Thursday, March 7, 2013


I'm writing a paper on the musicals of Sondheim and Bernstein (oh, what a drag), and in my research found a cool little thread about West Side Story. Brace yourself:

Background info: Originally, West Side Story was to be a version of Romeo and Juliet that instead pitted Jews against Catholics.
Bonus: Leonard Bernstein was also, coincidentally, born to Ukranian Jewish parents.
Where it gets interesting: The first three notes of the prologue* mimic closely the call of a shofar. Shofars announce holidays and processions, sure, but are also a signal for a battle to begin. And this faux-shofar call happens at the beginning of a musical that's essentially one big battle.
Bonus, round two: Additionally (and this one's a stretch for non-music people), traditional Jewish music often has some ambiguity between major and minor, often seen in the third scale degree ("mi," if you were going to sing "do-re-mi"). And that's all over the place in West Side Story, too. Like in "Maria" with "And suddenly that name will never be the same to me" line. ("Sud" gets the third in the major mode, and "nev" gets the flatted third, taking us to minortown.)

Aaaaaaand making up names of fake places is my cue to exit.