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Composers capture the spirit of ‘Gaieties 2018’

Stanford's student-written musical opens today and runs through Friday. Performances are at 8 p.m. (courtesy of Ram's Head Theatrical Society).

When you see “Gaieties” posters strewn about the campus or see zealous cast members crash dorm house meetings in animal onesies, you may not realize that Stanford students write all the music for the show. But for Ayoade Balogun (‘21), composer, and Lexi Kupperman (‘21), lyricist, “Gaieties 2018: Jane Stanford and the Chamber of Secrets” is an opportunity to share their joint passions for music, theater and comedy with the Stanford community.

Ayoade could always see herself as the composer for “Gaieties.” Prior to coming to Stanford, Ayoade studied the piano, cello and saxophone and played in her high school pit orchestra. As a frosh, she took classes in music composition. Sitting on the cool tile of the Memorial Auditorium lobby, Ayoade’s face glowed as she explained how seeing “Gaieties” as a frosh made her realize her desire to compose for future productions. When the Google Form to join the “Gaieties 2018” production staff was sent out winter quarter, Ayoade quickly assembled various musical “sketches” she had written for her composition class and challenged herself to write a new short piece that captured the irreverent, frenetic spirit of “Gaieties.” With a smile, Ayoade revealed that the sketch she wrote for her “Gaieties” application got incorporated into one of the songs featured in this year’s production.

“Gaieties” lyricist Lexi loves musical comedy and parody. She grew up watching Mel Brooks’ movies and Rachel Bloom’s “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Here at Stanford, she watches every Fleet Street performance. Throughout high school, Lexi enjoyed writing parodies whenever she could. She loves how satiric lyrics comment upon something unrelated to the original song. Lexi admits that she built up many lyrics of “Gaieties” songs around specific jokes or puns. She looked to the Stanford memes page to get a sense of what humor is topical with the Stanford student body, namely the “fuzzy-techie divide.”

“We received criticism from the writing team that we had “three too many” STEM vs. humanities people jokes in the lyrics for one of the songs,” Lexi laughs.

Ayoade and Lexi have outdone themselves in creating the score for this year’s “Gaieties.” For those who hope to hear obvious “Harry Potter” musical references, I’m here to let you down gently: all the ensemble numbers and incidental music numbers are original, save the sound effects and sampled pop songs. Still, the opening, with its opening violin strains and its plaintive lone trombone, is reminiscent of John Williams’ movie music. The ensemble numbers evoke everything from big band to pop ballad. With every musical number unique in style and instrumentation, Ayoade hesitates to describe her work in terms of genre, claiming, “It’s all over the place.”

Ayoade’s compositions are based in Lexi’s lyrics. The team had to convey certain themes or concepts at given points in the show. “For the opening number, we were told we need to express the experience of a new Stanford student who feels overwhelmed by everything happening on campus. For another song, we brainstormed things characteristic of Stanford students that would communicate that the campus was in a state of chaos.” Lexi explained.

Their songwriting process happened largely over summer break and the first couple weeks of fall quarter. Lexi and Ayoade corresponded via email, text and video call, exchanging lyrics and MuseScore files. While they initially wrote 13 songs for the show, the scriptwriting team pared the score down to eight songs.

Although the scriptwriters determined the context of the songs within the show, Lexi and Ayoade had the freedom to determine the style and content of the music and lyrics. “For one of the songs, I knew I really wanted to write a theme song like the ones you hear for the different superheroes in “Incredibles II.” So I listened to all the theme songs on repeat until I got an idea in mind for what I wanted to write,” Ayoade explained.

After discussing the complex process of composing music for “Gaieties 2018,” Ayoade and Lexi expressed incredible gratitude for the amount of autonomy that Ram’s Head gave them. “Gaieties” has facilitated their growth as writers and composers. The production certainly gave Ayoade the type of large-scale music project she had always dreamed of creating. If she had two more years, she would gladly work on the same music to make it even better. “Gaieties” similarly gave Lexi the opportunity to “dig into the syntax”  of Stanford student culture. Her parodies and pun-filled lyrics have now become part of the hallowed campus-wide Stanford tradition. Ayoade and Lexi hope that their songs are energetic and fun, that they augment the acting and dancing on stage, and that they are sung around campus for days.

 

Contact Natalie Francis at natfran ‘at’ stanford.edu.

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