Question: what is the term for a song in a book musical that does not advance the plot?

gcontini2
Featured Actor
joined:11/17/09
trying to remember the academic term...for example, if Happy Birthday is sung in a show simply to give background (but not to move plot, expose character, etc)
Anyone know?
Thanks -
blaxx
Broadway Legend
joined:6/28/05
The academic term is BKLYN:The Musical. Don't forget.
Listen, I don't take my clothes off for anyone, even if it is "artistic". - JANICE
CATSNYrevival
Broadway Legend
joined:3/1/04
^I was gonna say Frank Wildhorn. (Even though I love him.)
That's right! Underscore mother-fu@#ers!
wonkit
Broadway Legend
joined:9/30/08
Placeholder?

Plot killer?

Mamet-song?
givesmevoice
Broadway Legend
joined:12/2/07
A Big Lipped Alligator Moment?
When I see the phrase "the ____ estate", I imagine a vast mansion in the country full of monocled men and high-collared women receiving letters about productions across the country and doing spit-takes at whatever they contain. -Kad
nasty_khakis
Broadway Star
joined:3/15/07
gcontini2
Featured Actor
joined:11/17/09
very funny, especially Blaxx "BRKLYN"

anyway, the term is something like an "exegesis" song...or something like that... any ideas?
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
(Deleted because I gave a very detailed answer and then realized it entirely missed the OP's question. Entirely my bad.)

Re "Happy Birthday": I don't know the technical term. I've heard music where the character is actually singing within the world of the play (and not just singing for the benefit of the audience) called "programmatic". But when I looked up that term, I found a discussion of something else entirely.
Updated On: 12/12/12 at 09:59 PM
PositivelyEmerald
Stand-by
joined:7/24/11
Could it be similar to subordinate clauses in Shakespeare?
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
This isn't quite the same thing, but may be what the OP is looking for. In a show when a song is sung and the characters know they are singing (ugh, if that makes sense)--and usually this doesn't really advance the plot, it's a diegetic song.

Examples would be Do-Re-Mi in Sound of Music, Bill and After the Ball (and others) in Show Boat, Bobby and Jack and Good Thing Going in Merrily We Roll Along, Think of Me in Phantom, etc Of course often these songs can, in some way, still comment on action and (more likely) character or theme, especially if handled cleverly, but...
gcontini2
Featured Actor
joined:11/17/09
Thanks GavestonPS, but there is a technical term for a song that is kind of like background music that does not fit those categories...
like when a character is whistling Jingle Bells (because it happens to be Christmas during that scene) or the music being played by a band or on a radio (because it's just there to set the scene for a certain time period) that is in the book musical, but is not OF the songs sung by characters to advance the story...that's the term I know has a name, but can't remember.
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
I absolutely believe you, but I haven't heard it and don't know how to look for it. The use of the term "programmatic" that I have heard is the same as Eric's diegetic. I think his term is more precise.

But I realize that though singing "Happy Birthday" may be a diegetic exercise, that still isn't as specific as what you need. Sorry. Sally Bowles singing "Cabaret" is diegetic (or was in the original production), but that's obviously quite different.
LYLS3637
Featured Actor
joined:5/1/09
In a musical theatre class I took back in college, my professor would use the term "diegetic" meaning a song occurred as part of the story's action. A song that was "non-diegetic" took place outside the action or outside the established "world" of the story.

EDIT: my bad, someone beat me to it. Apologies!
Updated On: 12/12/12 at 10:13 PM
gcontini2
Featured Actor
joined:11/17/09
Thanks again GavestonPS and EricMontreal22...I'm guessing that diegetic might be it... I remember now where I would have seen the term. I think it was in the old Lehman Engel book (maybe it was Words with Music?)... I seem to remember there was something like a whole chapter devoted to it...It's been years since I've seen that or the book, LOL.
gcontini2
Featured Actor
joined:11/17/09
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
Now I'm confused LOL. There was a big discussion about this about half a year back on the Sondheim forum--and I'm pretty sure Sally singing Cabaret and someone singing Happy Birthday are both diegetic--albeit they serve slightly different forms.

