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Music in Radio Drama

Music can capture emotions and images.   It can swing you instantaneously from one mood to another.  It can - as subtly as a raised eyebrow - give to a phrase an extra, and possibly contradictory, level of meaning.  It can provide unity, where unity might otherwise be difficult to achieve.  Simple counterpoint, perhaps using one instrument, like the zither in Carol Reed's The Third Man, can be very effective.

Symphonic Variations by Bruce Stewart

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An obvious use of music in radio drama is in a play about a composer's life.  This play about the elderly César Franck's love for the young Irish composer, Augusta Holmes, begins with one of the most romantic pieces of music ever written.  Being a married man and a strict Catholic, Franck poured his passion into a composition, that was not at all his usual style.  In that way he sublimated, what might otherwise have become an adulterous affair. This passage, once established, can act as an emotional reminder and shorthand throughout the play.

(THE BEGINNING OF THE FIRST MOVEMENT OF CÉSAR FRANCK'S PIANO QUINTET.  AFTER 15 SECONDS FADE AND KEEP UNDER HIS MONOLOGUE)
CESAR: Oh my soul! My love!
Only in music shall I reach out to you.
Only in music shall we become as one.
We shall identify, conjoin, like light from the far stars, shining, enduring, as long as music itself.
My soul, my love, my Augusta!

(SWELL MUSIC, UNTIL ABRUPTLY CUT OFF BY FOOTSTEPS AND A SLAMMING DOOR.)
ANNOUNCER: Symphonic Variations by Bruce Stewart with Nigel Anthony as César Franck, Karen Ford as Felicité and Carolyn Backhouse as Augusta.

Karen Armstrong in the introduction to The Case for God writes:
"Music is the most corporeal of the arts: it is produced by breath, voice, horsehair, shells, guts and skins and reaches resonances in our bodies at levels deeper than will or consciousness.  But it is also highly cerebral, requiring the balance of intricately complex energies and form relations, and is intimately connected with mathematics.  Yet this intensely rational activity segues into transcendence.  Music goes beyond the reach of words." (See below for more about this book.)

Hot Rubber or Death on the Motorway by John Fletcher

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A very different play by the writer, who also wrote Babylon is Fallen, paints an evocative picture of the future.

Sound effects, the announcer and music by a contemporary composer, writing specifically for this play, all help to create some vivid pictures.

If you are a composer or musician think of how music can capture images - as well as emotions - expressed first in language.  The same musical theme repeated thoughout the play will help to recapture emotions and images.

Useful hint: if you write for child actors always give them short sentences.

(HEAVY MOTORWAY TRAFFIC, POWERFUL RADIOPHONIC MUSIC)
MADGE: The future.  All the world is in flight.  We've climbed aboard buses, cars, lorries, anything with an internal combustion engine and taken flight from London
ANNOUNCER: We present "Hot Rubber" or "Death on the Motorway" a play for radio by John Fletcher.  The year 2025, the setting the twenty-lane relief sub-orbital motorway of the ten-lane relief sub-orbital motorway of the M25.  Our heroine: Madge.  She's rough, she's tough, she's behind the wheel.
MADGE: On.  On and on, rubber on concrete, rubber on asphalt, keep those arms out stretched, gripping the wheel, on and on.  Never slow down.
GEORGE: (AT DISTANCE) Mum.
MADGE: (DOESN'T HEAR HIM)  They shall not go faster than me, not one juggernaut or mobile home or mechanized leviathan shall go faster than me.  At the same time I shall go no faster than them.  Not one whit.
GEORGE: Mum.
MADGE: (SHE STILL DOES NOT HEAR HIM)  Round London and round.  A forty-lane motorway, the traffic streaming on perpetually, eternally like great herds of bison across the North American plains.
GEORGE: MUM!
MADGE: George!  You made me jump.
GEORGE: You were in a complete worlds of your own, Mum, gripping the wheel like it was the edge of a precipice.
MADGE: Keep moving, George, gotta keep moving.  Docking at 4.30 with the library.  Got your books ready?
GEORGE: Yes, Mum.
MADGE: Docking at 4.45 with the mobile Laundromat, 5.15 with the mobile supermarket.
GEORGE: Brought you a cup of tea, Mum.
MADGE: George, you're a saint.
GEORGE: Want me to take over the driving for a while?
MADGE: Look at that, three lanes over, your Aunt Cherry and Uncle Bob's trailer.  What do they think they're building on its back?
GEORGE: Looks like a conservatory to me.

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We recommend the following, which can ordered from Amazon.co.uk :

We also recommend the following radio scripts: Polaris by Fay Weldon in Best Radio Plays of 1978, I Never Killed My German and Of the Levitation at St Michael's by Carey Harrison in A Suffolk Trilogy, The Village Fete by Peter Tinniswood in Best Radio Plays of 1987, Cigarettes and Chocolate by Anthony Minghella in Best Radio Plays of 1988, Death and the Tango by John Fletcher and Song of the Forest by Tina Pepler in Best Radio Plays of 1990 and In the Native State by Tom Stoppard in Best Radio Plays of 1991.  Sadly some of these scripts are out of print.  However you should be able to order them from your local library

We also recommend the recording of Lee Hall's wonderful first radio play, I Luv U Jimmy Spud.  Lee went on to write the screenplay of Billy Elliot.


The Well Tempered Audio Dramatist

We also recommend:   The Well-tempered Audio Dramatist by Yuri Rasovsky, a Guide to the Production of Audio Plays in Twenty-first Century America.  The book features chapters on every aspect of audio drama production including Project Management, Microphone Techniques, Casting and Sound Effects. You can read the entire text online at The United States National Audio Theatre Festivals..