The electronics also have a tendency to be a bit cooler and removed emotionally, which I believe reflects Michael’s interest in how modern media portrays serious events through a sometimes very aloof and self-serving lens. Ultimately, much of the play is about war; the triumphs and the tremendous tragedies. And those things are also major points of reference for the music.
Are there particular cues or sequences we should listen for?
I feel very fortunate in that I am often asked to write an “overture” for the Kingsmen shows. It’s a bit of an old-fashioned thing to do, but as a composer it’s a great opportunity to stretch out and to musically “set the emotional stage” for what you are about to experience. It’s also very helpful for me to draw from it as I go through the process of scoring the rest of the play. The overture for Henry V states the main motifs that recur numerous times throughout the show.
Beyond that, I’d suggest listening for the “Once more unto the breach” speech which goes into the siege at Harfleur. I love scoring dialog. It’s a delicate thing, but when it’s working there’s nothing better for me personally. And this is such a rousing and powerful speech. Here, the music is constantly building and modulating, but never quite resolving….until the final charge into battle.
Of course, aside from the director, it’s always a hugely important thing for the actors to be okay with the music I write for them. And in this case our Henry, played brilliantly by Ty Mayberry, asked for a copy of the music so he could work with it. The cue is in two parts and it’s built in such a way that Ty has plenty of room to play. It’s a good example of the wonderfully collaborative nature of this company. More