Skip to main content

Full text of "Piano Conductor: So They Talked You Into Being Music Director"

See other formats


... 50 They Talked You Into Being 
Music Director 






Illustrations by Joanne Romeo 

Copyright © 2015 by Armando Fox 

Published by Pogo Press, an imprint of Strawberry Canyon LLC 
San Francisco, USA 

All rights reserved. 

Illustrations by Joanne Romeo. Cover concept by Tonia Fox, designed by Arthur 

Back cover photo: A toucan’s help is no help at all, but it’s entertaining. This 
is Pogo, our keel-billed toucan, in 2010. She is “helping” the author figure out the 
orchestral reduction for Man of La Mancha described in Chapter |7| Sadly she is 
no longer with us, though her feisty spirit still pervades our home, and gives Pogo 
Press its name. (Photo: Tonia Fox.) 

Publisher’s Cataloging-in-Publication Data 

Fox, Armando. 
Piano/conductor : so they talked you into being music 
director / Armando Fox ; illustrations by Joanne Romeo. 
pages cm 
Includes bibliographical references and index. 
ISBN 978-0-9848812-9-1 (pbk.) 

1. Musical theater—Production and direction. 2. Musical 
theater—Instruction and study. 3. Performing arts—Production 
and direction. 4. Conductors (Music). I. Romeo, Joanne, ill. II. 

MT955 .F69 2015 

792.602 *33—dc23 


90 \C 

Pogo Press, San Francisco, USA 


PTs a eee 
Ge Aa bhet on arueaneaute Ss oye gaging Sole oe 
Eb be MAE ee ence Be Ge 
1.6 Doubling and Cross-Cuing]...............004. 

2 Auditions 
Pre ft ata anes eerste, ete 
2.2 First Round Auditions| ...............02.00004 
B teicst sca tes te terete koa 
Siete &, gnats: aide duets aa aude 4-18 ts 

eee aes 

3.4 Pitch and Interval Training].................-.-. 
3.5 Harmonies and Counterpoint] ................. 

3.6 Variable-Stress Practice and Long-Line Extraction] ...... 
3.7 Teaching Tricky Rhythms}..................-.- 
3.8 Putting It All Together}. .................--. 

3.9 Performance: Putting the Show in Context 

3.10 Example: So What (Cabaret)|..........0.0000004 
3.11 Example: Dulcinea (Man Of La Mancha)| ........... 
3.12 Example: I’m Alive (Next To Normal)}............. 

4 Diction, Rhythm, and Dynamics 

4.1 Diction Basics}... ......... 0000 eee eee eee 

4.2 Vowels and Consonants 

eh aied.s Sree ive eeuie-s é 
a iemeiy paces but 
pee do Ge Obke od od BERS oes 
ape ae essen 
ee ee 

5 The Orchestra 

5.1 Instrumentation on a Shoestring 

p.2. Recruiting Tips) ¢ 26002482 28s ee a do 
5.3. The Mighty Piano, or Pit Piano for Classical Pianists}... . . 

5.4 Rehearsal Pianists|...............0..00 000004 

5.5 Strings 

5.6 Electronic Instruments 
5.7__Orchestra Rehearsal Venues 

5.8 Preparing the Book for Rehearsal}............... 

5.9 Play-Through and Sitzprobe (Sit-n-Sing) 
5.10 Tech Week’ 

5.11 Subs| . 

6 Conducting 

6.1 Pit Conducting vs. Other Conducting Gigs} .......... 

6.2 From Pianist to Piano/Conductor|............... 

6.3. Hands-Free Conducting 

6.4 The Secret Language of the Piano/Conductor Score]... . . 
6.5 Script Cues: Segues and Safeties and Vamps, Oh My 

6.6 Warnings and Starts} ..........-...2.0 00 ee eee 

6.7 Tempo Changes, Fermatas, Track Marks, Dictated|...... 

6.8 Vamps and Safeties})..............2.2. 00 0000- 
6.9 Underscoring]... ....... 2... 0. eee ee ee 

7 Emergency Arranging 
ee eee ee eee 
CREEL SS Oe ke ESS Greek 
te aw a ee SRM Ee eS 
ee er ene ye oe ae 
sets Saag aut 
ee ee ee ee ee eee 

7.7 Example: Man of La Mancha|.............-++++5 
7.8 Example: Gypsy)... ...... 000. eee ee ee eee 

Pages a eRe eee eee ee 
(Goi Bewuiaoediabe ss 
Eee be ee ak A 
ppb eaaa eee pe eeks oes 

Introduction: Who 
Am I? Who Are You? 
What Is This? 

When I served as Music Director for the first time in college, I already 
had extensive classical piano training, ear training, ensemble playing, some 
choral conducting, and music theory. I had also played piano in three or 
four pits, and I had seen dozens of Broadway musicals as a kid growing up 
in New York, so I sort of knew how theater scores were put together and 

But I quickly learned that there’s a big gap between musicianship and 
Music Director. Conducting a pit orchestra is different from conducting an 
orchestra or a choir, and most community productions introduce additional 
limitations relating to budget, talent pool, facilities/space, staff/personnel, 
and other things they don’t seem to cover in any book. Being an accom- 
plished pianist certainly helps, but try doing that while also leading the 
orchestra, conducting tempo changes, and giving cues to actors. And that’s 
just the performances: to get that far you have to teach actors who may 
have little formal musical training how to practice and perform harmony 
and counterpoint, and you have to help them understand the relationship 
between their characters’ songs and their dialogue. Delivering a great mu- 
sical while juggling all of these is the real job of the Music Director, and I 
learned those things only by doing. 

I’m sure I would have learned some of these skills if I had majored in 
musical theater in conservatory. But I didn’t do that. In fact, I didn’t even 
go to conservatory. ’m a computer scientist by profession, and while I did 
get all the formal training I mentioned earlier, that more or less stopped 
in college. Engineering courses didn’t leave a lot of time for continuing all 


that formal training. But I still really loved musical theater, so somehow I 
found time to do shows, and learned the rest along the way. 

If you find yourself in a similar position, I hope you find helpful this 
collection of stuff I wish ’d known when I started doing this several years 
ago. My primary instrument is piano, and since piano/conductor is a com- 
mon dual role for the music director, that’s my basic assumption about you, 
but most of this information will apply if you have a separate pianist or 
separate vocal director. 

I’m also making the following additional assumptions about you: 

e You have some musical background and can play an instrument. If 
you've played in pits or done some choral conducting McElheran, 

Conducting Technique: For Beginners And Professionals| some of what’s 

here will already be familiar to you. 

e You’re working with production staff who have staged musicals be- 
fore (as opposed to plays). If this is the first show for all of you, I 
suggest you first read one of the many great books on how to stage 

a musical, such as Grote, |Staging The Musical: Organizing, Planning, 
and Rehearsing the Amateur Production\or Novak, |Staging Musical The- 

then come back and read this, treating it as expanded coverage 
of the topics specific to the Music Director’s role. And if this is your 
first musical, I hope you’re not starting with Sweeney Todd or West 
Side Story! 

e Most of your singers aren’t professional; some may have vocal or 
other musical training and can read music, while others may be un- 
trained “naturals” with good voices. 

e You may lack the resources for a full orchestra, due to lack of money, 
musicians, or space to put them. Your musicians may or may not be 
professional-grade, and some may not have played in pits before. 

e Your organization is resource-limited and relies at least in part on 
volunteer labor, and everyone must do multiple jobs. Hence, besides 
being the music director, you may also be the vocal coach, rehearsal 
pianist, orchestra manager, conductor, and perhaps orchestra pianist. 

e You don’t necessarily have access to professional facilities like a “real” 
pit at the front of the stage, so some creativity may be needed in 
where to put the pit and how to coordinate the onstage actors with 
the music. 

e Your intention is to perform live music at every show, rather than us- 
ing a prerecorded music track. To me, a prerecorded show soundtrack 
is an insult to the audience that completely defeats the freshness and 
energy of live theater. After all, the audience would walk out of a play 
if the actors were lip-syncing their dialogue to a prerecorded track. 

e Your goal is to put on a show that people will come to because it’s a 
great show, not just because they are the friends or parents of the per- 
formers. There is a large middle ground between New York or London 
productions and “church basement” productions, but I believe an im- 
portant goal is to aspire to a higher level of professionalism than may 
be strictly necessary for your venue. I hope to convince you by the 
end of the book that audiences will notice and appreciate that extra 
effort, even if they do so subconsciously. 

Musical Examples and Online Resources 

The book makes extensive use of short excerpts from real musicals to il- 
lustrate its suggestions by example. In most cases, the transcription of the 
excerpt is as close as possible to the original show material; in a few cases, 
it has been slightly stylized or elided to focus on the point of the example. 

On the book’s website you'll find various links 
that will help you get information about the examples and the shows from 
which they come, including links to the licensing information for each show, 
links to purchase the cast albums from which the selections are taken, and 
links to playlists containing just the individual songs from which selections 
are taken. 

There’s also links to other useful materials and for you to leave feedback 
about the book. 


Disclaimer and What This Book Is Not 

This book is not a primer on musical theater. If you’ve never been involved 
in any productions before, you and your production staff may want to check 
out one of the great books suggested in the Bibliography to get started. 
While the book tries to cover everything that is expected of the MD, 
from the moment the show materials arrive to the moment the sets are 
struck after the closing performance, there are two conspicuous omissions: 
I won't discuss how to select a show and I won’t present the basics of con- 
ducting. There are good reasons for both omissions. The MD’s contribution 
to choosing a show makes use of her knowledge of her own abilities and 
limitations as well as those of her musicians and actors: Is the technical dif- 
ficultly appropriate? Can the orchestra be staffed? Can the necessary roles 
be cast from the available talent pool? There’s no easy way to give specific 
advice about this thought process without assuming you’ve read Chapters|1| 
through 6] and once you’ve read them, you won’t need the advice. And for 
better or worse, sometimes the MD is hired after the show has been chosen! 
Regarding conducting, many MDs (or aspiring MDs) are coming to this 
book with some basic knowledge of conducting already; and for those who 
have none, there are already great books on this topic that I could not 

hope to improve on. For example, McElheran, |Conducting Technique: For 
Beginners And Professionals| (see Bibliography) is my favorite no-nonsense, 

no-condescension, quit-your-whining treatment of the basics of conducting; 
it’s a concise gem of a book that gets right to business. This book’s website, 
also includes some Wikipedia and YouTube links to 
show you the very basics. Therefore we will concentrate on the tricky parts 
of conducting that are specific to the Piano/Conductor role, such as cues, 
vamps, timing of spoken dialogue to background music (underscoring), 
and how to conduct when your limbs are all engaged doing other things. 
This book won’t (can’t) give the kind of technical feedback that a voice 
teacher could provide. Indeed, most Music Directors can’t give such feed- 
back unless they have voice training themselves. But it’s fair to say that 
most voice teachers don’t give their students the kind of specific advice 
found here that you might pass on to actors, so the two kinds of feedback 

should be considered complementary. 

Finally, this book doesn’t pretend to be the way to do any of the things 
it discusses—just one way, and in particular, a way that has been tested in 
the field, by me and by others. Your mileage may vary, and there are many 
ways to deal with the challenges of the important Piano/Conductor role. I 
hope you find these suggestions provocative and helpful, but it’s your show, 
so any variation that works better for you is the right thing to do. 

Map of the Book 

Music direction involves picking a show, understanding it dramatically, 
teaching actors to sing and act the songs, getting the musicians to play the 
music, possibly doing some musical arrangements to cope with resource 
limitations, and then putting it all together into an actual performance. 
Each of those topics is a book unto itself, but if you had time to read all 
those books, you wouldn’t need this one. The Music Director’s job in a 
community theater is about breadth as well as depth, so if it seems pre- 
sumptuous to cover a huge topic like “Rehearsing the Orchestra” in the few 
pages of a single chapter, it’s because I thought you would benefit from 
knowing something about it even if you don’t become an expert, and that 
you’d go read one of the excellent books listed in the Bibliography (none of 
them by me) to learn more about that topic. 

