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Small Start, Big Finish

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"Once in every show, there comes a song like this
It starts off soft and low, and it ends up with a kiss
Oh, where is the song that goes like this... where it is? Where? WHERE?
A sentimental song that casts a magic spell
They all will sing along, we'll overact like hell
Oh, this is the song that goes like this. Yes it is. Yes it is! YEEESSSS IT IIIISSSSSS!"
Spamalot, "The Song That Goes Like This"
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A type of song that representing the birth and buildup of a single thought. The singer — or character, if this is a musical number — starts out with the bud of an idea, which they sing in a smaller voice. As they become more sure of what they're singing, the song grows and finally culminates in a conclusion to the thought process, scored with a grand and bombastic ending with lots of belting and Incredibly Long Notes. In some cases, this is done with an ensemble and/or an Invisible Backup Band in the background appearing midway for extra hamminess. It may even end as a Crowd Song or a Show Stopper.

Frequently done with the "I Am" Song, "I Want" Song, or the "I Am Becoming" Song, which underscore critical points in a character arc. Unlike the "Gaining Confidence" Song, which "starts small" because of a character's insecurity or shyness, the Small Start, Big Finish number is mainly about volume, instrumentation and orchestration to emphasize a character's assertions. However, it may overlap with that if the character starts singing bigger and louder as they get more confident. In musicals, almost always an Award-Bait Song.

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Compare Boléro Effect, a soundtrack trope where a beat is played rhythmically as the piece gets louder.


Examples:

Film — Animated

  • Darla's "Big And Loud" number from Cats Don't Dance starts out with simple piano accompaniment and sotto voce as Darla begins to impart her Hollywood wisdom on upstart Danny Cat. Then her manservant Max (also the pianist) intones, "Get hot, Miss Dimple," at which the number switches to a full orchestra playing a brassy and brazen beat with enough pageantry for a head of state. Her message is that talent only goes so far; it's the spectacle that people come to see.
  • Frozen (2013): Elsa's "I Am Becoming" Song, "Let it Go", is a "Gaining Confidence" Song that starts out in low tones and with minimal accompaniment as Elsa observes the icy landscapes. However, as she realizes she is finally free to be herself, she sings louder, the background music gets bigger, culminating in her belting notes as she relishes in her new palace.
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Film — Live Action

  • The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl: Sharkboy's "Dream Song" to Max starts of slowly, with just Sharkboy awkwardly singing accompanied by background music. Then he starts to get into it, an Invisible Backup Band joins in, and the song gets louder and faster in the following verses. It's so energetic and intense that Lavagirl claims it's scaring Max.
  • "I Dreamed a Dream" from Les Misérables (2012), moreso compared to the stage version as it begins with Fantine laying in a bed almost murmuring as she laments the state of her life. The accompaniment swells in the last verse and her singing incorporates more belts.
  • "I Am" Song "This Is Me" from The Greatest Showman. At first Lettie is singing by herself to a piano accompaniment. Then the rest of the "freaks" join in and it becomes an upbeat anthem with bombastic accompaniment. The other characters then carry the melody as Lettie does some power belts.

Music

  • "More With You", by Malinda Kathleen Reese, starts out very slowly with just Malinda singing to a guitar and some violin. Then more instruments join in and the music gets stronger and louder, with other singers being the next to join in, eventually building up to a powerful final chorus with her and all her guest-musicians belting and playing their instruments loudly and passionately.

Theater

  • Cabaret: "Maybe This Time". The song starts soft because Sally is contemplating about her relationship to herself in the mirror. Over the course of the song she starts singing more forcefully and with bigger notes, ending with some long belts. The accompanying instrumentation gets louder as well.
  • La Cage aux folles:
    • "I Am What I Am", the first act closer. It begins with a normal tone but the notes get larger as Albin asserts himself throughout the song.
    • "The Best of Times" starts off with Albin (as Zaza, and pretending to be Jean-Michel's mother) performing alone to a restaurant full of people, with everyone eventually joining in.
  • The song "You'll Never Walk Alone" from Carousel. Nettie is comforting Julie at the beginning so naturally sings softly, but she hits bigger and longer notes as the song progresses.
  • "Being Alive" from Company starts at speaking volume and gets bigger and bigger as the song goes on, eventually reaching full on belt at the line "But alone, is alone, not alive" and continues in this manner until the end.
  • The Count Of Monte Cristo: "The Man I Used To Be" starts out quiet and somber, but ends on a very epic and uplifting note as Edmond Dantes, after spending a great deal of the movie as a hate-driven avenger out to bring hell to the doorsteps of everyone who had wronged him, finally embraces the hope of the man that he once was.
  • Funny Girl: The reprise of "Don't Rain on My Parade". Fanny starts with a volume that's almost dialogue-like. The final "nobody is gonna rain on my parade!" ends on an Incredibly Long Note as she asserts herself, and the accompaniment is also brassier and grander at the end.
  • "I Know Where I've Been" from Hairspray stands out from the rest of the upbeat soundtrack by being a slow-building power ballad about racism. Maybelle begins singing to Tracy, but as the march she's in progresses it morphs into a loud and powerful Crowd Song as she's backed up by the other protesters.
  • Hello, Dolly!: "Before the Parade Passes By" and the title song both start off with Dolly singing by herself and snowball into Crowd Songs.
  • "Last Midnight" from Into the Woods, which is the Witch's Villainous Breakdown. The song begins with a level-headed tone while she rebukes the characters, but by the end she's shrieking and belting as a storm rages around her.
  • Jekyll & Hyde has "This is the Moment", which starts with Jekyll almost murmuring, but gradually grows louder and louder so that by the end he's shouting.
  • Discussed and parodied in Spamalot's "The Song that Goes Like This", where Sir Galahad sings that in every show there's a song that starts "soft and low" and "ends with a kiss". By the final verse he and the Lady of the Lake are complaining that the song is too long and loud.
  • The pining song "Johanna" from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. Anthony is initially a little quiet while singing about the girl he likes, but the song gets bigger and more instruments join in by the end.
  • Wicked: "Defying Gravity", Elphaba's "I Am Becoming" Song. She starts out a little small and hesitant but aware that she's undergoing something monumental, and becomes more sure of this throughout the song as she embraces her witch side. By the end she's belting about her newfound destiny and the orchestration backs her up.

Western Animation

  • Littlest Pet Shop, "Pet Sounds". "If I Could Talk to the Humans" begins with Cheep-Cheep meekly singing by himself. By the end of the song, all of the main pets have joined in for an in-universe Show Stopper.


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