Saturday, December 4, 2010

Essay: I Like to Be In America (Healing Power of "Westside Story" Soundtrack

Heal Me with a Latin-Jazz-Classical Vibe

You wouldn't think I'd find the soundtrack music of Westside Story healing with its jagged edges, slight dissonance portraying teenage angst, and sarcasm (both in the music and the text), but I do.  Similar to Beethoven's Fifth Symphony, the music from this Broadway musical and feature film, works through anger, frustration, and then ultimately triumphs.  The love songs in both the text and music (with its vaulting melodies), possess a sense of destiny and toy with metaphysical elements. 

The text revolves around the theme of belonging somewhere, to someone, and to a community.  The melodies too combine ethnicity such as American jazz of the 1950s, mixed with Puerto Rican elements, and even European classical elements, after all, Leonard Bernstein composed this famous music.  The song, America for instance provides a poignant contrasts between immigrants who assimilate into a new culture, and those who defiantly hold out, "No, it was better back home on the island."  This proves healing to anyone experiencing alienation or feeling homesick, but especially pertinent to the immigrant experience.

Fight scenes with built up tension and musical dissonance (reminds me of Prokofiev's ballet music for Romeo and Juliet), alternate with soaring love songs sung by Tony and Maria. And when I mentioned metaphysics and destiny earlier, I was referring to the song Something's Coming, haven't we all felt that tinge of intuition when something wonderful is about to come into our lives? Unfortunately for Tony, that something was short lived.

The healing elements I find in this soundtrack include, tension and release of tension (in staccato passages), soaring melodies (legato) with uplifting lyrics (some of the most beautiful love songs ever written as far as I'm concerned), a sense of spiritual connectedness in the love songs, Tonight, Maria, and Something's Coming.  Songs that can assist in releasing anger and frustration include, The Jets Song, the introduction, the music at the high school dance, and America. (I don't have the CD at the moment so I'm unable to look up titles).

The best way to use this soundtrack for healing purposes is to listen to it without any distractions.  Use headphones if that helps, but keep the volume low. If you need to uplift your moods, but feel tense and angry, listen to one of the more dissonant tracks first, and then follow up with the love songs.  Or you could listen to the love song towards the end of the soundtrack which features multiple singers performing vocal polyphony (three or four different vocal lines occuring at one time).  End your listening with Tonight since this song closes with consonance.  You can also end your session with the love song, Maria.

When you complete your listening session sit in silence for at least 30 minutes.  Allow the music to absorb into your cells and digest it.  You can take this time to reflect on the lyrics, the melodies, Latin-jazz rhythms, instrumental solos or motifs.  Then check in with your physical and emotional reactions.  Write them down in a journal.  You'll find that each session brings up different emotions or physical sensations.  You might find that you can only listen to this soundtrack at a certain time of day or when you're in a specific mood or environment. Just make a note of those things.

I recommend the original soundtrack of Westside Story with the original Broadway cast.  This recording is readily available and most likely you can pick it up at your local library. And if you're a theatrical performer, vocalists or musician, you can experience the ultimate healing experience by appearing in the theatrical production.

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