Assuming a show has been chosen, the MD adventure begins when the 
box of rental materials arrives, so chapter[1]covers the basics of unpacking 
that box: Will you be able to cover all the instruments called for, and if not, 
which ones do you leave out? What can you expect in terms of schedul- 
ing? How do you use that material to plan for auditions with the show’s 
director? The MD has a crucial role to play during auditions, both in eval- 
uating whether an actor can handle the musical demands of a particular 
role and whether the actor will be able to take direction to perform the 
role in a musical sense. Chapter|2|covers how to prepare to hear auditions, 
how to advise your auditioners to prepare, things to try during the audi- 
tion if the auditioner’s material doesn’t give you enough information about 
her abilities, and what to focus on during first-round auditions vs. during 


Once the show is cast, the two major chunks of work the MD then has in 
front of her are teaching the singers to sing and perform the songs (Chap- 
ters |3| and and recruiting and rehearsing an orchestra to play them 
(Chapters [5] and [6). Chapter [3] covers how to teach the singers the me- 
chanics of the songs: how do you work with singers who have little or no 
musical training? What exercises or techniques can you teach them to help 
learn particularly tricky material? How can you setup rehearsal schedules 
to make the best use of everyone’s time but still make sure you have allo- 
cated enough time to learn all the material? Finally, how do you work with 
actors to help them interpret the songs? (This is musical theater, after all, 
not just a musical concert!) The end of the chapter covers this topic and 
gives a few specific examples from well-known musicals. 

Because the songs in a well-crafted musical are integral to the plot, it’s 
important the lyrics be understood. To that end, Chapter [4] is devoted to 
diction, including a bunch of diction pitfalls that are easily polished away. 

Chapter [5] then covers the analogous challenges of working with the 
orchestra: How do you read a conductor’s score and decode the markings 
specific to theater work (if you haven’t done theater work before)? What 
should you be looking for when recruiting/auditioning orchestra members? 
If you can’t recruit all the instruments called for in the show’s orchestration, 
what do you leave out and what can you rearrange so as to preserve the 
flavor of the original score as closely as possible? 

Theater conducting brings a number of unique challenges, such as tim- 
ing music to stage action and conducting when your hands are busy playing 
the piano. Chapter |6| provides tips for handling some of the most common 

Chapter|7]is somewhat advanced: it is aimed at the MD who may need 
to do significant arrangement or reduction of the provided orchestration to 
compensate for having a much smaller pit due to constraints such as space 
or budget. While arranging is a subtle art, and the best arrangers and 
orchestrators are highly sought after, I at least try to offer a few general 
rules of thumb to help the MD who is trying to squeeze an orchestration 
down to a much more modest size. 

Finally, the appendix on Resources provides information that wouldn’t 
fit anywhere else but is otherwise crosscutting to the MD’s concerns, such 
as good ways to use technology to facilitate your job and the pitfalls and 
politics of human resources in recruiting the pit. 

“And so...on with the show!” 

A Music Director’s Tour of the Materials 

A Music Director’s 
Tour of the Materials 

This chapter opens with some advice on evaluating a particular opportunity 
you're offered as Music Director, to help you gauge not only the amount 
of work required from you but the administrative time commitment and the 
likely quality of the end product. 

In addition, if you haven’t used theater scores before, this chapter will 
help you to: 

e know what to expect when the box of materials arrives, and how to 
use each kind of book; 

e determine your orchestra staffing strategy based on what’s in the 

e understand musical symbols and notations in the Piano/Conductor 
score with which you may be unfamiliar. 

If you are experienced in reading show scores, you can probably skip 
this chapter. 

The material in this chapter is also useful when evaluating a potential 
show, since one consideration is whether you will be able to staff an ap- 
propriate orchestra. While the free “perusal” materials available for most 
shows do not include the conductor’s score, the information on the web- 
sites of the “big four’ agencies that control most musicals—Tams-Witmark, 
Rodgers & Hammerstein Organization, Music Theatre International (MTI), 
and Samuel French—usually show the instrumentation required for each 



1.1 So They’re Talking You Into Being Music Director]... 13 

Gite k hie eheaed cee es 14 
ee 16 
Rade atees 17 
1.5 Instrument Books|.................-028. 22 
1.6 Doubling and Cross-Cuing]................ 23 


1.1. So They’re Talking You Into Being Music Director 

... should you take the gig? 

Taking the Music Director job is a lot of work no matter what, but there 
are some specific aspects of the job description that can make the difference 
between merely a time-consuming job and a crushing one. No matter what, 
you'll be called upon to work with the actors to teach the music, to get the 
orchestra playing the score well, and (likely) to conduct at least a subset of 
the performances. But there is considerable variation in what you may be 
expected to do beyond that. Here are some questions I usually ask to figure 
out the details. 

Is there an orchestra manager? Who will be responsible for identify- 
ing, recruiting, scheduling, and paying the pit musicians? Some production 
companies have someone on production staff who can do this, either as a 
separate role or folded into the Production Manager role. We discuss tactics 
for recruiting in Chapter[5]in case this turns out to be your responsibility. If 
there is an orchestra manager, you can also find out whether that person is 
responsible for finding and scheduling subs when a musician cannot make 
some of the dates. 

Is there a separate rehearsal accompanist? At many rehearsals, an 
accompanist is needed to work on blocking or choreography even though 
the actors aren’t learning new musical material. If there’s no rehearsal 
accompanist, you'll probably be expected to cover all of these. If there is a 
budget for a rehearsal accompanist, you should find out who is responsible 
for finding and hiring that person—you or the orchestra manager. 

Is the theater technically prepared to stage a musical? Besides the 
fact there is music, singing, and often choreography, musicals are techni- 
cally much more challenging to produce than straight plays. There are usu- 
ally frequent set changes (most plays have few or none); there are acoustic 
considerations regarding the use (or non-use) of microphones and how the 
orchestra will be amplified (or not), and what kind of sound system will 
be used (if any) and who its live operator will be; there are additional 
scheduling logistics associated with musicians and orchestra rehearsals. It 
can be very painful—and result in a lower-quality production about which 


the Music Director can do nothing—if the theater is not prepared to tackle 
these issues from a technical and resource standpoint. What musicals have 
they produced before, and how have they been received by the public and 
by critics? 

1.2 What’s In The Box 

The big day has come! The big box from MTI has arrived! You can start 
working on the music! 

Yes and no. Keep in mind that orchestrations are rented separately from 
the other show materials. This implies several things for you: 

e The instrument books are probably not in the box. By default they 
arrive later (typically 4-5 weeks before opening night), and if you 
want them earlier you usually have to pay more. But you should have 
at least one copy in the box of the piano/conductor score or rehearsal 
score, which is enough to get started with. We will defer discussion of 
the instrument books until Chapter |[5| 

If there are multiple orchestrations available for your show, make sure 
the correct one is ordered to avoid extra fees and mailing costs later. 
In this chapter we discuss the different “sizes” of orchestrations and 
how to find out if there are different choices available for your show. 

Usually, the orchestration you rent implies something about your per- 
formance rights. For example, if you rent only the piano/conductor 
book and not the other instrument books, you may or may not be 
allowed to embellish the orchestration with additional instruments. I 
have seen shows get shut down for this, so read the contract carefully 
before proceeding. 

You'll have to return all materials in pristine condition when you’re 
done (this clause is standard, event though I’ve never received books 
that were pristine when they arrived) or else pay an outrageous “eras- 
ing fee”. Consequently, most musicians I know work from a photo- 

1.2. WHAT’S IN THE BOX 15 

copy and never touch the original book. For the Music Director this 
makes even more sense. 

Here’s what you should find in the box: 

Conductor’s book. This is the book from which the conductor actually 
conducts during a performance and is usually one of three types. The most 
common is the “Piano/Conductor” score, which can be played on the pi- 
ano but indicates the most important instrument cues (selected prominent 
passages played by other instruments). It may also be a full partitur, like a 
classical conductor’s score showing one staff per instrument, with transpos- 
ing instruments written in their own pitch rather than concert pitch, which 
can be disconcerting (groan) if you’re not used to score reading. A hybrid 
Piano/Partitur may be used for a much smaller ensemble: this is just like a 
conductor’s score except that the piano’s part is in a larger typeface since 
the pianist will play from this book. 

Rehearsal pianist’s or accompanist’s book. If the conductor’s book 
is anything other than Piano/Conductor, there may be a separate rehearsal 
book, perhaps called “Piano/Vocal” or “Rehearsal Score”. It usually con- 
tains the lyrics and basic piano accompaniment but doesn’t reliably indi- 
cate the instrumental parts. This score is suitable for rehearsal but not 
for conducting (and indeed, if there is a piano part written into the show, 
it is usually in a separate book that is substantially different from the pi- 
ano/vocal score). Note that some scores labeled “Piano/Vocal” are really 
piano/conductor in that they include hints about instrumental arrange- 
ments. From now on we'll say rehearsal score if we specifically mean a 
simplified piano-only arrangement with no instrument cues, and conduc- 
tor’s score to mean “whatever the conductor conducts from” (even if it isn’t 
actually playable on a piano, though these days that is overwhelmingly the 

Script/Prompt Book. The script may be a “Prompt Book” similar to 
what the stage manager will use, or if you’re unlucky, a “side” for each 
character containing only that character’s lines and one or two cue lines 
before each. Happily, such sides seem to be getting more rare. 

Vocal Book/Libretto. There will be several copies of the Vocal Book, 


which includes the lyrics and melody but usually no accompaniment. 
Sometimes the script and libretto are combined, other times they are sepa- 
rate books. 

Snag the conductor’s score, the piano/vocal score if supplied, the in- 
strument books if they’ve arrived, and a copy of the vocal book for yourself. 

1.3 The Conductor’s Score 

Before going further, get a lot of pencils with good erasers, a bunch of 
yellow highlighting pens, and a looseleaf binder. Photocopy the entire con- 
ductor’s score onto 3-hole-punched looseleaf paper and put it in a binder 
in which you can easily reorganize the pages|"| As you make cuts and rear- 
rangements in the show, or need to re-photocopy a page that has become 
unreadable from repeated markings and erasures, you'll appreciate having 
done this. It also lets you strategically insert blank pages to fix tricky page 

As noted above, the most common type of conductor’s score is called 
piano/conductor, even if the conductor is not actually expected to play the 
piano and even if there’s no piano part in the orchestration. This score is 
essentially a glorified piano reduction that preserves some of the most im- 
portant instrumental lines present in the orchestration, often notated with 
“cue notes” in a smaller typeface alongside instrument names. Depending 
on how many instrument cues are shown, in some numbers they may be 
shown on the same staves as the piano part (Figure [1.1) whereas in other 
numbers there may be one or more separate cue staves to prevent the pi- 
ano part from getting visually cluttered (Figure (1.2). This book is suitable 
for piano-only rehearsal but may require some creativity on the part of the 
pianist, since such reductions are not always easily playable or sound par- 
ticularly good as written. If you’re doing the show with piano only, this is 
the book to use unless a separate piano-only reduction (see section|1.4) is 

1 Many contracts for staging musicals place restrictions on reproduction of the rental ma- 
terials. They may require, e.g., that you get permission in writing to make a photocopy for 
mark-up use or that you destroy the temporary copy after the run is over. Check your contract 
to be sure. 


Figure 1.1: Instrument cue on the same staff as the piano reduction. The trumpet will play the line 

shown in small cue notes in bar 86 one octave lower than written (8vb). Cues may be notated in a 

different octave to avoid clutter and get more information onto one staff. (Opening/San Francisco 
from Oh My Godmother!) 

specifically available for the show. 

Older scores and instrument books are basically photocopies of the 
sheets handwritten by music copyists, professionals whose job is to prepare 
the final musical scores for the performers and orchestra. This includes, 
for example, preparing the parts for transposing instruments from the con- 
ductor’s original manuscript, which is often in concert pitch. Scores for 
newer shows are usually machine-typeset, making them vastly easier to 
read and less error-prone, since the publisher can fix errors electronically 
and re-print the scores. 

1.4 Instrumentation: Types of Ensembles 

Instrumentation refers to the complement of instruments required to play 
the score. The term orchestration is often used, but technically, orchestra- 
tion refers to the actual arrangements, not the list of musicians needed. 

