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January 5, 2009 7:09 PM   Subscribe

HighSchoolTwelfthNightProductionFilter: Help me set some Shakespearean songs to 1920's dixieland jazz melodies.

Challenging, esoteric topic for the hive mind:

My high school students are performing Twelfth Night soon. They chose to set the play in a sort of mythical "Mardi Gras" setting. Feste sings a couple of songs, and I'm trying to find some period music for the actor to sing along with. Mostly this has involved me muttering along to my Louis Armstrong tracks in iTunes. Does anyone have any advice on how else do this?

Here are the two songs Feste will sing:

1st song:
O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man's son doth know.
What is love? 'tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What's to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies no plenty;
Then come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth's a stuff will not endure.

2nd Song

Come away, come away, death,
And in sad cypress let me be laid;
Fly away, fly away breath;
I am slain by a fair cruel maid.
My shroud of white, stuck all with yew,
O, prepare it!
My part of death, no one so true
Did share it.
Not a flower, not a flower sweet
On my black coffin let there be strown;
Not a friend, not a friend greet
My poor corpse, where my bones shall be thrown:
A thousand thousand sighs to save,
Lay me, O, where
Sad true lover never find my grave,
To weep there!

posted by HeroZero to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
I have this on vinyl, which would likely come in handy - Cleo Laine and Johnny Dankworth doing Shakespeare in a jazz style. Not sure whether it's available online anywhere, but I could try and rip it if you're desperate.
posted by Beautiful Screaming Lady at 7:15 PM on January 5, 2009

The first song could work with St. James Infirmary. And the second song might work with Sugar.

As I'm not a huge Shakespear fan, it's hard for me to hear the rhythm in these as song. Your best bet is to google a list of Dixie tunes and listen to them through YouTube and see if you can find things that fit. You're most likely going to have to play with rhythms though - as I doubt you'll find perfect fits for either of these.
posted by Kimothy at 7:28 PM on January 5, 2009

The 1995 Richard III does just like this... but with a Marlowe poem rather than a Shakespeare one. It worked really well, check it out for some ideas on how to make this work. Here's the link, the song plays over the beginning and the lyrics come in at 2:08.
posted by Solon and Thanks at 7:58 PM on January 5, 2009

Best answer: When you do find the right music, just double every third line in the first song to get an AABBCCBBDDBB... rhyme scheme, which will make it sound super bluesy/Dixieland:

O mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love's coming,
That can sing both high and low:
That can sing both high and low:


Basically, if you don't want to add and/or change any words (which you don't), repetition is your friend when you're adapting words for pre-existing music.
posted by nosila at 8:14 PM on January 5, 2009

Could try Just a Closer Walk With Thee for the second one if you wanted to have Feste sing his own jazz dirge.
posted by notquitemaryann at 8:48 PM on January 5, 2009

I can kind of mutter "O Mistress Mine" to the beat/tune of "Basin Street Blues."
posted by Bromius at 8:58 PM on January 5, 2009

Actually, I can't help do this personally, but it would be almost easier to just write the music to fit.

I know st. james infirmary blues pretty well, and it fits the first song alright. It doesn't fit with all the changes in the song though... so if you were to take the part of the song were it does fit, then repeat that enough times you've got a less interesting song, but it'd fit pretty well to the words.
posted by magikker at 9:15 PM on January 5, 2009

Put on a pot of coffee and head on over to YouTube with this Wikipedia list
posted by bonobothegreat at 9:38 PM on January 5, 2009

I think that the perfect fit for 'O Mistress Mine' is Mack the Knife (the swung version, not the original -
this is a good example but not very authentic-sounding). It fits with the line lengths, the length of the chord sequence is such that emphasis lands in appropriate places, and the icing on the cake: 'that can sing both high and low' lands on a line which starts high and ends low.

As to how to do this whole thing, you have a couple of options. Is the music department of your school involved in this production? If so, can you get a small band together to actually play the music live? Chords for a lot of the songs mentioned above are widely available, for competent high school musicians it shouldn't be too much of a stretch to get a groove down.

If live music isn't an option, you can probably buy instrumental backing tracks for a lot of these songs: google 'mack the knife' backing track and you'll see what I mean.

I hope some of that helps, good luck with your show!
posted by Lotto at 3:00 AM on January 6, 2009

I saw a production just a few weeks ago at this theatre company that did exactly this. I'm not sure which melodies they used for which songs, but it might be worthwhile to get in touch with them them and ask. You might also try contacting the actress who played Feste directly.
posted by EarBucket at 7:32 AM on January 6, 2009

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