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The Writing of Brigadoon

Commentary and writing tips by Noel Katz

Brigadoon premiered in 1947, a time when modern society seemed hostile to those who view life in romantic terms (as author Alan Jay Lerner did). And, after experiencing a world on the brink of collapse, there was a longing to go back to a simpler, less dangerous time.

Two New Yorkers get lost in Scotland and discover a town from the eighteenth century, literally. The hero falls in love and must decide whether to stay forever or return to his New York fiancée. This juxtaposition of time periods allowed composer Frederick Loewe to create interesting combinations of contemporary and traditional Scottish sounds. The score's biggest hit, "Almost Like Being In Love," on its first words "What a day" runs into a major seventh chord on the subdominant, which is a modern, somewhat hip harmony, like the guy singing the song. When he's finished the chorus, the Scottish lass joins him on stage, and a violin introduces her with a schottisch, a relaxed but jaunty Scottish rhythm. It recalls their earlier duet, "The Heather on the Hill," and so does the lyric "When we walked up the brae, not a word did we say" - a sentence that he starts and she finishes. Now that they're singing to each other, the title comes one beat later, as there's greater emotion involved in talking to a loved one than about a loved one.

In any Frederick Loewe score, there's a wonderful sense of time and place. Besides Brigadoon's Scotland, Loewe depicted the American West in Paint Your Wagon, Edwardian England in My Fair Lady, a similar time period in France in Gigi, and medieval England in Camelot. We feel we're there due, mostly, to the little lines of accompaniment that come between the sung portions. (Think of the music leading into the bridge of Camelot.) His mastery in this is so impressive, his musicals seem to be lacking something when they're not portraying a colorful time and place (The Day Before Spring, The Little Prince).

In all fantasy and sci-fi there is a need to explain to the audience a set of Rules: how things operate differently in this unreal estate from the way they do in our normal lives. Brigadoon relegates this to one long scene, in which an old man named Mr. Lundie spells out the Rules of the town's magic curse. It's the least entertaining thing in the show, and it's made me weary of all fantastical fiction. I don't like just sitting there having a bunch of made-up Rules explained to me; it's not dramatic enough to hold my interest.Anyone creating something involving anything that's not reality as we know it should pay careful attention to how entertainingly the Rules are laid out for the audience.

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BrigadoonBrigadoon (DVD) from Amazon.com 1954 film starring Gene Kelly and Van Johnson. Directred by Vincente Minnelli. Special features include: three outtake musical numbers: Come to Me Bend to Me, From This Day On, Sword Dance; and audio outtake: There But for You Go I.

Plot Outline: Two Americans on a hunting trip in Scotland become lost. They encounter a small village, not on the map, called Brigadoon, in which people harbor a mysterious secret, and behave as if they were still living two hundred years in the past.

Cast Recordings

Brigadoon (1947 Original Broadway Cast) from Amazon.com Songs include: Overture/Once In The Highlands/Brigadoon, Down On MacConnachy Square, Waitin' For My Dearie, I'll Go Home With Bonnie Jean, The Heather On The Hill, Come To Me, Bend To Me, Almost Like Being In Love, There But For You Go I, My Mother's Wedding Day, and From This Day On/Brigadoon

Sheet Music

"Almost Like Being in Love" sheet music from Musicnotes.com Instant digital download sheet music.

"Brigadoon" sheet music from Musicnotes.com Lead sheet. Instant digital download sheet music.

"Heather on the Hill" sheet music from Musicnotes.com Lead sheet. Instant digital download sheet music.

Brigadoon and Camelot vocal selections Camelot & Brigadoon (Broadway Double Bill) from Amazon.com

Brigadoon: Vocal Score from Amazon.com

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