Shakespeare at the Orchestra

Dear readers,

Earlier this semester, I received a lovely stroke of serendipity. It started with being on the look-out for a hobby, now that a dissertation deadline and need for a livelihood no longer consumes my every endeavour. Having been a music major many moons ago, I thought returning to my instrument would help provide some balance. One of my students mentioned that our university orchestra was short a clarinet. Before I knew it, I was back in rehearsals again.

What I couldn’t believe was what had already been selected for our program: all works that had been inspired by the plays of William Shakespeare. At Pacific University, many of the music performances are “concerts that teach,” which means they include multimodal, interdisciplinary elements and a pre-concert hour to connect the learning of the instruments with learning out their content.

To celebrate Shakespeare’s 400—which nearly all major universities and theatres have been doing this year, such as this other Chicago project in which I’ve been involved—the orchestra had me compile brief excerpts, including a playlet from Romeo & Juliet, to be performed by theatre students in between each of our pieces. This included a traditional English wedding speech as well as Shakespeare’s sonnet 29.

It was a cool event, and in doing so, I realize we surely weren’t the first ensemble in need of a coherent excerpt from Romeo & Juliet to demonstrate each of the major motifs in the Tchaikovsky overture of the same name. Therefore, I make available here the script of the performance, which pairs nicely with orchestral works influenced by William Shakespeare. As a collaborative project between the departments of English, Music, Theatre & Dance at Pacific University, please feel free to use this material with attribution, approved as a free cultural work.

If you use this material at your school or organization, I would be interested to know! I’d also be interested in any revisions or additions you might recommend, as well as photos or recordings of your productions.

Many thanks,