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American Dream

There are many things to consider when analysing and evaluating a song that someone has
sung, such as the use of breath, phrasing and vocal onsets. These are only a small number of
technical applications. The song that will be analysed is American Dream from Miss Saigon,
the song is sung by the ‘Engineer’. There will be a comparison made between two different
performances of the song and how each actor takes a different approach in terms of
different dramatic interpretations and the meaning that they produce. Using music theory,
the discussion with be focusing on the actor’s methods such as phrasing, breath, emphasis
of words, vocal onsets and qualities.

The first case study that will be looked at is the original London cast version. The song is
approached at the start using speech quality the actor maintains a desired effort number
from bars 1 to 11, keeping this effort means the actor doesn’t get tired right and the start
and leaves the greater singing till the the end. Kayes stated in her book ‘Speech quality is
used in narrative and pattern songs, point numbers, jazz and pop musicals and through
composed works such as Miss Saigon and Jekyll and Hyde’. The score states at the start ‘Very
free’, this gives the actor the freedom to play around with the song and not to give to much
away at the start. The best onset to use for speech quality is thick folds as it comes across as
more speaking than singing and is produced with a mid larynx. During bars ten and eleven,
the actor includes the audience in what he is saying by making direct eye contact and a slight
hand gesture to the audience, in order to make them listen to the story he is trying to tell.

At the start of bar twelve the tempo starts to decrease, it is stated in the music ‘Meno
mosso’ which means less quickly, this gives the actor the time to think about what they are
saying and especially gets the audience engaged. Harvard stated ‘The tempo of the music
controls the speed you have to think. When performing a play, any choice about the pace of
the dialogue usually belongs to the actors’. From bar thirty-nine we get a chord which is
held for four beats with a crescendo marking, this leads the actor into the next section of his
song, by having block chords this pulls more focus on what the actor is saying rather than
what music is being played. In bar forty – one he puts an emphasis on ‘good’ which shows
that he wants the audience to understand what point he is trying to put across.

Bars forty-seven and forty-eight the actor takes on a cry quality, which is produced by having
a tilted larynx and thin vocal folds. This comes across as if he is pleading and wanting the
audience to feel sorry for him. Kayes stated in her book ‘Cry is also used in situations that
call for depth of feeling and expression of romantic passion in any musical genre’. Bar one
hundred and two takes a quarter rest before the next phrase the actor laughs on this rest,
could be taken as he is realising what he is saying and what it is meaning. From bar one
hundred and five the tempo starts to increase, the music gets more upbeat. Harvard states
in his book ‘The rhythmic pulse of a song is a reflection of the character’s internal state. It is
a musical heartbeat that reveals their thoughts, feelings and behaviour. In music, rhythm is
something quite separate from tempo’.
The second case study that will be looked at is the original Australian cast version. The song
is approached at the start with the same vocal quality that the first case was. He is using
speech quality to make the song sound more of a story rather than just someone singing. In
bars thirteen and fourteen the actor goes into a high larynx, this makes his voice sound child
like, he seems to be doing this for comic effect but comparing to the first case study the
actor stays in speech quality up until bar fifteen. The Naked Vocalist stated ‘The raised larynx
generates a much brighter sound than it’s low counterpart, because it reduces space in the
pharynx and has a corresponding vocal quality. It’s a lot like speech quality in it’s softer
form…’. In bar twenty-two the actor continues to have a high larynx, this could be seen as an
actor’s choice and that he is doing it for comedic effect and this seems quite prevalent
throughout the entire song, which is quite a contrast from the first case study where the
actor doesn’t play much around with the music and keeps everything to the original written

From bar thirty-nine to fifty-one the actor articulates at the end of each bar, putting great
emphasis on the last word of the bar which is quite different to the first case study, where he
just flows through the phrases but still continues to use speech quality. The ‘Vocalist’ stated
‘…important aspect of practicing pronunciation is the way the shape of the mouth and
placement of the tongue for each vowel and consonant effects the tone and brightness of
the notes produced’. Throughout the song the actor uses his rests in the music to his
advantage, by making them apart of character. He does this buy taking big gasps when a rest
hits, this shows that he is listening to what he is saying and may show to the audience that
there is more to his story which is quite engaging and intriguing to the audience. This is
different from the first case study as much of the music is cut and you don’t see the actors
build up to the story. Bar one hundred and five to one hundred and twenty-six both actors in
both case studies, go off tempo in the music, this could be taken as an actor’s choice and
could also be interpreted as the actor trying to show that the song is there’s and its their
way of telling the story to the audience. ‘Your Personal Vocalist’ stated ‘Tempo and Rhythm
Terms guide us when we are playing music or when we are singing, telling us how fast or
how slow to play, as well as letting us know certain special tempo instructions, for example
to speed up or slow down at various points of the song or music. Both actors in bar one
hundred and twenty-three emphasis ‘pop’ this gives the visual of champagne popping, even
the actor in case study one makes the move as well, this gives something visual to the
audience to look and also understand what he is saying. For both case studies, there is a
large section of instrumental break in which the actor gets joined by dancers and other
singers. Harvard stated in his book ‘Acting Through Song’ ‘The songwriter can punctuate the
rhythm of the action by inserting instrumental breaks into a song or a scene. Sometimes this
is simply done for cheap musical effect – to hear the main melody played on soaring strings –
but skilled musical-dramatist will usually have a clear dramatic reason for the interlude.
After comparing and contrasting both versions of American Dream’, it shows that each actor
takes a different spin on the song, may this be the way they sing it or the acting choices that
they make. Each actor in both case studies made noticeable differences, which worked for
them as an actor and the audience they where performing too. Both scores where different
as well, making the case studies different from eachother. Each actor had a different build up
of there story with case study two taking on the comedy approach which worked well for
him. I think I have proven my points clearly and precisely, and have described the singing
and acting skills studied in the module and have examined the approaches, technical
applications and interpretations from a physical and vocal perspective.

Aldwell, E and Cadwallader, A (2018) Harmony and Voice Leading: Cengage Learning.
(accessed 15/02/18)

Diction for Singers (2001) http://www.vocalist.org.uk/diction.html (accessed 12/02/18)

Harvard, P (2013) Acting Through Song, Great Britain: Nick Hern Books Limited. (accessed:

Kayes, G (2004) Singing and the Actor, London: Bloombury Methuen Drama. (accessed:

Naked Web Money (2016) http://www.thenakedvocalist.com/podcast/high-larynx-low-

larynx/ (accessed 12/02/18)