The original instrumentation (when the show was staged in New York or 
London) is usually listed on one of the front-matter pages of the conductor’s 
score. If not, you can infer it by enumerating the instrument books, or by 
looking up the show’s information online at whichever of the “big four” 
licensing agencies controls performance rights. 


Figure 1.2: Instrument cues on their own cue staff, usually done when the piano part is so dense 
that there’s no room for the cues on the piano staves. In this system, the trumpet plays a melody 
doubled an octave lower by the tenor sax in bar 1, with the alto sax joining in a fourth below in bar 
2. (Entr’acte from Oh My Godmother!) 


— — 
ee > 9 +t ; tm | +» » | pw be ¢ + 
* ¥ s 

Figure 1.3: Instrument cues: in this system, the trumpet plays a melody while the tenor sax plays a 
counterpoint line. (Fabulous from Oh My Godmother!) 


Licensing agencies sometimes use terms such as “large”, “small” or 
“chamber” to characterize the instrumentation (orchestra size) for shows 
that they license, but the meanings of the terms are not standardized. In 
practice, instrumentation for most musicals falls into one of four categories. 

1. The “traditional Broadway pit” (my term) has the same sections as a 
symphony orchestra (rhythm/percussion, strings, winds, brass) and 
in similar proportions, but is much smaller: a symphony orchestra can 
exceed 100 musicians, whereas the Broadway pit is 25-40 musicians. 
This was the dominant format through the late 60’s for Broadway 
musicals, when budgets went further than they do today. It is also 
the most challenging for smaller theaters because the orchestrations 
are often difficult to reduce. 

2. In the 70’s and 80’s, budget concerns and a desire for a leaner, drier 
and more contemporary sound resulted in smaller orchestras of 12- 
14 musicians, dominated by woodwinds and featuring few or no 
strings. Nearly all off-Broadway musicals and many Broadway re- 
vivals use this smaller format. These arrangements can often be fur- 
ther reduced and are usually within reach for community theaters. 
Smaller arrangements often call for extensive doubling, a term that 
refers to a single musician who can play multiple instruments (not at 
the same time!). We will have much more to say about doubling in 


3. Some contemporary shows call for a “chamber orchestration”—8 or 
fewer musicians, frequent doubling, and very exposed solo lines. The 
1994 Rodgers and Hammerstein revue A Grand Night For Singing calls 
for percussion, 1 woodwind (flute doubling clarinet and alto), 1 cello, 
and 1 harp (which most small theaters omit or cover using piano or 
percussion effects). The 2001 musical The Last Five Years calls for 
piano, 2 cellos, violin, string bass, and guitar. This format is within 
the reach of community theaters, but requires strong players since 
each part is so exposed. 

4. Shows with a rock score, such as Jesus Christ Superstar (1970) 


and Hair (1968), use “classic rock” instrumentation with period- 
appropriate guitar effects. Similarly, Rent (1996) relies heavily on 
synthesizers, drum machines and other elements central to the early 
90s “pop sound”. These scores are realistic for community theaters, 
but unlike other kinds of scores, require careful attention to amplifi- 
cation and sound, and therefore probably require that the singers be 
amplified too. This is not necessarily a showstopper, but be aware that 
it can be a lot of extra work (see Sections [4.7|and|5.7). Some scores 
like Next to Normal (2008) are hybrid, combining a rock sound with 
strings or woodwinds. These sometimes call for unusual doublings 
such as guitar/violin. 

5. Some very small off-Broadway shows or revues call for piano only 
(as in 2007’s Musical of Musicals: The Musical), a “piano combo” 
(piano, bass, drums, plus possibly a soloist), or piano plus a single 
soloist (such as The Fantasticks’ piano and harp). However, unless 
the show is specifically written this way, or you are severely resource- 
constrained, my advice in general is not to reduce shows by doing 
them with piano only, for reasons I discuss in Section|5.1| 

Some shows may also require specialists (musicians who play only one 
or a small set of closely related instruments that do not routinely appear in 
pit orchestras), such as banjo for Chicago or accordion for Cabaret, to form 
the distinctive “signature sound” of those shows’ scores. 

By way of example, Figure[1.4]compares 3 typical instrumentations: full 
instrumentation from an older and a newer show, and reduced alternative 
instrumentation for a (different) older show. 

Some important things to notice from this comparison: 

e Most of the difference in size between the orchestras of older/bigger 
and newer/smaller shows comes from omitting strings. Modern or- 
chestrations tend to rely less on strings, in part because it takes 3 
or 4 stringed instruments to match the volume and power of a sin- 
gle woodwind instrument (unless your string players are solo quality 
and the lines they are playing are written as solo lines), making the 

Oklahoma! (1943)—full | Company (1970)—full | Cabaret (1967)—“flex 
instrumentation; 28 or | instrumentation; 9-12 | combo” reduction; 7-9 
29 players players players 
Percussion/Drums Percussion/Drums Drums 

Piano/Keyboard Piano 
Bass (2 players) Bass Bass 
Guitar/Banjo Guitar Guitar/Banjo 
Harp Accordion 
Cello (2 players) Cello (solo; optional) 
Viola (2 players; divisi) Viola (solo; optional) 
Violin A (6 players; di- | Violin (solo; optional) 
Violin B (4 players; di- 
Reed 1: Clarinet 1, Bass | Reed 1: Clarinet 1, Alto | Reed 1: Clarinet 1, 

Reed 2: Clarinet 2 

Reed 3: Oboe, optional 
English Horn 

Reed 4: Flute, Piccolo 
Reed 5 (optional): Bas- 

Clarinet, Alto Sax, Flute, 
Alto Flute, Piccolo 

Reed 2: Clarinet 2, Tenor 
Sax, English Horn, Oboe 
Reed 3: Clarinet, Bass 
Clarinet, Bassoon, Bari- 
tone Sax 

Alto Sax, optional Flute 
(cross-cued to Clar.) 
Reed 2: Clarinet 2, Tenor 

Horn 1 

Horn 2 

Trombone Trombone Trombone _ (cross-cued 
Reed 2) 

Trumpet 1 Trumpet Trumpet (cross-cued 
Reed 1) 

Trumpet 2 

Figure 1.4: Full instrumentation for an older show and a newer show, and an alternative reduced 
instrumentation for a newer show. Note the extensive instrument doubling in the newer show. 
Doubling and cross-cuing are discussed in section[1.5] 


orchestra larger and driving costs up. (Of course, if you have sophisti- 
cated amplification for the orchestra, you might be able to overcome 
this, but Section|5.7|describes why I think that’s a dangerous path.) 

e Some string parts are marked divisi, such as Violin B of Oklahoma!. 
This means that while all the Violin B players are playing the same 
notes during most of the show, in a few sections they split up; usu- 
ally playing parallel figures such as thirds or sixths. (If these play- 
ers were playing different parts throughout most of the score, there 
would probably have been a “Violin C” instead.) 

Unlike string or brass players, most reed players are expected to dou- 
ble, or play multiple instruments. Section|1.6] discusses doubling and 
its relative, cross-cuing. 

1.5 Instrument Books 

The instrument books (which you probably don’t have yet) are the ones 
you actually hand out to the orchestra musicians. Their format should be 
familiar to musicians with orchestra or ensemble experience, but unlike 
classical music, they may include theater-specific notation such as vamps 
and cues, which we discuss in Chapter |6| 

Expect to discover errors and inconsistencies between the conductor’s 
score and the instrument books as you rehearse, including: mismatched 
measure numbers (possibly because a cut or modification didn’t get into all 
the instrument books, or because a vamp or safety is notated differently in 
different books); missing or extra measures; wrong notes or missing acci- 
dentals; missing or different cues; chunks of measures or whole songs in 
the wrong key; missing accidentals. In general, when in doubt the conduc- 
tor’s score should be considered authoritative. 

A common format is one book per pair of parts, e.g. “Violin A & B” or 
“Trumpets 1 & 2” in a single physical book of which multiple copies are 
provided. A copy may be given to each player, or more commonly, one 
copy is shared between two players, so they can also alternate page turns 
when one has to play across a page turn. Usually parts for separate players 


are written on separate staves, but occasionally multiple parts (rarely more 
than three) may be written on a single staff. This is most common for 
strings and is often accompanied by the notation divisi if it only happens 
occasionally (e.g. “Violin I (divisi)” means that although the Violin I players 
are usually playing unison, occasionally they divide). The implication is 
that when planning your personnel, the Violin I book can mostly be handled 
by a single player except for a few parts. (If the divisi parts were frequent, 
they would probably be broken out as a separate instrument book, such as 
“Violin IT’.) 

1.6 Doubling and Cross-Cuing 

The exception to the multiple-musicians-per-book rule is the woodwind sec- 
tion, which is second only to the rhythm section as the mainstay of modern 
pit instrumentation} Indeed, the woodwind books often exhibit the in- 
verse relationship, as most woodwind players are expected to double or 
cover multiple instruments, which are usually combined into a single book 
per woodwind chair. 

In earlier shows, flutes were usually a separate chair (flute, piccolo, alto 
flute, sometimes bass flute). In modern arrangements, single-reed players 
(clarinets and saxes) are often expected to cover flutes. Sometimes single- 
reed players must cover oboe, and infrequently English horn. Most oboe 
players double on English horn, but bassoons are usually played by spe- 
cialists. A few accomplished reed players can handle instruments from all 
three categories—single reeds including flutes, double reeds, and bassoons. 
The ability to cover multiple instruments is common among pit and session 
musicians, but far less common among classical musicians who tend to 
specialize in one or perhaps two instruments. In Chapter|7|we'll talk about 
selective coverage of material from the books for which you can’t recruit 
separate players or players who double. 

Two rules of thumb apply when doubling is indicated: 

?To paraphrase an old saw: If you don’t have a drummer, you don’t have a show; but if you 
don’t have woodwinds, you probably don’t have a pit. 



1. The reed books are numbered in approximate order of how critical 

they are to the score. So if the books are labeled Reed 1 through 
Reed 4 and you have only two players, try to cover Reed 1 & 2. 

. Besides being grouped so that a single player has time to switch 

among multiple instruments, the instruments grouped into a single 
reed book are often cross-cued (see below) to support players who 
don’t double. 

mw Doubling in other sections 

Doubling in the woodwind section is almost a given in modern orchestra- 
tions, but doubling in other sections is slowly becoming more common. 
Some doublings I’ve seen include viola/violin, ttombone/euphonium, and 
even violin/guitar. 

Some orchestrations go further and include cross-cuing, which allows 

a line assigned to one particular instrument to be played on a different 
instrument in case the original player is absent. For example, suppose there 
are four Reed books marked as follows: 

e Reed 1, Alto sax/Flute/Clarinet 
e Reed 2, Tenor sax/Clarinet 
e Reed 3, Flute/Oboe (clarinet)/English horn (clarinet) 

e Reed 4, Bass clarinet/Baritone sax 

This means that while the Reed 1 and 2 players must each play multiple 

instruments, the English horn and oboe parts in Reed 3 are both cross-cued 
to clarinet so that a clarinet player could cover them if needed. This usually 
means they are provided on a separate staff, since clarinet and English horn 
are transposing instruments that read in different keys, whereas oboe reads 
in concert pitch. 

Note that in the above example, there are two ways to use the cross- 

cuing. If you have four musicians but none plays oboe or english horn, 


cross-cuing allows those lines to be covered on clarinet. If you have fewer 
than four musicians, Reed 2 can use the Reed 3 cross-cues to selectively 
cover some of Reed 3’s material; you'll have to make judgment calls as to 
what to omit, and chapter[7]has some hints. 

In Chapter |[5|we return to how you can use all this information to plan 
orchestra recruiting, and what to do when you can’t recruit enough players 
to cover all the books (in my experience, this is by far the common case in 
community theater). 


Auditions are generally run in two rounds. From the MD’s perspective, the 
first round determines who is technically capable of learning and singing 
the show’s music, and the second round (callbacks) is for making final 
decisions. For many shows, rigorous auditions for the ensemble (a more 
accurate term than chorus) are at least as important as for the leads. 

