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Additive Noise: Godspell makes arguing an art form

Written by Rebecka McAleer


Welcome back to Additive Noise! We’re going to spin off in a fun direction today with some practical application.

Music is a form of communication designed to send messages, and today’s song sends more messages than any I’ve ever heard before. We’re diving into the world of Broadway, with the prologue from the musical “Godspell: “Tower of Babble.”

Cleverly named after the biblical parable of the Tower of Babel where one language was split into the many languages of the world, “Tower of Babble” is a song featuring eight soloists all telling different messages.

The play is based on the Biblical gospel of Matthew, and the characters sing “Tower of Babble” before they have met Jesus.

Their minds are clouded with many philosophies, and I mean that literally. Each character sings a solo quoted straight from the works of a famous philosopher. Over many performances and many revisions, these have come to include Socrates, Thomas Aquinas, Leonardo DaVinci, Jean-Paul Sartre, Buckminster Fuller, Martin Luther and many others.

Despite the many versions, the song nearly always begins the same way–with the Apology of Socrates. “Wherefore, o men of Athens, I say to you/ therefore, acquit me or not, but whichever you do/I shall never alter my ways, never adjust my approach to this maze/never reform till the end of my days, even if I have to die many times.”

As each man or woman steps forward to give their own opinion, the solos intertwine.

Sometimes they work together in counterpoint, such as with Leonardo DaVinci and Jonathan Edwards, who sing a duet together that “sings an argument.” Sometimes, they just plain sing over one another. By the end, no one can really tell who’s saying what, or why.

This song is an absolute piece of genius, because it takes great skill to create organized chaos. There is a reason the composer, Stephen Schwartz, is a Broadway legend. Not once do the philosophers run over each other to the point of destruction, and the music is designed such that they can all sing on top of one another while still sounding harmonious. This is difficult enough to do with two singers, let alone eight.

I highly recommend that we all listen to this song several times this week. We live in an age where differing opinions have the power to make or ruin lives. It is my hope that if these eight philosophers can put out all of their ideas at once while still sounding beautiful, we can learn to do the same with ours. It’s all about respect, folks.

Challenge yourself this week!  Look up “Tower of Babble” and select a philosopher to learn more about. Perhaps you have more in common with Socrates than you thought! See you next week here with Additive Noise!

To listen to “Tower of Babble”, visit www.vsuadditivenoise.blogspot.com.

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