Rhythm and Revelation: Unlocking the Emotive Potential of Musical Theatre

Rhythm and Revelation: Unlocking the Emotive Potential of Musical Theatre

The Metronome Versus the Groove

You know, I’ve never been one to play along with a metronome – never, not even once. It’s just not my thing. In fact, the mere thought of it makes me cringe a little. There’s something about that relentless ticking that just sucks the life right out of the music for me. Give me a soulful groove over a rigid click track any day!

As a professional guitarist who’s spent the last 20 years playing jazz in the vibrant clubs of New York City, I’ve had the privilege of learning from some of the true masters of rhythm and feel. And let me tell you, none of them – not Dizzy Gillespie, not Wes Montgomery, not even the legendary Alvin Queen – ever used a metronome. Nope, they relied solely on that innate, almost primal sense of timing that comes from years of playing with other musicians, feeling the music in your bones, and letting your body do the talking.

As organizational psychologist Adam Grant explains, “Potential is not about where you start – it’s a matter of how far you’ll travel.” And I firmly believe that when it comes to developing a killer groove, the metronome is more likely to hold you back than propel you forward.

You see, the problem with the metronome is that it operates on a single, unforgiving beat – one, two, three, four, over and over again. But real music, the kind that makes your heart race and your feet start tapping, doesn’t work that way. It has a natural ebb and flow, a subtle give and take that you just can’t capture with a machine.

Think about it this way: when you’re dancing, do you move with the robotic precision of a metronome? Heck no! You let the rhythm take over, your body moving in sync with the music, speeding up, slowing down, and finding that sweet spot where everything just clicks. That’s the kind of magic I’m talking about – the kind that comes from truly feeling the groove, not just mechanically following a beat.

Groove and Rhythm: The African Influence

I’ve always been fascinated by the rhythmic concepts that emerged from the African continent, and how they’ve shaped the music we know and love today. See, the traditional African approach to rhythm is fundamentally different from the Western classical tradition that gave us the metronome.

In the African system, the pulse isn’t just a steady, unwavering beat – it’s a living, breathing thing that can ebb and flow, subdivide and expand, all while maintaining a deep, primal groove. It’s a 12/8 rhythm where the 3s, 4s, 6s, and 12s all interlock in this hypnotic, almost trance-like way. And the crazy thing is, it’s not something you can just intellectualize – it’s something you have to feel in your body, to the point where it becomes second nature.

As guitarist Adam Rafferty eloquently explains, “When you are playing it or hearing it properly, you experience body rhythm and your body starts moving like James Brown or Count Basie – without effort, without trying to look like you are grooving for the sake of appearances.” It’s an innate, almost spiritual connection to the music that you just can’t get from a metronome.

And you know what’s really interesting? The great composers of the Western classical tradition, from Bach to Beethoven, were masters of rhythm and timing in their own right. They just approached it from a different angle, one that was more focused on the intellectual side of things – intricate harmonies, complex counterpoint, and so on. But at their core, they were still grooving, still feeling the music in their bones.

So in a way, we’re really talking about two different schools of thought here – the head versus the heart, if you will. And when it comes to the art of musical theatre, I believe both are essential. You need the technical chops to pull off those tricky dance numbers and power ballads. But you also need that raw, primal connection to the rhythm, that ability to let the music move you and your audience in a way that goes beyond mere notes and beats.

The Trouble with Perfection

One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced in my own musical journey is this idea of “perfection.” As a performer, it’s so easy to get caught up in the pursuit of technical mastery, of playing every note with laser-like precision. And let’s be honest, there’s a lot of pressure out there to be the best of the best, the one who can shred the fastest or hit the highest notes.

But the thing is, true artistry isn’t about perfection – it’s about connection. It’s about tapping into that deep well of emotion and channeling it through your music in a way that moves people. And sometimes, that means embracing a little bit of imperfection, of letting the rhythm breathe and flow in a way that feels organic and alive.

I’ve seen this firsthand in the world of musical theatre. The most captivating performances aren’t the ones where the actors hit every single note with laser-like precision. No, they’re the ones where you can feel the passion, the vulnerability, the sheer joy of being alive pulsing through every moment. And that kind of connection, that kind of raw emotional power, is what keeps audiences coming back time and time again.

So, if you’re a musical theatre performer, I encourage you to let go of the notion of perfection and instead focus on cultivating that deep, primal connection to the rhythm. Spend less time worrying about hitting every beat with a metronome-like precision, and more time exploring the ebb and flow, the natural give and take that makes music truly come alive.

Dance like no one’s watching, let your body move in sync with the music, and don’t be afraid to deviate from the rigid click track every now and then. Because that’s where the real magic happens – in the moments where you let the rhythm take over and reveal the true depth of your artistry.

Unlocking the Emotive Potential

One of the most powerful things about music, and especially musical theatre, is its ability to tap into our deepest emotions. Whether it’s the soaring, heart-wrenching ballad that leaves you in tears, or the infectious, high-energy dance number that has you grinning from ear to ear, there’s just something about the combination of sound, movement, and storytelling that has the power to move us in profound ways.

And you know what I’ve found? The key to unlocking that emotive potential often lies in the rhythm. When the music and the movement are in perfect sync, when the performers are truly feeling the groove and letting it flow through their bodies, that’s when the magic happens. It’s in those moments where the audience is drawn in, captivated by the raw, visceral energy of the performance.

Take a look at Lysa TerKeurst’s journey with her own struggle to find balance and health. Her simple prayer to be “unsettled” was the first step in a transformative process that helped her break free from the patterns and mindsets that were holding her back. And I believe the same principle applies to musical theatre performers – we need to be willing to let ourselves be “unsettled,” to step outside of our comfort zones and embrace the unpredictable, ever-shifting nature of rhythm and groove.

It’s not easy, of course. Perfection is a seductive siren, luring us in with the promise of control and security. But the truth is, the most powerful, emotionally resonant performances are the ones where the performers let go, where they’re willing to take risks and explore the uncharted territory of the rhythmic landscape.

So if you’re a musical theatre performer, I encourage you to seek out opportunities to work on your rhythmic skills, to really dive deep into the African-influenced concepts of groove and pulse. Spend time dancing, listening to music that makes your body move, and letting the rhythm flow through you. And when you step onto that stage, don’t be afraid to let the unexpected happen – embrace the ebb and flow, the subtle shifts in tempo and dynamics, and trust that your body and your soul will guide you to something truly magical.

Because at the end of the day, that’s what makes musical theatre so powerful and captivating – the ability to tap into the deepest, most primal aspects of the human experience, and to do it in a way that leaves audiences forever changed.

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