At callbacks, auditioners usually perform selections from the actual 
show. Since first round auditions have pruned away any actors who may be 
unable to handle a role’s musical demands, callbacks can focus on artistic 
aspects such as interpretation, some suggestions for which are given in 

This chapter will help you to: 

e Prepare for first-round auditions by determining what to listen for and 
test for 

e Suggest some basic exercises you can use to evaluate auditioners 
whose audition song doesn’t tell you enough about their abilities 

e Determine what nontechnical factors should influence your decisions 
to call back auditioners for different roles 

e Suggest different techniques to use at callbacks to help with final 
casting choices 

2.1 Preparing to Hear Auditions|............... 29 
2.2 First Round Auditions} .................. 31 


2.3__When You Need More Information 
2.4 Making Callback Choices} ..... 


2.5 Tips to Auditioners for a Successful Audition| .... . 36 


2.1 Preparing to Hear Auditions 

We'll restrict our discussions here to musical elements of the audition only 
(vs. spoken dialogue or dance). Great advice on the general running of 

auditions can be found in Boland and Argentini, |Musicals: Directing School 
and Community Theatre|and Boyd, |Rehearsal Guide for the Choral Director 

Before auditions, if you have a cast recording of the show (not of its 
movie version! they are often quite different), it is worth listening to the 
recording while following along in the score to identify some of the techni- 
cal challenges you will have to keep in mind as you hear auditions: difficult 
vocal harmonies, tricky timings/rhythms, songs calling for a large vocal 
range, and so on Make some notes in preparing for auditions: 

e What vocal range is required of each character? Sometimes songs 
can be transposed to match a singer’s range, but as we discuss in 
Section this is tedious, error-prone, fraught with non-obvious 
pitfalls, and usually practical only for solo songs. 

Which characters have to sing harmony or counterpoint, if any? This 
is much harder than singing the lead, and you will need to test for it 
at auditions. 

Are the characters with the hardest songs also the ones who have 
the most dramatically demanding roles? (You may audition someone 
with a great voice, but if they can’t act well, it may remove them from 
the running for certain characters.) Surprisingly often, the technical 
vocal demands on the ensemble are greater than those on the leads, 
in part because show tunes were often written for a pre-cast lead 
actor who wasn’t necessarily a trained singer, as was the case with 
the material written for Ethel Merman in Gypsy and the song Send In 
the Clowns written for Glynis Johns. 

In the call for music auditions, you should clearly state what you expect 
auditioners to prepare: 

e What to sing. Typically each auditioner will prepare one or two song 
excerpts of 16 to 32 bars each. Often a single excerpt is enough, but 



depending on the types of roles in the show, you may want to hear 
two contrasting selections, for example an up-tempo number and a 
ballad, or a farce/patter song and a torch song. You and the show’s 
director should discuss what to hear. 

Are songs from the show OK? My preference is usually not to hear 
a song from the show, to avoid having actors “pre-slot” themselves 
into a role for which they may not be appropriate, and inadvertently 
exclude themselves from being considered for a role that is a better 
fit. This is particularly true if an actor is auditioning for a part they 
have played before in another production, as they will usually bring 
the interpretation of that production to your audition, when what 
you really want to know is whether the actor can take direction and 
interpret the role for this production. (Of course, during callbacks 
you will want to hear songs from the show.) 

Background. I ask auditioners to answer some background questions 
that are not always answered by their résumés: Do you read music? 
Do you play any instruments, and at what level of proficiency? (Com- 
plex scores like Sweeney Todd are extremely hard to learn by rote for 
non-readers, and it’s more difficult for non-musicians to incorporate 
your vocal notes into their performance if they don’t have a basic mu- 
sical vocabulary.) Have you sung harmony before, and if so, what 
kind? (Liturgical? Show music? Barbershop?) Have you sung coun- 
terpoint? (Madrigals? Choral music?) My experience is that, espe- 
cially among untrained singers, counterpoint is much harder to teach 
and perfect than harmony. 

Conflicts. I ask auditioners to list all date conflicts they have during 
the rehearsal period. Scheduling is more complex than most people 
realize, and you'll need this information to put together the rehearsal 


2.2 First Round Auditions: Range, Tone, Pitch Reten- 
tion, Rhythm 

People get understandably nervous about auditions, and you can’t blame 
them: not everyone who auditions will be cast. Just do your best to put 
people at ease, be friendly, and remind people that the goal is to have fun. 
Set a collegial tone: your first and last words to every auditioner should be 
“Thank you for coming,” and you should really mean it. 

In my view, even “non-dancing” characters must move around on stage, 
even “non-acting” (e.g. ensemble) characters have lines to speak or reac- 
tions to emote, and even “non-singing” characters must have some sense of 
musicality. Correspondingly, your job is to make sure you listen to everyone 
sing, even if they say they are auditioning for a nonsinging part. There are 
very few truly nonsinging roles in any musical. 

m Pre-casting 

Some directors have already decided on who will play certain roles, with 
or without auditions. As Music Director I insist on veto power if I really 
believe an actor is just not strong enough to handle the musical demands 
of a particular role, whether pre-cast or during auditions. 

The goal of the first round of auditions is to identify those people who 
might be able to play certain roles on the basis of meeting some minimal 
technical criteria. You will want to listen for people’s range, tone, pitch ac- 
curacy, rhythm, and ability to sing harmony, and match these to the “prob- 
lem areas” in the score you identified in your preparations. 

e Range: what range does the auditioner’s chosen song exercise? Typ- 
ical musical theater songs span from an octave to a tenth, with some 
songs spanning a twelfth and very few spanning two octaves (the lat- 
ter usually calls for a trained singer). Where is the “break” between 
the singer’s chest voice and head voice? Songs that have many or 
prominent notes right around the break may require transposition. 

e Tone: does the singer sound “out of tune” on some of the notes? 


Sometimes this is because they are at the very top or bottom of some- 
one’s range, but often it is because of difficulty in “nailing” a note 
when the interval (jump) from the preceding note is awkward. Au- 
dition songs whose melodies move only stepwise will not reveal this. 
Particularly good are songs with weird intervals in the melody, such 
as Maria from West Side Story (although that is an unusually demand- 
ing song). There also may be issues of “blend”: certain singers have 
an unusual vocal character that, while not necessarily bad or unpleas- 
ant, may prevent them from blending well with other singers if they 
have to sing a lot of ensemble material. 

e Rhythm/timing: does the performer have a sense of rhythm? Songs 
with really trivial rhythms won’t reveal this; songs with syncopation 
and compound rhythms are good, like Gershwin’s Fascinatin’ Rhythm 
or other songs featuring hemiolae. I’m surprised how often an actor 
will bring an audition song that has tricky rhythms or time signatures 
and then perform it incorrectly; that’s often reason enough for me to 
listen no further. 

Unfortunately people often choose audition pieces that show off none 
of these, so I have my own ways of evaluating them, which you may find 
helpful. To be consistent and fair, if I use any of these techniques, I ask 
everyone to do it, however strong or weak their singing audition was, if 
the requirement applies to them. (So anyone who has to sing counterpoint 
would have to do the counterpoint exercise.) 

m= Background doesn’t always help 

Don’t assume that just because someone plays an instrument or has Music 
Director experience automatically means they will have good pitch control 
and retention when singing; test for it. My own ability to complete pitch se- 
quences is only OK, because despite 40 years of piano and musical training, 
voice is not my instrument. 



ay = — > | = 
= = Z —ts : 3 
Gln a fo ot “tee sed a 


Figure 2.1: These pitch sequences, in increase order of difficulty, may help in testing pitch accuracy 
when the auditioner’s chosen song doesn’t give you enough information to judge it otherwise. These 

are based on the much more detailed treatment in Boyd,|Rehearsal Guide for the Choral Director 

SSS ae 

Figure 2.2: Having the singer sing moving middle notes in a chord while the outer notes are held, 
or vice versa, gives you a rough sense of how stable their counterpoint singing might be. The fourth 
and fifth measures show a version you can use to test two singers together; the sixth measure is a 
“sanity check” for testing counterpoint skill before throwing a difficult counterpoint at the 


2.3 When You Need More Information 

Sometimes the auditioner’s chosen song doesn’t tell you enough about 
some technically important criterion, such as their pitch accuracy on tricky 
melodies or their command of rhythm. Here are a few suggestions for test- 
ing these abilities separately. 

Pitch Accuracy and Retention. Play each of the two-note sequences 
(intervals) in Figure [2.1]and have the singer sing it back to you with “yah- 
yah” or “la-la” or some suitable syllable. They're arranged in increasing 
order of difficulty, so most singers won't be able to do all of them. For 
singers whose audition song was weak, I start with the easiest interval; for 
singers who performed solidly, I start with the harder ones right away. 

Harmony. A basic test for harmony singing is to have the singer sing 
a moving line while other lines are held, or vice versa. If you can’t find a 
passage in your show to test on, Figure|2.2] gives some ideas. 

Counterpoint. Take the auditioners 6 or 9 at a time and split the six 
into groups A, B and C containing 2 or 3 auditioners each. Find a 3-part 
harmony or counterpoint line in which none of the parts is substantially 
easier than the others (and make sure it has been distributed in advance 
as part of the callback materials). Teach the three parts to groups A, B and 
C respectively, and put them together incrementally: just A and B singing 



Group 1 (stems up) 

pa rg oe ee 
sn on nn 

Group 2 (stems down) 

Figure 2.3: In Man of La Mancha, there’s actually a section in which this flamenco-like pattern is 
clapped by two groups of performers. Some performers without formal musical training had 
trouble clapping the syncopated part (Group 2). (Aldonza from Man of La Mancha) 

together, then just B and C, then just A and C, and finally all three groups 
singing together, so they feel comfortable on the part. 

Next, rearrange the way people are standing so that rather than all the 
A's standing together, etc., they are standing in the order A, B, C, A, B, C, 
..., and have them sing it again. This will expose people who are relying 
too much on what their neighbor is singing. Lastly, get subgroups of 3 
people (one each from A, B, C) to sing the selection. 

Rhythm. If there are tricky rhythms in the show, it’s worth testing for 
that. For example, the “flamenco-esque” songs in Man of La Mancha contain 
lots of syncopations and hemiolae. I divided the ensemble into two groups 
and had them clap the huapango pattern in Figure (the same pattern 
underlies the song America from West Side Story). I then listened to subsets 
of the groups and moved people back and forth between groups to get an 
idea of who was most solid. 

Based on techniques like the above, I then categorize the ensemble 

e Anchor: can sing the line correctly even if someone near them is 
throwing them off, and can even help strengthen the other singers. 

e Teachable: can sing in an ensemble as long as they can rely a little 
on someone nearby singing correctly with them 

e Weak: cannot be counted on to sing the part reliably, even when 
bolstered by someone nearby. 

For very large casts, there may be an intermediate category “Teachable, 


but a stretch”. Be realistic about how much a weak singer can be “taught,” 
especially if your rehearsals are on a tight timeline (and whose aren’t?). 
This is not just about your ability to teach, but the singer’s ability to learn: 
counterpoint and harmony singing take time and practice to learn, and 
even if the singer has a good sense of pitch (and not all do), it is probably 
beyond reasonable to attempt to instill this skill in them and teach them 
the songs in the few weeks before production week. You can save yourself 
and the singers a lot of misery by making tough choices now. As MD, you 
should have the final word on whether someone can handle the musical 
demands of a particular role or not. 

2.4 Making Callback Choices 

As a courtesy to auditioners, you should make every effort to post a call- 
back list within a day or so after first-round auditions are over, and make 
callback material (song excerpts, dialogue excerpts, and so on) available. 
Usually we decide even before first-round auditions on what material from 
the show will be used at the callback. It’s only fair to give singers a few 
days to prepare and practice these materials; for that reason, first round 
and callbacks are usually separated by several days. (See Technology in the 
Appendix for some suggestions.) 

