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Theaterconcert is a completely new concept developed in the 80s in Amsterdam, Netherlands. A theatre form in which music plays the lead and theatre is the support-act. Usually actors and directors play leading roles in theatre. In Theaterconcert it's all around music and musicians, while theatre and theatre resources perform a role in the musical composition.
Called Theaterconcert in originating country the Netherlands, Concert de Theatre in France, Theaterkonzert in Germany and Concerto di Theatro in Italy, Theaterconcert was designed with an international name, fitting to this new form of Music in Theater, for Pop music is an international language. It wants to be a medium for international popmusicians to invade Theatre and open up a new stage with preset conditions favourable for developing modern music.
Theaterconcert has been developed in 1984–1985 by a group of women in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, an all-female theatrecrew around singer/songwriter Marijke Nekeman. They experimented and worked with directors, choreographers, dancers and other persons in theatre-related professions, to learn about the laws of theatre and find a form that would bring together the art of theatre and the atmosphere for musicians in a 24 track recording studio on the stage of theatre, the building.
At that time it became clear popmusicians were in need of a new environment for performing their music. Till then popmusic was played in circumstances that were mostly totally opposite to the concentrated silence that surrounded recording sessions. Because it would take a long time to create buildings that would provide the necessary conditions, Theaterconcert was developed to hijack Theatre, the building, and therewith create a vast amount of new stages for music played on musical instruments that need electrical amplification, balancing and coloring.
The form needed to enable singing songs in theatre, and have audiences undergo a 2-hour long experience, with P.A. as well balanced as in recording studio's. To perform in the theatre building one needs to know about theatre the art. The group of women that cooperated in developing the 1st Theaterconcert decided to learn about theatre, and how to apply it to music. They found that character and layers in a story are basics of the art of theatre, as chords and scales are to the art of music.
After seriously experimenting in a small Amsterdam theatre, it was decided musicians can not act and at the same time play with a true touch. Therefore, clothing, make-up, lighting and mise-en-scene are used, merely to underline the character of the musician, and emphasize the differences between the musicians on stage, if only by the character of their instruments. The sound of instruments could develop and change during a concert. Voices would pass through a series of timbre changes, to fit to the content of songs. Plus no more fading away of a song, Theaterconcert embraces the art of song-endings. It would be false to the audience to see musicians play as involved as before yet hear their sound fade away. A fade can be played though, by thinning the arrangement or by playing softer and softer.
Layers in a story are found in the depth, the layers of a song and series of songs, text combined with music. Theater enables musicians to go deeper than the mere entertaining aspect of club-performances. Silence is a basic condition in Theatre, and this basic silence it has in common with recording studio's, blooming in the 80s. Were musicians could play their parts until the best one was recorded. This made it possible to improvise without fear of failing, which on stage usually lessens the bravura with which music is performed. That is why most musicians, especially in those days, played their best and most expressive parts in the recording-studio's.
Now when the right atmosphere is secured in theatre, by lighting, by monitoring, and by being able to hear one another not through some poor monitor system but as well as during rehearsals, playing music can reach the same high peaks and audience gives room to it by being silent, not to mention the excited yell breaking through a listener's self-control.
A means of having an almost private encounter with fans, for bands that have paid their dues and are now in need of going one step further, growing musically. For young musicians a form to develop a more freestyle music, music as a free art, not hindered by rules of the past.
As modern electrical and electronic instruments are evolving, they adapt ancient techniques. Analogue instruments like the electric guitar have a great range of volume. The digital synthesizers have a max. volume of 99 steps. Compared to the dynamics of a grand piano, synthesizers are poorly equipped. The choice for theatre as stage for matured popmusic is also based on the presence of a grand piano. Piano's being a poor copy, the grand piano is a fully developed mechanical instrument with enormous range in dynamics. Keyboard players in clubs are used to play in one volume to get their sound over the drums, and over the dancing crowd. In theatre, with silence as set condition, dynamics develop in performed music.
PA in the 80s in theatre in the Netherlands, was an experience in which you were lucky to be in the middle of the room, but sitting left or right had the sound coming from one side only. The P.A. was placed left and right of the stage in those days, in the Netherlands. In 5 minutes one had fooled the brain into thinking it was normal to see a singer on the middle of the stage yet hear the sound coming from left of right. The mixing of the sound was rudimentary when compared to how sound was handled in the recording studio's in those days. To enable them to perform music in theatre, the women found P.A. had to improve rapidly. Thanks to the cooperation of Focus Sound co. the women that developed Theaterconcert tried several P.A. setups; a bass-speaker in the back of the stage, 12 surround boxes on stands in a half circle behind the musicians, that made performers hear the same as the audience. This grew into a prerequisite for Theaterconcert. Whatever system was used, the main objective was to have musicians and audience hear the same. Musicians play balanced together, plus it is the most truthful way of offering your music to the audience. There is no need to play loud, there's just a need for a volume that makes the music sound, that makes a composition come to life and individual instruments flow into one sound.
When, after a year of experimenting, on theatre and music, on how to adapt theatre rules to musical goals, from September '84 till September '85, the show was assembled, the theatre form took shape. Instead of playing song by song, several songs were grouped together not on a basis of same content but more developing a thinking line, intuitive understanding of what text and music are expressing. No breaks between the songs, but one song flowing into another by improvisations, all kinds of interludes, modulation, change of atmosphere. Three songs at the most were grouped like this in the 1st Theaterconcert 'Vreemd Genoeg' in October 1985 in theatre De Brakke Grond in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Credits go to stage manager Sylvia van den Heuvel for formulating the objective "melt studio sessions and theatre performance into one concept". To Ellen van der Pas for co-developing the soundplan. To Klaar Plattel for co-developing characters and music from march '85. To Sonja van Toorn for the light plan, and the many women circling around the theatregroup in this exciting and bursting of energy period of experimenting, developing the concept and finding the name for it, so it could be transported into the world.
Since 1985, credit to management Mojo Theater, the concept of Theaterconcert has spread through the Netherlands, then to countries in Europe, and in the mean time all over the world. From musicians in the Netherlands, flowing into Germany, the United Kingdom, France, Italy, it reached the US in 1998 and is now widely accepted as a totally new approach to music, using the theatrebuilding for its finest aspects.
Music that, although pop oriented, moves more freely and – especially in the middle of the Theaterconcert when audience is concentrated and focused – can go to great experimental lengths and move into unknown depth of composing and playing, for musicians and become a great experience, for listeners.
Marijke Nekeman – singer/songwriter – kept re-arranging songs and instrumentals, and co-musicians and technicians kept working on the performance. Therefore, the women decided to perform in theatre in tours of three months, with a month rest in between to renew energy and refresh the performance in a series of rehearsals in a theatre. The rehearsals would lead to concerts in the same theater to confirm the redesigned performance. These periods of three months were called Theatertour. Theatertour is intertwined with Theaterconcert. The idea to keep working on the concert and other aspects of the performance, to keep growing and incorporate new developments, is a natural instinct for modern musicians. And this feeling is what Theaterconcert is about, and dividing the row of concerts in several Theatertours is as natural as taking a fresh breath is for a singer.
Credits to Marijke Nekeman for initializing the search, facilitating the experiments, writing the songs and having the natural ambition to find a stage, not only for herself but for all modern musicians, that is fully equipped to function as a music driven multimedia platform. The final touch is thanks to playwright, stage director and violinist Lodewijk de Boer, who gave hints and pointed directions at finalizing the concept, and assembling world's 1st Theaterconcert in Amsterdam, the Netherlands.