Actually Cabaret may be a bad example since Hal Prince (and others) have staged it as being partly sung in the "limbo" and not all technically in the Kit Kat Klub. Don't Tell Mama may be a better example...

I thought non-diegetic was a song that advanced the action, etc (to put it more bluntly, it's when people sing but we, more or less, are meant to assume they're either talking, or thinking out loud, etc).

Here's the Sondheim.com discussion--though it goes on a rant (it's about 21 pages...) so you may not be interested.
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
(edit: I guess the thread goes two years back, yet it seems more recent to me...)
EricMontreal22
Broadway Legend
joined:10/31/11
One more addition:

The term gets much more vague with a show like Follies. Sondheim himself has said that I'm Still Here works on *both* levels (Carlotta is performing it at the party but, unlike her cut in previews song Can That Boy Foxtrot, it's also meant to reflect directly on her life-- although of course most of the performed, or diegetic songs in Follies reflect at the very least on the themes of the show--Ah Paree and Rain on the Roof maybe being exceptions).
ILuv2shop531
Broadway Star
joined:7/12/07
CHOOKA2
Understudy
joined:12/2/12
Boring ?

Sorry to digress--but--
This is usually in movies---but when the scene moves into a church--the whatever ceremony and hymns? seem to go on FOREVER and stall whatever plot was going on.
Wilmingtom
Broadway Star
joined:7/18/11
Presentational = songs sung to the audience e.g. Cabaret, the Follies songs, Magic to Do, It's a Typical Day in Li'l Abner. I've never heard a specific term for toss-away songs sung in the context of a scene e.g. Happy Birthday.
WOSQ
Broadway Legend
joined:7/18/03
Justified
"If my life weren't funny, it would just be true. And that would be unacceptable." --Carrie Fisher
darquegk
Broadway Legend
joined:2/5/09
There's also theory in terms of songs being "plot-movers" versus "plot-stoppers."

A "plot-mover" is a song that moves the plot, so that things are at a different point at the end of the song than they were when the song began. A "plot-stopper," arguably the vast majority of theatre songs, pauses the dramatic action to explore a moment, either to enter the nuances of the characters' thoughts and emotions at that moment, or to make a big deal of that particular moment.

Let's look at Sweeney Todd. Plot-movers include "No Place Like London" (introduces all characters), "Poor Thing" (Sweeney learns his wife's tragedy) and "The Contest" (Sweeney wins a bet and earns the wrath of Pirelli). Plot-stoppers include "Green Finch and Linnet Bird" (Joanna's character is explored), "Judge's Johanna" (Judge battles his urges to a standstill), or "Not While I'm Around" (Toby and Lovett both express their mixed emotional attachment and distrust).

That's a more complicated piece, being almost all sung-through. In a show like Hello Dolly, the difference between plot movers and plot stoppers (the title song stopping the plot MASSIVELY for a big production number) is much easier to delineate. Remember: Not all plot stoppers are bad things, nor are all plot-movers automatically good.
henrikegerman
Broadway Legend
joined:4/29/05
Is it "charm song"? Or is that something else?
darquegk
Broadway Legend
joined:2/5/09
A "charm song" is something like an "I want" song but not so specific. It's a song that gives you a better feel for a character and their personality, but may not lay out their motivation.
GavestonPS
Broadway Legend
joined:6/10/12
Now I'm confused LOL. There was a big discussion about this about half a year back on the Sondheim forum--and I'm pretty sure Sally singing Cabaret and someone singing Happy Birthday are both diegetic--albeit they serve slightly different forms.

That's exactly what I wrote, Eric, or meant to.

Updated On: 12/13/12 at 07:50 PM

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