Given an actor whom you believe can technically handle certain musical 
material, the next goal is to identify the actor who can best inhabit each 
character. Sometimes actors can be excluded based on being too old or 
young, or affecting a manner inconsistent with the character, e.g. coming 
across as meek when auditioning for Velma or Roxie in Chicago. Sometimes 
particular physical traits are required: in The 25th Annual Putnam County 
Spelling Bee, we learn that the school’s “comfort counselor” is serving a 
community service obligation (presumably in lieu of serving jail time), so 
you need someone whose demeanor and appearance are as unlike a comfort 
counselor as possible—for example, a bouncer or a pro wrestler—or else 
the sight gag doesn’t work. 

One pitfall in callbacks occurs with actors who have played a particular 
role before, and therefore bring to the character some preconceived notions 


(theirs or a previous director’s) about how that character behaves and acts. 
These ideas may or may not be consistent with your creative team’s ideas, 
and it’s often hard to get actors to step away from these, but remember it’s 
your show, and the thing that distinguishes one production of a show from 
another is the artistic choices that are made. 

Similarly, operatic or classically-trained singers with no show experi- 
ence may do poorly in callbacks because they perform the song as they 
themselves might sing it, not as the character might sing it. This applies 
not only to interpretation but also to diction: Ado Annie in Oklahoma! 
wouldn’t pronounce lyrics the same way as Adelaide in Guys and Dolls or 
Anna in The King and I. 

We did an interesting exercise in auditioning an actor for the part of 
the Emcee in Cabaret. We liked the actor, but the audition song he had 
prepared was a love ballad, and we were looking for someone who could 
come across as slightly dangerously off-kilter. So we found a toy machine 
gun (a prop from another show being staged in that theater) and asked 
him to sing the love ballad to the machine gun. He certainly sold us the 
performance and convinced us that he could act his way through a song 
(and be creepy). 

2.5 Tips to Auditioners for a Successful Audition 

This section is for auditioners as well as for the music director, so ’m 
putting it on a convenient new page that you can separately copy and post 
for your auditioners. (If you’d like to copy and paste the text to edit for 

your own auditions call, visit the book’s website pianoconductor .com,) 


Putting Your Best Foot Forward At Auditions 

Prepare. Read the call for auditions and know what you’re expected to pre- 
pare. Don’t just show up and expect that the director will suggest a song 
for you to sing. Since many auditions allow you to choose your selections 
and prepare far in advance, the auditors will assume that your audition per- 
formance reflects your best work. Stick to the guidelines: if the call specifies 
a 16-to-32 bar section or “around 2 minutes of singing,” don’t prepare a 
5-minute solo selection (or, conversely, expect to be cut off and therefore 
unable to sing the whole selection, even if you didn’t get to sing “the best 

Show your best stuff. To the extent possible given the audition require- 
ments, select songs that show off the strongest part of your range to its best 
advantage. Note that wanting to be (or claiming to be) a soprano doesn’t 
make you one; if you’re unsure about what part of your range flatters you 
most, find an experienced actor, singer, director or music director to advise 
you. Remember: if your audition sounds terrific, even if you aren’t cast the 
auditors will remember you in the future. 

Bring music. Unless specifically instructed otherwise, bring music for 
the audition accompanist to play. An a cappella audition gives the music 
director virtually no information about you other than that you have been 
watching American Idol a lot. An audition with a recorded karaoke track is 
very difficult to judge. Some auditions let you bring your own accompanist 
if you wish, but generally an accompanist is provided. 

Help the accompanist help you. During a typical evening of auditions, 
the audition pianist will accompany dozens of songs, some of which he 
may never have played before. His job is to help you sound your best by 
providing solid support for your singing performance. Here’s how to help 
him help you: 

1. DO bring pages that are easy to turn and stand up on the piano’s 
music desk on their own. Best is a looseleaf binder that lies flat and 
whose pages can be turned easily; you will get extra bonus points for 
protecting each page with clear vinyl sheet protectors, which makes 
them easier to turn and more durable. “Accordion” fold-outs are OK 



if they are no more than three or four pages; more than that won’t 
fit on the music desk. DON’T bring loose sheets of paper that will 
fly around, rolled-up or folded sheets that can’t possibly stand up on 
their own, or a bound book that doesn’t lie flat when opened. And 
DON’T complain if you do bring such a book and it’s returned to you 
with the spine cracked and the pages dog-eared; there is no other 
way to get it to stay open upright. 

. DO clearly mark any cuts or repeats in the selection you plan to per- 

form, with a highlighter or a bright color, making it perfectly clear 
what is to be played. If your cuts are substantial, rearrange and copy- 
and-paste the pages in advance. Remember, the pianist is thinking 
about many things and may never have played this particular selec- 
tion before, and might easily miss a small mark that isn’t highlighted. 
It is to your advantage to arrange the music to minimize page turns; if 
you want to repeat a section and there’s a page turn right in the mid- 
dle of that section, you can pretty much count on the music “dropping 
out” for a couple of seconds each time through as the pianist struggles 
to make the page turn in time. 

. DO bring sheet music in the same key as you plan to sing. Most 

pianists can’t transpose on the fly, especially more musically intricate 
theater songs by composers like Stephen Sondheim or Jason Robert 
Brown. If the song’s in the wrong key, pick a different song, find a 
different arrangement, visit one of the many websites where you can 
purchase sheet music for almost any song transposed into a key of 
your choice, or use Craigslist to find a musician to transpose it (many 
musicians do this work on the side fairly inexpensively). 

. DO use a bookmark or sticky-note if your selection is in a book con- 

taining many songs; browsing through the book while others are 
waiting is not nice and makes you look unprepared. Even better, since 
bound books often don’t stay open on the music desk, photocopy the 
pages and put them in a binder. 


Teaching the Music 

Teaching the Music 

Great! The show is cast, and the actors are eager to start rehearsals. It’s 
always a good idea to start working on the music early, because the songs 
are so important to the tone of the show that performing them should be 
“second nature” to the actors when they start putting them together with 
staging, dialogue and dance. 

The most important thing in teaching the technical aspects of the songs 
is to Know your singers. Trained and experienced singers will learn a lot 
on their own, and can even help the less-experienced singers; completely 
untrained singers may rely on muscle memory only (you should strongly 
reconsider having such people sing—Rex Harrison in My Fair Lady was 
the exception that tests the rule). In between these two extremes are the 
majority of singers, who are less experienced but do have a sense of pitch. 

To help all of them perform at their best, this chapter will help you to: 

e Plan vocal rehearsals to make the best use of everyone's time 

e Suggest techniques and exercises singers can do at home to prac- 
tice material outside rehearsal 

e Suggest techniques that can be used during rehearsal to help pol- 
ish tricky spots, including harmony and counterpoint, pitch accuracy, 
and rhythmic precision, especially for singers in the all-important en- 

3.1 Planning and Scheduling Vocal Rehearsals} ...... 43 



3.2 The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Vocal Rehearsals} 47 

eee 49 
dake wie ahs @ ere ASS 52 
3.5 Harmonies and Counterpoint|).............. 54 
2 55 
i Sg ie NR Re Ghar ele eho 58 
Sorte Be Ors te orb tee Suite eh fe ar. toes 60 
3.9 Performance: Putting the Show in Context] ...... 62 
3.10 Example: So What (Cabaret)| .............. 65 
3.11 Example: Dulcinea (Man Of La Mancha)|........ 67 

3.12 Example: I’m Alive (Next To Normal)| ......... 69 


3.1. Planning and Scheduling Vocal Rehearsals 

The first task is to come up with a comprehensive rehearsal schedule. It’s 
never too early to do this: in community theater, the director and cast 
usually have day jobs, so we have to schedule very efficiently to make the 
best use of everyone’s limited time. It’s not unusual for us to have “split 
rehearsals” in which I am working with actors on some music while the 
director or choreographer is working in another location with other actors 
on blocking, staging or stage movement. 

I try to have a rehearsal schedule in place 1-2 weeks before rehearsals 
begin (indeed, accommodating people’s conflicts often requires this amount 
of advance planning), and an orchestra rehearsal schedule in place at least 
4 weeks before opening. 

There are many ways to organize a rehearsal calendar. My preference 
is to run a number of music-only rehearsals before staging/blocking be- 
gins, but even if you don’t do this, you should clearly distinguish music 
rehearsals (where the goal is to learn the numbers), staging/blocking re- 
hearsals (where the goal is dialogue and stage movement), and if appro- 
priate for your show, choreography rehearsals. 

Since the ensemble numbers require all or most of the cast to be present, 
I schedule music rehearsals for those numbers first to accommodate cast 
member conflicts, then schedule rehearsals with soloists around that. I try 
to arrange the call schedule to minimize the amount of time people are 
sitting around not working; it’s impossible to please everyone, but you will 
get a lot of credibility and respect for making a good faith effort to minimize 
wasting people’s time. 

The schedule template in Table seems to work well as a starting 
point. We won’t discuss the rehearsal process in depth (see Boland and 

Argentini, Musicals: Directing School and Community Theatre| and Grote, 
Staging The Musical: Organizing, Planning, and Rehearsing the Amateur Pro- 

|duction| for excellent suggestions on that), concentrating instead on specific 
techniques for teaching the actors to sing the songs. 

In Chapter|5| when we talk about working with the orchestra, we'll dis- 
cuss orchestra rehearsals in more detail; but you should schedule orchestra 



12 weeks before opening 

Materials arrive and are distributed to cast 
Teach songs to cast 
Teach blocking, lines, dances to cast 

6 weeks before opening 

Start running whole scenes putting singing, dancing, 
dialogue together 

Music given to musicians (orchestra materials often arrive 
only 4-5 weeks before opening night and may require an 
extra fee if you want them earlier) 

2 weeks before opening 

Start running whole acts (all of Act I, all of Act II on sepa- 
rate nights) with piano-only 

Orchestra-only (“play-through”) rehearsal, allow 2-3 

“Sit-n-sing” with cast (see Chapter[5); allow 2 hours 

Tech week 

At least one, preferably two, dress rehearsals with orches- 
Cut sheet finalized and given out to musicians (see below) 

“Final Dress” with everyone in costume (including orches- 
tra if appropriate); this is like running an actual perfor- 
mance and may be a “preview” with a select invited “pre- 
view audience” attending 

Opening Night! 

Break a leg 

Figure 3.1: A suggested rough plan for a rehearsal schedule. 

‘2109S JNOYJIp ApAey sty} ul ssuos 
ay} [Te Jo ssed jsay & pajya[duiod am syesievayai INOY-¢E BAY YIM ‘das Ud NOA SY “YOM OJOS Alo} 1OJ SUI YONU se a}edO]][e 0} paduU 7,UpIpP 
am os A[snotaaid sajoi asoy} padeyd pey aur aq pue eueiq SutAeyd siojoe oY, *]DULION] 0} JXaN 10J uLT [esIeaYyad ATUO-JISNUI Y :["¢ ATqeL 

(UOT}DaS CTOs aqeyH/UeG ,Useq 9A,],, ‘UID JI) 

ayeuy ‘pood ‘sutusdo marasy | 09 TIv 00:6 
Jayja801 ind YsIM 6T | 09 TIV 00:8 
oypdsg/AzeID b | 09 TIV 00:2 
6# A0H SE ‘T# AOH SZ ‘T# AH TZ ‘T# PATE ¢ | 09 Arua 18N 00:9 | Iz 8ny 
aqkeN ve | 07% yeN Id 
Aels 67 7eN Id 0€:8 
(ueq aseayel) 
Janog ¢z ‘Bulnes104 OZ Gv JEN Iq ued 00:8 

