MISS BENNET: CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY

Nancy T. Hansen Theatre at Purdue University Theatre

Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley

Written by Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon
Directed by Kristine Holtvedt
Sound Design & Incidental Music by Jeff Sherwood
Sound Cue Samples / Demo Reel
Sound Design & Sound Score Concept

Lauren Gunderson and Margot Melcon’s Miss Bennet: Christmas at Pemberley follows the journey of Mary Bennet.  In this sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, Mary is a mature, confident woman with modern ideas regarding feminism and choosing one’s own destiny.  Having spent most of her life in the worlds of her books, she now begins to wonder about experiencing the world in the flesh.  She begins her journey with a question: “can one live a large life in mind alone?”  It is Mr. Darcy’s prompting, “might you not define yourself Miss Bennet?”, that leads Mary to explore her individuality. 

 

As she moves toward self-realization and defining herself as an individual, she is confronted by the stifling societal expectations of the Regency era.  This is especially difficult when the first man she begins to fall in love with, Arthur, is trapped within those societal expectations and cannot see a way out.  Mary is devastated when she learns of Arthur’s betrothal to Anne, which she discovers just as Arthur is about to profess his love to her.  There are struggles and setbacks along her journey of growth.  The large ideas of want for acceptance of love and defining oneself greatly resonate with audience members today. 

 

This story is set in 1815, a time when the world was changing and independent voices began to rise, including the individuality of Ludwig van Beethoven.  His early works are mere imitations of his predecessors Muzio Clementi and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, while he experiments and breaks form during his middle and late years.  Beethoven’s music is a perfect metaphor for Mary’s emotional journey as she branches out and explores her individuality. 

 

In collaboration with the director and the creative team, we decided that this production will be a romantic comedy focusing on Mary and Arthur’s love.  In following with the displaced period and modernized language of the play, the design elements will be grounded in the time period while having flexibility to incorporate modern ideas.  Recurring themes including Mary and Arthur’s moments of connection and love, Mary’s friction against society with defining herself as an individual, longing for a large and full life, and familial support will be highlighted to place audience members in Mary’s shoes as they embark on her emotional journey. 

 

The sound score will be experienced mostly during scene transitions, with a few select moments of underscoring to support the themes of connection and love, and longing for a large and full life.  The musical colors of the sound score will feature piano and a small string ensemble, with an occasional addition of a small wind ensemble to fill the mass and texture of strong emotional moments.  

Music Composition Process

Weekly meetings with the director yielded an in-depth understanding of the intents behind Mary and Arthur's actions.  In keeping with the concept of classic romantic comedy, we decided to realize on stage the dance that Lizzie calls for at the end of the second act.  The music for the finale dance scene was needed far in advance so that the choreographer had time to work with the music and create the dance sequence.  We settled on the tune "Halfe Hannikin" from John Playford's The Dancing Master.  Its lively and upbeat nature was a perfect complement to the happy ending.  

After an initial arrangement of "Halfe Hannikin," I proceeded to the orchestration where I expanded the four-part harmony into a wind quartet (flute, oboe, Bb clarinet, bassoon) and a string quartet (violin, viola, cello, bass).  I also added in a piano part to keep the instrumentation consistent with the piano music in the rest of the sound score, as the piano becomes Mary's outlet for voicing her emotions. The music was arranged in Sibelius, and created with sampled instruments from East West Play within Digital Performer.  Additional ornamentation was added to "Halfe Hannikin" including moving the melody across different instruments and a hand drum. These added parts give further life to the piece and enhance the driving rhythm.

"Halfe Hannikin" Four Parts - Piano Score

"Halfe Hannikin" Four Parts - Piano Score - Jeff Sherwood
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"Halfe Hannikin" Four Parts - Wind Quartet

"Halfe Hannikin" Four Parts - Wind Quartet - Jeff Sherwood
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SQ 742 "Halfe Hannikin" Dance Curtain Call

With full instrumentation

SQ 742 "Halfe Hannikin" Dance Curtain Call - Jeff Sherwood
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Screenshots and Sheet Music

Click on an image below to enlarge or download the PDF.

Music Director

There are two moments where Mary and her family sing along to the piano.  I adapted and arranged traditional tunes to fit comfortably within the actors' vocal ranges.  I also modified the rhythms, creating arpeggiated bass chords to more closely match the style of Beethoven and the rest of the sound score.  As no one else in the rehearsal room had a musical background, I stepped in as the music director to teach the cast the music.  I also worked closely with the actor playing Mary on her piano playing acting.  The final versions of sheet music for the cast are included in the photos above. 

Pianoforte

Darcy's pianoforte becomes an outlet for Mary to express her emotions.  She has grown immensely since Pride and Prejudice in her maturity and forward feminist thinking.  Her growth is expressed by her virtuoso piano playing.  Since the actor playing Mary was not a virtuoso pianist and since a period pianoforte was not available, we mounted loudspeakers inside of a pianoforte shell.  

The pianoforte become a giant ported loudspeaker from the vibrations and rear emission of waves from the two d&b E6 loudspeakers mounted inside.  Once the pianoforte was installed on stage, we used FFT analysis in Smaart to tune the piano speaker system.  We also experimented with different levels of absorption inside of the pianoforte to affect resonating frequencies.  

 

Piano Overview
Speaker Placement
Cloth Absorption
Velour Dampening
Connector Clearance
Mic Position On-Axis
Speaker Placement
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Click on an image below to enlarge the image.

Pianist Recording

In order to achieve a realistic piano performance from Mary, we hired a studio musician to record all of Mary's piano playing cues.  Several different microphone positions were used to allow for experimentation with making the pianoforte system sound as realistic as possible.  From my research I found that historical pianofortes sound quite different than a modern piano with a cast iron sounding board.  However, the director and I decided to record a modern piano given its enhanced abilities over a historical pianoforte to express emotions in the musical performance.  

Click on an image below to enlarge the image.

Studio Pianist
Room Mic Position
PZM Position
Close Mic and Room Mic Position
Close Mic Position
Digital Performer - Piano Recording
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SQ 301 Mary's piano underscores Lydia's letter writing

Transition #3

Beethoven Piano Sonata, Op. 12 No. 1 in D major, Variazione I

Performed by Daniel Whiteley

SQ 301 Mary's piano underscores Lydia's letter writing - Daniel Whiteley
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SQ 501 Mary plays with unpleasant force

Transition #6

Beethoven Piano Sonata No. 14 In C Sharp Minor, Op. 27 No. 2, Moonlight - Movement 3. Presto Agitato

Performed by Daniel Whiteley

SQ 501 Mary plays with unpleasant force - Daniel Whiteley
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System Design

Click on the paperwork below to enlarge the image or download the PDF.  The system block diagram includes a few slight deviations from the USITT sound graphics project.  I have made these changes based on current practices in the professional industry that I have seen assisting professional designers, and based on conversations from the USITT/TSDCA paperwork project, of which I am a sub-committee member within the Theatrical Sound Designers and Composers Association (TSDCA). 

Ground Plan

Section

Piano Detail

Signal Flow

System I-O

Equipment List

Script

Cue Sheets

Piano Cues

System Photos

Click on an image below for a detailed explanation.

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© 2020 Jeff Sherwood.