BY MAUREEN WOODALL
In Regina, Marc Blitzstein incorporated a wide variety of musical styles from both popular and classical idioms. Their interplay created a new style, as was popular with many mid-century classical composers working in theater. George Gershwin adapted jazz in Rhapsody in Blue and traditional African-American music in Porgy and Bess; Aaron Copland incorporated American folk songs into the ballets Rodeo and Appalachian Spring; and Leonard Bernstein fused Latin dance rhythms and New York street sounds into his trio of American musicals: On the Town, Wonderful Town, and West Side Story.
Below are brief descriptions of various musical styles, and where they can be heard in Regina.
Spiritual – A distinctly American form which blends sounds from the experiences of enslaved African-Americans, including traditional African music and Christian hymns. Spirituals developed into gospel songs, such as that call and answer: “Is a new day coming? – Certainly Lord!” that ends Regina.
Ragtime – The precursor to 20th century jazz, which adds irregular syncopation to create a casual, popular feel. Ragtime was popular in the late 1890s through the 1910s, and Scott Joplin (whose music was heard in The Sting) is one of the best-known composers of ragtime. You can hear ragtime sounds in the opening section of the Act Three “Rain Quartet.”
Dixieland Jazz – One of the first forms of contemporary jazz, developed by Afro-Creole musicians in New Orleans, and prominently seen in elaborate outdoor funeral bands. Eventually, this music began to be performed in club settings, was heard in black communities in the Deep South, and was later embraced by a wider community. The character of Jazz sings in this style.
Blues – A jazz lament, originally defined more by subject matter than form. Blues highlight and contrast the major and minor keys, finding the pathos in the flatted notes. Addie sings a number entitled “Blues” to soothe Birdie in Act Two.
American Folk Song – Alongside the tradition of African-American music, American folk songs of the Appalachian region and the West developed. Directly tonal, with large sweeping intervals, many sound as open and expansive as the land itself. Although not an authentic folk song itself, Horace’s “Consider the Rain” has many of these qualities.
Broadway Ballad – Jerome Kern and Richard Rodgers/Oscar Hammerstein were proponents of a form of the Broadway ballad, heard in musicals. Alexandra’s “What Would It Be,” written at the request of the producer for a “tune,” is in this form.
Ballroom Dances – Music with standard rhythms and forms, many with specific European origins. At Regina’s party, Blitzstein has the drama unfold over a series of dances, including the Viennese waltz (Regina’s flirtation with John Bagtry), the bohemian polka (the party’s opening chorus), and the French country galop (the driving finale where Ben, Oscar, and Leo’s treachery is revealed).
Photo: King Oliver's Creole Band, ca. 1920.