(aqeyd aseajet) 
(pus-gOT) JIod1ayUNOD aU YIeD ET ST JeN aqey Ig ueq 07:2 

Aoqiedns TL | ST aqe5 1eN OL:Z 
asta SuryyAtoay € | ST weN 00:4 | 7L 8ny 
yoo" Id PLT id 
,SUIT[eJ WJ OU Yo}ed, SUTUI OT JOJ aqey ppy astidei pur ino dn oye ee/yeeig ZTE | OF Id id 
aIAOW LI Mouy3u0d 6 | OF fat 
aoueg eB pauleaig pI AemAuy os 9¢ ‘surequnoy] 9 cv Iq g 3ny 
SyPOYsIay v~ | ST eqed 
P[IOM ® S,oF9U.L ST SI aqe) 
asidal aay TE ‘OAV ZT | ST aqey Sr'8 
astwiolg O€ | 0% Aruay] ued 0€:8 
(uoldas Iq/eqey) astidei pur anod dn aye €¢ SI Id aqey5 
Jay1e80} nd 0} suIUI OT-¢ 10J eURIG PpY asuidal wy | Ze “Wy [/Mouy 14U0g 01/6 | Sb aqey Iq ueg 00:8 
(suorjaas Iq/ueq) oysssg/AzeID p Iq ueq 
astidal pood gz/la3104 1aAq ZZ | OF Iq ueg 
yzed ul qysIT gt | ST Iq ueq O@:Z 
JayIe80} ynd 0} suIUI OT JOJ aqey ppy d19}H ION g ‘Us0g 9A] OT SI ueq 00:2 Z 3ny 
Auourey YSO[q OZT-06 Neu 8E | Ob TIV 
seus ge | Oz TIV Sv:8 
(Qyee1q) 0€:8 
pua-19 poo) Z | 0€ TIV Sus 
09-1 poop Z | OF TIv Shi g 8ny 

So10N Teele peed our, ayeq 


rehearsals as part of this process. Most musicians who do pit work usu- 
ally “fill in” their free dates with more work, so it’s virtually impossible for 
them to add new rehearsals or performances after the initial schedule is 
published. If (a) the pit players are experienced, (b) the score is straight- 
forward, and (c) the MD is experienced, a single orchestra-only rehearsal 
prior to tech week is probably enough. For each of those three conditions 
that isn’t true, add one more orchestra-only rehearsal. (In the extreme, an 
inexperienced orchestra playing a difficult show with an inexperienced MD 
would take six rehearsals ...but you’re probably asking for trouble any- 
way if you find yourself in this situation! In practice, two or at most three 
rehearsals suffice.) 

In some productions, scheduling is done by the stage manager or pro- 
duction manager. In this case you'll need to come up with a list of material, 
and for each piece of material, who is called and approximately how much 
time you will need to work on it. Whether the scheduling is done by the 
stage manager or by the director and you, you may find the following rules 
of thumb helpful in scheduling rehearsals: 

e For complex ensemble work, allow 3-5 minutes per measure of music 
to learn, depending on the complexity of the ensemble work. 

For solo material, allow 1-2 minutes per measure of music to learn, 
and extra time to discuss the performance (section|3.9). 

The 90/90 rule: It’s almost a cliché in the world of software (my day 
job) that “the first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time, and the 
remaining 10% takes the other 90% of the time.” Nowhere is this 
more true than rehearsing a musical: there always seem to be 16 or 
32 bars in the score that end up soaking up a disproportionate amount 
of rehearsal time, and they won’t be the ones you thought would 
be hard. Leave some slop towards the end of the music rehearsal 
schedule to review and polish the trickiest material. 

Figure[3.1|shows an actual music rehearsal schedule for a production of 
Next to Normal I worked on. 


3.2 The Seven Habits of Highly Successful Vocal Re- 

With that caveat, here are some time-tested tips for successful vocal re- 

1. Make a Schedule and Follow It. Keep the rehearsal moving along 
and focused. Use the above rules of thumb to estimate how long each 
rehearsal selection will take, but if things are stalled on a particularly diffi- 
cult passage, move on and stick to the schedule, and use one of the offline 
“learning acceleration” methods described in the rest of this chapter to help 
the performers prepare to polish that material at the next rehearsal. 

2. Stay Focused. When switching to a new selection or repeating a 
section that needs work, minimize the “dead time” to avoid people losing 
focus; once focus is lost, it takes additional time to get back to where you 
were, and the time adds up fast. Similarly, avoid people wisecracking or 
otherwise losing focus. I’ve had directors who want to attend rehearsal and 
end up distracting the cast and wasting time. Vocal rehearsals are grueling 
and require concentration, so build some breaks into the schedule—at least 
one 15-minute break every hour and a half. In my experience, three hours 
is about the longest you can rehearse with the same group or on the same 
material before people get exhausted and lose focus, or their voices give 

3. Bring Extra Copies. People sometimes forget to bring their vocal 
book. Admonish them, loan them your extra copy, and move on. If the 
rehearsal space has Internet access, you may be able to post rehearsal ma- 
terials on the Web so you can access and print them from any browser (see 
Section |A.1). 

4. Start on time with a 5-10 minute warmup. Warmups are ex- 

tremely important to avoid damage to voices. Boyd Boyd, |Rehearsal Guide 
or the Choral Director|has extensive advice on how to use the warmups to 

get singers psyched for the rehearsal as well as limbering up their voices. 
Start on time, even if some people haven’t arrived yet, but don’t let people 
get into the habit of thinking the warmup is optional and they can arrive 
5-10 minutes late. 


5. Include those challenging passages in every warmup. Every show 
has a few “trouble spots” that feel like they could always benefit from more 
practice: a tough counterpoint or harmony section, an ensemble number 
with lots of weird entrances, and so on There may even be two or three of 
these. Make a point of making them part of every warmup. Besides more 
practice time for the tough parts, this serves another purpose: since the 
usual vocal warmup exercises don’t really require a lot of musical thinking, 
singing a tricky passage that requires concentration warms up the brain as 
well as the vocal cords, so to speak. 

6. Play the score consistently. The vast majority of the rehearsals will 
be done with a rehearsal pianist only, not with the orchestra. It’s always 
a surprise for the actors (usually a pleasant one) the first time they get to 
sing with the orchestra. To ease that transition, keep in mind that most 
conductor’s scores try to indicate which orchestra cues will be most promi- 
nent by notating them in the piano part or as cue notes. Be consistent and 
play those cues when you accompany during rehearsal. 

7. Write It Down. When you give a technical or dramatic note, voice 
a chord, and so on, write it down, and insist that everyone else do so as 
well. For example, in a block chord, you may assign individuals to specific 
notes in the chord; in a choral number, where the singers are identified in 
the score as “Group 1”, “Group 2”, and so on, you may assign individuals 
to particular groups. Make sure you capture these notes. 

8. Know when to say when. Singers’ concentration is finite, and af- 
ter working on the same eight bars for half an hour, their concentration 
plummets and it becomes harder to hear themselves critically, even if the 
material isn’t polished yet. Sometimes the best thing to do is to suggest 
at-home practice using the appropriate technique(s) described in the rest 
of this chapter, and set aside time at a future rehearsal to revisit and finish 
the material. 

9. Remember you are all on the same team. However impatient you 
may become, it is unforgivable to be sarcastic, snarky, passive-aggressive, or 
sarcastic to the cast while working. If the problem is that they have a poor 
attitude or work ethic, it’s your fault for hiring them. If they are sincerely 
trying to do their best work, it helps nothing for you to belittle them. Find 


ways to help them master the material, and if it’s simply beyond the ability 
of some of the actors, find ways to simplify it (ideas in this chapter may 
help—see “Sins of Omission”), and make a note for future casting decisions 
about those actors’ limitations. Remember that it also puts the actor in a 
very uncomfortable position when he realizes he is the reason the rehearsal 
isn’t moving along faster. Be sympathetic to that. 

mw Resist when people say, “I’ll Remember” 

They will not. I have done many shows, and inevitably, as the rehearsal 
process goes on, both they and you will be asked to remember a million 
more things, and the vocal notes slip away. I recommend that each actor 
make a photocopy of the vocal book to mark up, which also helps if you are 
double-casting or unexpectedly have to call in an understudy. I have never, 
ever, done a show where people who said “I’ll remember that” actually re- 
membered without writing it down. 

3.3 Practice Tracks For At-Home Preparation 

The most commonly used technique in amateur productions is “learning at 
the piano”: you play and sing the melody first, then the singer(s) sing along 
with you as you play it again, then they sing it without you given only the 
accompaniment. However, this is a poor use of time since each singer is 
“learning at the piano” while others are probably standing around idle. A 
better approach is to have each performer prepare before rehearsal, and use 
rehearsal for technical polishing or working on interpretation. 

Singers used to bring a portable tape recorder to rehearsal and ask the 
rehearsal pianist to record their part for at-home practice. Today you can 
do this just as conveniently in advance with a computer or smartphone at 
home, and email or post the practice tracks on the Web as MP3 files; see 
section [A.3] for suggestions and instructions. You can get a jump on the 
rehearsal process by making and distributing practice tracks prior to the 
first rehearsal. Actors are expected to study their lines before coming to 
rehearsal, so why not their music? 

4 b 
# JS tee Se 
es eet SS ee 
if it's con-ceiv-a-ble but un-a-vail-a-ble, Ahhh = ~~) Abhho A-- go-ny! Mis -e-ry! 
i = p y y V r 
g g 


Figure 3.2: This excerpt from the conductor’s score shows the vocal line and piano reduction 

around an ostinato (third and fourth measures) that has a weird key change just before and just 
after. The next figure suggests how to make a practice track for this passage, which is also a good 
candidate for Interval Training, described in the next section. (Agony (Reprise) from Into the Woods) 

What should you record? Here are some useful permutations: 

The singer’s melody with block chords, so that less-experienced 
singers can get used to how their melody sounds with the harmonies, 
especially if the harmonies are weird. 

The singer’s melody with bass notes or other obvious notes that they 
can use to find their pitch; particularly useful in cases where the or- 
chestration is sparse or the harmonies are very unusual. Figures [3.2 
and[3.3]show an example that combines this suggestion with the pre- 
vious one. 

The singer’s starting melody note, then accompaniment only (like a 
rehearsal pianist might do), or the song intro from which the singer 
should get their starting note, perhaps with emphasis on that starting 
note, as Figure [3.4] suggests. This will teach the singer not to rely 
on hearing their melody notes played by the piano (or orchestra). 
See Chapter|7|for suggestions on doing this if entrances are tricky or 
singers would need to remember a starting note for a long time. 

For harmonies, a couple of passes of other permutations of voices, so 
the singer can practice her own part relative to other voices. 


ih STLLT serine — ip tiie thie tae Att 
pase ee eee $5 #5 

T T z v 

ele] ee 

Figure 3.3: In this suggested practice track, the right and left hands in the piano part have been 
collapsed down to just the left hand, with the right hand playing the singer’s melody for the practice 
track. In the third measure, the original piano/conductor arrangement had a prominent F-natural in 
the upper voice of the left hand; we retain it in the collapsed version, because it matches the starting 

note of the ostinato and gives the singer something to listen for in the orchestration. Similarly, we 
retain the prominent F-flat in the final measure, so the singer can get used to the dissonance he will 
hear in performance against his prominent E-flat. (Agony (Reprise) from Into the Woods) 

HERR SCHULTZ: You hesitate because you have never been married. It frightens you. 
But believe me, it can work wonders! 

a a 
tee he = epee! 
oe Eaet 2 7 aS. F =" ¥ Zz = == 
ee iin PP SCHULTZ: How the || world can change... etc. 
: 3———'8. 8 i 2 
3 — 8 : 

= = se fr 

Figure 3.4: “Same note as” cue: The singer can pick up his starting note from the prominent A-flat 
in the horn part. The practice track should therefore include this horn line, and you should make 
sure if you don’t have a horn player that another instrument covers that line in performance. 
(Married from Cabaret) 


3.4 Pitch and Interval Training 

These are simple exercises singers can do at home (or wherever they have 
access to a piano) to help learn tricky melody lines. They require only that 
the singer not be tone-deaf, i.e. that she can tell whether the pitch she is 
singing is the same or different from a pitch played on the piano. 

Pitch training. Play a key on the keyboard somewhere in the middle 
3 octaves (roughly, a three-octave interval with middle C in the center). 
While holding the key, sing the note using “la” or “ya” or any open-vowel 
syllable. The goal is to be perfectly in tune with the piano; the first several 
times, the singer may be way off pitch, or on pitch but slightly out of tune. 
Ask the singer to “hear” the note in her head after the key has been struck 
but before singing; this is surprisingly effective at prepping your vocal cords 
to do the right thing. A more advanced version of this exercise involves 
hitting a key outside of that 3-octave range, and singing the note that is an 
octave above or below the struck pitch. 

