At an early design meeting director Sean Graney encouraged the designers to think in "revolutionary" terms about their approach to their designs for Edward II. When it was decided that the audience would be split, with the "haves" seated comfortably in a balcony and the "have-nots" standing on the floor, composer Kevin O’Donnell knew he had his way in to the work.
A trained percussionist, O’Donnell has been composing and sound designing for the theater for a number of years, continuing to work as a musician, gigging and touring when he can fit them into his increasingly busy theater schedule. O’Donnell has worked with Graney on numerous productions, including a few staged in promenade. This is the first show, however, that offered him the opportunity to create separate, intersecting sonic experiences. He has composed the upstairs music for orchestral instruments—English horn, French horn, strings and percussion—and the downstairs music for electronic sounds—synthesizers, electric guitar, electric bass and drum machine.
As reflected in some of the detailing in the costumes, the designers also used the Edwardian era as a point of reference. O’Donnell immediately thought of "First Suite for Military Band in E flat" from 1909, composed by British composer Gustav Holst. Best known today for "The Planets," Holst’s use of English folk songs appealed to O’Donnell because of their timeless quality.
While composing, O’Donnell is most interested in creating a musical vocabulary for the play, developing themes and instrumentation to help tell the story and set the mood. In effect, he composes something like an overture, containing all the music he might need to underscore the show. The exigencies of the play also require sound cues for specific moments, such as punctuation or transitions, which are typically determined towards the end of the rehearsal process.
Below are links to some of Kevin O’Donnell’s compositions for Edward II. Final versions for the production were recorded on acoustic instruments. O’Donnell worked with electronic midi files to create these work samples.
O'Donnell explains a transitional cue, and differences between the versions heard by the audience seated upstairs and the audience standing downstairs.
Listen to the upstairs cue.
Listen to the downstairs cue.
O’Donnell explains the evolution of at theme from Holst’s "First Suite for Military Band in E flat" into his composition for Edward II.
Listen to "First Suite for Military Band in E flat" by Gustav Holst.