In which one story structure is elegantly established, two girls find a home on the highway. and a great many high notes are ecstatically belted.
To my dear reader,
Alongside music, my other major interest is writing, and I spend much of my time thinking about it, reading about it and doing it accordingly. It’s no surprise, then, that for the past few weeks I’ve been spending every free moment devouring books on literary theory, reception and technique. What may be more of a surprise is that one of the best examples I know of these ideas in action is the song “Freedom,” from Kerrigan – Lowdermilk’s musical The Unauthorized Autobiography of Samantha Brown.
The musical tells the story of the titular character’s tumultuous senior year of high school, buffeted by looming college applications, her enamored boyfriend and her boisterous best friend Kelly. “Freedom” appears early in the show, establishing the dynamic between the timid Samantha and the abrasive Kelly, and what is really remarkable about it is that it operates as a story on its own. Through both lyrics and music, the song demonstrates a full story arc of exposition, development and resolution, with three-dimensional characters in conflict, all within seven minutes.
Within the first thirty seconds, both characters indirectly inform the audience of who they are. In the very first measure, Kelly establishes herself and the story’s theme, joyfully belting “Let’s go!” on a C#5 and B4. This exemplifies her character as a powerful voice figuratively and literally, and establishes the themes of initiative and adventure. Upon her entrance, Samantha sings “Kelly drove on all of our road trips” much lower, establishing both her character as a more reserved, less virtuosic voice and establishing their dynamic as one wherein Kelly leads and Samantha follows.
After a brief exposition about their habit of taking road trips, Kelly interrupts Sam, saying “You’re not doing it right – you’re not in the moment, Sam!” With this, she establishes the central conflict: the tension between Samantha’s cautious nature and Kelly’s adventurous one. They spend much of the song grappling accordingly, Kelly encouraging Samantha to be bold while Samantha resists. This all comes to a head when Samantha sings “Windows open, singing like we’re rock stars,” and the two friends proceed to have a rock-star riff-off. Samantha finally releases her inhibitions to belt a C#5 (the highest note she sings in the song) while Kelly belts a jubilant F#5 (her highest note), showing Kelly’s success in bringing Samantha out of her shell.
It’s all very cute.
But moreover, it’s impressive storytelling! Most people will hear “Freedom” and just think of it as catchy song in an amateurish musical, but I see the ways by which the song uses character development and an entire storytelling arc in a single six-and-a-half-minute song as remarkable. There are undoubtedly more elegant and well-known examples of well-utilized literary structures, but this is a small one that continues to impress and delight me.
With all due respect,