Interval training. This technique is more advanced and requires some 
basic music-reading ability. It is particularly useful when the singer must 
get a starting pitch from another note; for example, if the first note of a 
sung phrase is G, but the most prominent sound in the accompaniment is 
(let’s say) a C in the bass. The singer can use this technique to practice 
singing the interval C to G (perfect fifth), so that when the C is heard, 
the singer “mentally sings” the C to herself along with the accompaniment, 
then actually sings her note G. 

Pick an interval to train—this may be an interval from an interior vo- 
cal line of a song, or for drilling, just start with the easy ones like per- 
fect fourths and fifths and then move on to the more difficult ones like 
sixths and sevenths. A melody line, especially interior lines in counterpoint 
singing, may contain weird intervals that lend themselves well to this prac- 
tice method. (The Agony ostinato in measures 3-4 of Figure [3.2] would be 
a good candidate for this kind of practice.) 

1. Play the interval on the piano one note at a time, then sing the inter- 
val using either “yah-yah” or the lyrics if you’re using this exercise to 
work on a specific passage. 



. Play the first note of the interval on the piano; then release it; then 

have the singer sing the interval; then play the second note of the 
interval on the piano and check the singer’s pitch. 

. Sing the interval while playing only non-melody “reference notes”— 

say, a block chord or the bass note of the chord—on the piano. 

. Once it’s solid, add one or two notes before and one or two notes 

after the interval; then repeat that phrase over and over. 

. Once that is mastered, have the singer sing the entire phrase con- 

taining the interval, but hold each note of the interval and verify its 
tuning with the piano. 

. Finally, have the singer sing the whole phrase in tempo, but ask him 

to mentally pay special attention to the weird interval. My experience 
is that once they have mastered the singing of the interval, thereby 
demonstrating their ability to tune it, the only thing that causes it to 
go out of tune is simply not thinking about it enough. After it has 
been repeated enough times with special concentration, it becomes 
second nature. 

u No, I cannot play you your note! 

Many singers, when having trouble with a particular interval, will ask you 
to just play back the specific note that they sang off-pitch. Similarly, a singer 
who’s been singing a wrong note in a harmony may ask you to “please play 
me my note.” You should resist such requests. Instead have the singer 
sing their note relative to some other note in the block chord, and have the 
singer train the interval between the wrong note and a previous note (or if 
part of a block chord, the interval between the correct note and someone 
else’s part). Less-experienced singers do not always realize that hearing “a 
note” may be useless without such context. 

Interval training is also useful when singers have to get their starting 

note from a non-vocal cue. A common example is a canon or other mul- 
tipart harmony where one singer’s starting note must be cued off a note 


sung in a different voice, or if there is no good candidate note for this, a 
prominent note in the orchestration, such as the note that’s in the bass or 
being played by a prominent instrument, as in Figure[3.4] 

The strategy is to treat the interval between the cue note and the open- 
ing note as an interval to train using the procedure above. I find that it 
helps to have you play the cue note and then have the singer hit her en- 
trance note and hold it to get used to how it sounds against the cue note; 
the goal is to avoid “sliding” onto the correct pitch due to uncertainty. 

3.5 Harmonies and Counterpoint 

Books on auditioning and rehearsing choruses, such as Lamb, {Choral Tech-| 
suggest “pitch retention” exercises that can be used to strengthen 
singers’ ability to stay on pitch when they’re not singing the melody. Inexpe- 
rienced singers and those without good pitch retention tend to get thrown 
off by other people around them singing different parts, and may eventu- 
ally “slide onto” the line being sung by someone else who happens to be 
near them. 

Part of teaching harmony is teaching singers to listen to each other and 
“lock up” on harmonies. Some good warm-up exercises for doing this are 

suggested in Lamb, \Choral Techniques| and Boyd, \Rehearsal Guide for the 
Choral Director, but here is the general idea. Break up the singers into 

three groups (doesn’t necessarily have to be according to range) and have 
them sing a simple chord—not a triad in root position, but a chord built 
from different intervals, such as an inversion, with each group singing one 
note in the chord. Have them listen to each other and lock pitch. Then 
shuffle the singers and break them up into four groups rather than three, 
and try some additional chords with four voices, working your way up to 
six or seven groups, as in Figure [3.5] or alternatively, three or four groups 
but with octave doublings within a group to achieve big “open” voicings of 
different chords. 


For moving lines and counterpoint, start by teaching each inner line 
as if it were a melody line using the techniques above, including practice 


aa ee ee ee ee 

Bob - by, Bob - by, bah bah bah bah bah bah bah _ bah Bah - - - by. 

Figure 3.5: One of the most challenging chords I had to teach a minimally-trained ensemble to sing 
is the final couple of bars of the short Overture from Sondheim’s Company. It’s presented here as an 
example of what you can work toward using the harmony training outlined in Section]3.5] (. from 

tracks. One way to practice putting moving lines together is permutations 
of voices. For example, in a 3-voice harmony, first have voices 1 and 2 
sing together, then 1 and 3, then 2 and 3. Of course, with large multipart 
harmonies, you probably don’t have time to try every permutation, but the 
idea is to get people accustomed to how their part sounds when combined 
with other parts. 

Furthermore, pick some key points during the line at which the singers 
will stop and hold a chord together (see example below); these serve as 
intermediate “milestones” to keep singers listening to each other. Vary the 
milestones on different practice runs, so that eventually the singers will 
have held at least one “milestone” chord in each measure or so. When they 
hold a chord and lock pitch in it, their muscle memory is trained as well, 
and this kind of drilling will eventually result in focusing attention on each 

3.6 Variable-Stress Practice and Long-Line Extraction 

In moving passages with weird passing tones or neighbor tones, pitch ac- 
curacy on the in-between notes can be a problem. Even if the melody is 
straightforward and diatonic, pitches on unaccented notes (e.g. pickups), 
or pitches that the singer must leap onto or away from very quickly, may 
suffer from being indistinct or inaccurate. Variable-stress practicd"|can help 
fix pitch-accuracy problems in both situations by forcing the performer’s at- 
tention to focus on every note. 

1The technique is inspired by one that I use for practicing tricky technical passages on 


Hooy-er up in Wash-ing-ton, Is win-ter-time in Wash-ing-ton, too cold for the stom-ach in 

Wash - ing-ton, I go down to Mi - a - mi, _ kill Roos - ev - elt! 

ies up Wash, Wint time Wash, Cold stom Wash ton Down am kill Roos-velt. 

Figure 3.6: Identifying the “skeleton” or long line of a patter melody both accelerates learning to 
sing it and improves pitch accuracy, often by highlighting a structurally important melody feature 
such as the augmented chord outlined in measures 5-6. (How I Saved Roosevelt from Assassins) 

For chromatic or otherwise unusual melodies, it may help to first iden- 
tify the “skeleton” or long line of the phrase. (If the melody is straightfor- 
ward or diatonic, you can probably skip this step.) Sometimes the long line 
outlines the melody, as bars A-D and G-H in figure [3.6] outline the rising 
melody line of bars 1-4 and 7-8 respectively. Other parts of the long line 
may outline important harmonies, as bars E-F outline the augmented ma- 
jor triad spelled out in measures 5-6. Help the actor perfect the pitches in 
the long line, singing the appropriate syllables, as in measures A-H. 

The next step is to use variable-stress practice to polish the interior 
pitches (passing and neighbor tones). As Figure shows, the idea is 
to sing the passage a tiny bit under tempo, but “sitting on” (stressing and 
holding) different notes each time. Stressing and holding a note forces the 
performer (and you) to really listen to it and make sure it’s on pitch; this 
trains the vocal muscles to retain that pitch when the note is sung at full 
speed in performance. A practice track can be very helpful for a performer 
who wants to work with this technique at home. 

There are various permutations you can do, depending on where the 


¥ ibd & 4 ne EE cen a — re 
, = 
Gna SS ae SSS SS= jo—* +4 

lu-na-tics yelling in the streets! It's the end of the world! Yes! Cit-y on fi-re! 

Hunch-backs danc-ing! Stir-rings in the ground and the whirring of gi-ant wings! 

Variable-stress practice: variation 1 
Eee eee 

lu-na-TICS yelling IN the streets IT'S the end OF the world YES...etc. 

aie — SSF 

lu-na-tics YELL - ing in the STREETS _ it's the end OF the world yes CIT...etc 

| ipa TS fH 

Figure 3.7: Long-line extraction and variable-stress practice can help in learning tricky passages like 
this, and can even be combined. (City On Fire from Sweeney Todd) 

trouble spots are. For example, you could drill the selection in figure [3.7|by 
first stressing and holding every third note (variation 1), then every fourth 
note (variation 2). Disregard the original rhythm during variable-stress 
practice: all notes should have equal duration except the stressed notes, 
whose duration should be three or four times that of the unstressed notes. 

Figure shows how to combine long-line extraction and variable- 
stress A variation on this technique combines it with variable-stress prac- 
tice. The bottom staff of shows the long line of the passage. Have the per- 
formers sing the passage slowly but in rhythm, but stressing-and-holding 
the notes in the passage corresponding to the long line (syllables tics, 


streets, end, world, Cit, etc.) while doing so. This is tedious work, since 
the overall practice time can end up being several minutes per measure, 
but it’s the most reliable way to really polish these passages (and is a good 
candidate for the “90/90 rule” above). Most performers can only do this for 
20-30 minutes at a time before their sense of pitch becomes a little numb, 
so plan your rehearsals accordingly. Once a passage has been polished with 
these techniques, put it together by singing it slowly and speeding up grad- 
ually, keeping a sharp ear for any lax diction or rhythm creeping in after 
you’ve worked so hard on accuracy and precision. 

3.7 Teaching Tricky Rhythms 
We'll distinguish three situations that can make rhythms tricky to learn: 

1. Syncopations or other difficult rhythmic figures in the context of 
“straight” time. 

2. Odd or compound time signatures such as 7/4 or 7/8. 

3. Switching between time signatures, especially between time signa- 
tures whose beat unit is different, as in going from 3/4 to 9/8. 

Here’s an example of each, with some suggestions on how to practice 
with the actors. What all of the suggestions and examples have in common 
is to learn the rhythm first, then sing the notes. This is especially true when 
the rhythm involves harmony or counterpoint, as in the first two examples 

Figure shows an example of situation 1. It may help to subdi- 
vide the measure into the smallest beat unit that will accommodate the 
syncopations—in this case, eighth notes—and have the actors note and 
mark down which eighth note the syncopations occur, as written over the 
staff. Then practice really slowly tapping out every eighth note and ensuring 
everyone’s together, gradually speeding it up so you’re tapping only quarter 
notes, then only half notes, and so on. Once the rhythm has been mastered, 
you can teach the notes. 


N — 

Sit down, you’re rock - in’ Sit down, sit down, sit down, you’re rock - in’ the boat. 

Figure 3.8: For tricky syncopations, like this 3-measure syncopated pattern in double meter, slow 
down the practice tempo until you can tap out every eighth note. (Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat 

ee ee ce ee ee ee or er 

from Guys & Dolls) 
1 and_ a__. 2____ and_. a landa 4 5 f and a__ 2 and a landa 4 Sete. 
— SS SS = 
SSS SSSSSat ae SS =SS> = = 

— oe 
Su - per-boy— and the in - vis-i- ble girl, Ev’ - ry-thing a kid ought-a 
= = 5 2 

é Se 

=e Ps _§ § 
Bars eZ gba hig pS 
a = eet —— 
oe —#_o¢ _s _# _o _# _y =e o. - o f cod t i 
4 ee im-mort - al,___ for-ev-er a - is Then L me | ; =k 


Figure 3.9: A compound 6/8+5/8 can be counted in a “lopsided 2+2”, but in this particular song 
we can take advantage of the accented eighth notes in each 5/8 measure to help prepare the singer 
for the next 6/8 downbeat. (Superboy and the Invisible Girl from Next to Normal) 

Figures is a compound-meter example in which most of the song 
alternates between 6/8 and 5/8. A big help in this song is the accented 
eighth notes in the orchestra on counts 4 and 5 of each 5/8 measure, which 
can help the singers prepare the next 6/8 downbeat. When conducting or 
playing, it may help you to think of the count in terms of a “lopsided 2+2”, 
as shown above the first staff: count the 6/8 measures in two, and start 
counting the 5/8 measure in two but then cut to the two eighth notes on 
4-5. Counting in 2 also helps because a few measures later on, the song 
goes into a steady 6/8. 

