I am working on writing two shows set in a mythical ancient China right now - The Song of the Nightingale, which opens next Friday (!!), and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon , which goes into its second workshop come November. I am proud to say that even though the backdrop of these shows could be categorized as the same, they are both very different shows - particularly in their musical styles.
The Song of the Nightingale is a sort of homage to the musical theatre composers who came before me. I call it a patchwork of pastiche. Each musical number is a nod to some other composer's or show's style. Nightingale has everything from sweeping ballads to jazzy show-stoppers to rock-inspired rhythms. The actual Song of the Nightingale is more in the realm of an art song - a fully instrumental mini-flute concerto. And the Song of the Fake Nightingale? Well, I won't spoil anything, but it's as far from a flute concerto as you can get. I consider it a compliment when others say they hear [name of composer] in my work. They are probably correct, and I hope I have paid tribute accordingly.
By contrast, for Where the Mountain Meets the Moon , the inspiration for the music comes from the original novel by Grace Lin. Lin's language is so poetic, and her illustrations so vivid and captivating, I knew I wanted to do my best to capture that musically. Rather than relying on gimmicky song rhymes or catchy tags, I began to craft the work on simple motifs, so there feels like there's always an underlying, unifying musical thread throughout the show. (The details would probably be boring in this blogpost, but suffice it to say, it's more than just writing down chords and a melody). Also, Lin's novel is very strongly influenced by Chinese folklore, so I also wanted to bring some Chinese influence into the score. The orchestrations for the show will consist of piano and erhu - a two-stringed Chinese instrument. This added challenge of writing for a foreign instrument will push me to really yield a different kind of music from what I'm used to writing.
Hopefully, if you're able to make it to both shows, you'll be able to hear the difference between the scores. And I hope that the contrast in some way will help un-simplify our concepts of what an "Asian story" must look like.