Incidentally, SMT student enjoys creative role in Ritz Theatre production

One of the initiatives that Dr. Matthew Kennedy launched when he arrived at Heidelberg’s School of Music & Theatre faculty was a Composition Studio. Last school year, Matthew and the SMT partnered with the Ritz Theatre for the Performing Arts in downtown Tiffin for an awesome opportunity for students to expand their horizons.

To kick things off in the fall semester, Matthew took on the task of writing music for the Ritz’s production of The Man Who Came to Dinner. Then, in the spring, he turned the job over to a student.

Enter third-year music education major Ashtyn Wolph of Fostoria. Ashtyn was selected by Matthew to compose incidental music for the Ritz’s current production of Harvey. She studies saxophone with Joshua Heaney, so the challenge of pulling together incidental music that fit the quirky production was a good challenge.

Ashtyn describes incidental music as the sound effects, background music and transitional music that helps the flow of the production. She collaborated with the show’s director, Jim Cook, “to try to figure out the kind of music he was imagining.”

Harvey is a Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy about a perfect gentleman, Elwood P. Dowd and his best friend, Harvey, a pooka who is a 6-foot-tall, invisible rabbit. When Elwood’s embarrassed sister tries to get him committed to a sanitarium, a mistake leads to a frantic search for the gentleman and his pooka friend. In the end, all learn the lesson to love each other just as they are.

For composers, there’s more to the process than simply composing. “Since Harvey is set in the 1940s, he (Jim) was looking for swing music, so I had to figure out how to write it and make the audio for it,” Ashtyn said. “That was more of a sound design thing.”

She’s been working on the project since the fall semester, with the heaviest lifting in the days and weeks before opening night. Most of the communication was over the phone, but Ashtyn and the director did meet in person prior to the show’s opening when she popped into a rehearsal. That’s where the two of them worked out timing for her incidental music contributions.

“We ran through a couple of transitions to see how long they would take and touched base in regard to the music that I needed to turn in the following Sunday,” she explained.

That included the transition music, a few playlists of ‘40s songs to play between acts and some intentionally poorly sung opera that was incorporated into one of the scenes. Ashtyn also wrote transition music and layered it over a pre-existing drum track to resemble an actual ensemble.  

Ashtyn’s experience with Harvey wasn’t her first at the Ritz; she had participated in the theatre’s Teen Thespian Guild as well as worked on the tech side. And she was familiar with Heidelberg before even enrolling, having enrolled in three School of Music & Theatre summer camps.

While she might have a ton of experience, the assignment she took on for Harvey brought its challenges, primarily with schedule conflicts. “It was stressful, but a good stress,” she said.

Harvey wraps up its four-show run this Friday and Saturday.

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