Figure shows a compound meter example in 7/8 that is trickier 
because the vocals and the orchestra figure are syncopated differently. This 
example can also be conducted and practiced in a “lopsided 2,” as the num- 
bers above the staff suggest. In fact, when practicing with the actors, you 


1& 2& 12 3 1 & 2& 12 3 ee. 

S54 === = 
is eo Piet Pio ee ee 

Plug me— in tum me—— on and | flip the switch, - I'm good as_— gone... 
Se 2 ee eS ee 
Za Z =e Bi hot a. ee apt “ae sees 
ve v we v 

Figure 3.10: Both the melody and the bass figure suggest that you should think of this particular 
7/8 as “4+3” rather than “3+4”. The numbers above the staff suggest how to conduct it in a 
“lopsided 2.” (Wish I Were Here from Next to Normal) 

can even count out the “1-2-3” to prepare the pickup for each next mea- 
sure. Since the orchestra figure is syncopated differently, it may be best 
to practice with the actors while counting straight eighth notes, then add 
the bass figure in later. Again, if may help to learn the rhythm first by just 
speaking the lyrics in time, and adding the notes later. 

One of the hardest scenarios is a change of meter where the beat unit 
changes too. Figure [3.11] shows an example. One trick here is to realize 
that for all practical purposes the change in feel from groups of two eighth 
notes to groups of three eighth notes really begins in measure 5, with the 
dotted-quarters in the accompaniment effectively emphasizing two groups 
of three. Since the actor isn’t singing during this meter change, he can 
listen to the prominent dotted-quarters in measures 5 and 6 to time his 
pickup into measure 7. 

3.8 Putting It All Together 

As you start doing whole-scene, whole-act, or whole-show rehearsals where 
all the elements are finally combined—staging, dialogue, musical numbers, 
choreography—the actors will be challenged to remember all the tips they 
got from the director and stage manager, from you, from the choreogra- be patient! It is a lot to remember. The production staff can 
make this process smoother—and improve the show—by ensuring that the 
work of the director, music director, and choreographer don’t work against 
each other. 

For example, when actors are singing in harmony or counterpoint, 


ors oS aaa a Sa SS 

SS J f = 
es a =. ae 

eh lr Ma 
PS a: gis ag — 

: i r° 

Figure 3.11: In this tricky meter change, the actor can listen to the prominent dotted-quarters in 
measures 5 and 6 to time the pickup into measure 7. (Johanna (Judge Turpin) from Sweeney Todd) 


choreography matters. It’s natural, and even helpful for the audience, if 
actors singing counterpoint or canon (think Fugue For Tinhorns from Guys 
& Dolls) are spaced apart on stage or moving in different orbits. Some dis- 
tance between the actors can help the audience distinguish the sung lines. 
But separating actors who are singing in block harmonies makes the har- 
monies harder to lock up and may also sound bad to the audience: the 
sound will not appear to be coming from one place, and audience members 
much closer to one of the actors will disproportionately hear that harmony 
part. This is a risk even when mics are used. Another way to look at it: 
what characters are singing—counterpoint vs. harmony—should tell the 
choreographer and director something about the relationship among those 
characters on the stage. 

A similar issue arises when choreographing or blocking a large ensemble 
that has a musical number: placing singers close to each other when they 
have potentially dissonant lines is risky. You don’t have to arrange them 
strictly by section like a church choir, but it helps to be sensitive to who is 
singing what. 

No matter what you do, every show has some ensemble music sections 
that need constant refreshing and polishing to stay in top condition. Maybe 
it’s only 16 or 32 bars of a particular number, or the finale of the show, or 
something in the opening number. (The opening number and finale are 
particularly important, because if you nail those, you will be forgiven for 
a lot in between!) Whatever the selection, I make it a point to practice it 
during every rehearsal—whether it’s a complete run-through of a full act, a 
vocal-only touch-up, or a full dress rehearsal. This also helps get the cast’s 
heads into the show and can reinforce camaraderie before launching into 
the rehearsal itself. 

3.9 Performance: Putting the Show in Context 

Just as performing a play is more than reading the lines, performing a 
score is more than singing the right notes. The rest of this chapter will help 
you work with actors to make sure the songs receive the same dramatic 
attention as their spoken dialogue, and suggest specific questions to help 


guide this exploration. 

Most actors are eager to be part of the process of defining and inhabiting 
their character; that is why actors love to act. The advice in this section can 
be boiled down to a single observation: Don’t stop acting when you start 
singing. More precisely, a song performance should call attention to the way 
the character sings it, not the way the actor sings it. 

There are two variants of this pitfall. In the first variant, the actor is 
so focused on technical execution that he forgets to stay in character. This 
pitfall can be overcome by practice. In the second pitfall, which occcurs 
especially in so-called “star vehicle” shows, the actor temporarily forgets 
that the songs are there to serve the show, not vice versa. This can be 
overcome by remembering that the song belongs to the character, not to 
the actor. 

Part of your job, then, is to help your actors “deconstruct” the music 
they will perform, just as they would do with spoken dialogue. Part of this 
deconstruction comes from the context of the show, part of it comes from 
the story, part of it comes from the structure of the music itself, and part of 
it—surprisingly—may even come from the orchestration. 

= Don’t co-opt the director 

None of the advice in this section is meant to suggest that the Music Direc- 
tor should take over the Director’s job. Matters of interpretation and per- 
formance require agreement among all production staff—Director, Music 
Director, Choreographer—and the process by which you reach that agree- 
ment depends on the nature of the working relationship you all have. 

The first step is to contextualize a show by understanding the cultural 
references, idioms, slang, and so on in the lyrics and dialogue. Even if your 
production has a dramaturg, good book research is the shared responsibility 
of all performers and production staff. 

For example, during the rehearsal process for the contemporary song 
cycle The Last Five Years, I learned that the actor playing Jamie didn’t un- 
derstand the significance of “the JCC of Spring Valley is crumbling to the 
ground” (in reference to his character, a nice Jewish boy, falling for a non- 


Jewish girl), in part because he didn’t know what “JCC” stood for. Without 
an understanding of that phrase and its cultural context, it’s hard to inhabit 
the song Shiksa Goddess, in which the lyric occurs. (Homework: Go find 
out the answer. “Use the Google.”) 

Some shows’ action occurs in a different time or place, making them 
appear to be period pieces or products of their time. But Company, Hair, 
A Chorus Line, and Cabaret have themes that are timeless even if the plot 
and characters are not. What was happening in the world then? Can it be 
connected to things that are happening today? 

When I worked on Company in 2004, same-sex marriage was making 
waves in California (where I live) that were being felt in the Oval Office. 
We all knew that Company was controversial in 1970 for presenting non- 
traditional and nuanced views of marriage and relationships that defied the 
simplistic “happily ever after” formula so popular in musical theater at that 
time. Indeed, when the show was first staged, some critics and theater- 
goers proposed that Bobby was unable to sustain committed relationships 
with any of his girlfriends because he was actually gay but unable to come 
to terms with it. Although composer-lyricist Stephen Sondheim and book 
writer George Furth have both denied this, from the vantage point of 2004 
it was clear that there must be both heterosexual Bobbies and homosexual 
Bobbies: Company shows us that through Bobby’s eyes his friends’ mar- 
riages defy simplistic conventions, yet somehow his friends seem to find 
the relationships rewarding. Et voila, the stage is set for a 2004 audience 
dealing with same-sex marriage to draw their own conclusions. 

When I worked on Cabaret in 2005, we saw parallels between the way 
Weimar Germany was lulled into a disastrous nationalism leading up to 
WWII and some of the things happening in our own country following the 
terrorist attacks of 9/11, and we took that as a reference point for the pro- 
duction. Although we did not change a single line of lyrics or dialogue, 
many patrons told us how intriguing it was that we had made the connec- 
tion. In fact all we did was keep the connection in mind in interpreting the 
show, through the occasional emphasis or inflection of a line or a lyric, or a 
carefully placed “beat” in the dialogue. It was the patrons themselves who 
made the connection, based on the subtlest of cues. 


In 2010 I got to work on Man of La Mancha. Don Quixote, the mildly 
deluded idealist who is initially the object of ridicule but with whom the 
audience ultimately identifies, may have inhabited Inquisition Spain, but 
he’d be right at home as an activist in today’s America. In a nation rocked 
by the Enron scandal and with the news seemingly dominated by stories 
of corruption, cynicism, greed, and oppression, there is an opportunity to 
really make the audience want to cheer for this idealistic underdog, ridicu- 
lous and pathetic though his actions may initially seem. Making these con- 
nections gives the actor (and, in performance, the audience) something to 
identify with, and they're more likely to “get it”. 

In rehearsing the show, I also had the opportunity to point out, as a 
native Spanish speaker, that Quijote (alternate spelling of Quixote) is sim- 
ply Quijana (the name of the deluded gentleman who believes himself Don 
Quixote) with the Spanish augmentative ending “-ote”, meaning roughly 
“the big one.” That is, Quijana has deluded himself into believing he’s “the 
BIG Quijana”, or “el Quijote”. This simple etymological observation sheds 
additional light on Cervantes’s writing and therefore on the character: his 
illusions of grandeur extend even to his self-applied moniker. 

Let’s examine three specific examples showing how to apply these gen- 
eral remarks to individual songs and characters. Spoiler alert: These ex- 
amples include possible spoiler details about each show, which are unfor- 
tunately necessary to provide the context for the example. So go see the 
shows before you read the examples. 

3.10 Example: So What (Cabaret) 

When an actor approaches an important piece of monologue or dialogue, 
he may spend hours deconstructing it, trying to connect what is said back 
to the character’s overall “arc” through the show in order to create a per- 
formance. To help actors give the same level of attention to song lyrics as 
they do to dialogue, I spend a good chunk of an actor’s first rehearsal of a 
song (up to 20 minutes of a one-hour rehearsal) discussing three points: 

1. Why is this song in the show? 


2. How would you read (and act) these lyrics if they were spoken dia- 

3. How will we deal with repetition in the song—both repetition in time, 
such as repeated words, phrases, or stanzas, and repetition in space, 
such as in “list songs”? 

By the time we agree on how the song will be performed, we have a 
good answer for each one. Sometimes we even find subtle clues in the 
music or in the orchestration that can be used to bolster the interpretation 
or the performance. 

Our first of three examples is from Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin Sto- 
ries, in which we meet Fraulein Schroeder, a Berlin innkeeper during the 
rise of the Third Reich. Over several pages, we learn that though once 
wealthy, she has lost her fortune and her previous lovers, survived a war, 
and weathered a depression. Frl. Schroeder embodies both survival and 

In the musical Cabaret, which is inspired by Isherwood’s work, the char- 
acter has been renamed Frl. Schneider, and all of this background must be 
presented in two and half minutes during her song So What early in the 

Why is this song in the show? It introduces the audience to 
Frl. Schneider’s personality by letting her tell her own backstory. This sets 
the stage for how she will handle breaking off her soon-to-be engagement 
to Herr Schultz, the Jewish grocer, under pressure from the Nazis. 

How would you perform the lyrics as dialogue? Frl. Schneider’s body 
language, facial expressions and cadence would all be different when re- 
counting happy times than when describing the times she managed to just 
survive despite everything. So should they be when sung. 

The song has three verses, each of which addresses a different sides of 
her personality—losing her fortune, losing love, and ultimately survival— 
and indeed even the orchestration is different in each verse. In particular, 
the last verse, which deals with her much better earlier days (“So once I 
was rich, and now all my fortune is gone—so what? / And love disap- 
peared, and only the memory lives on—so what?”) has a much more sub- 


dued orchestration—the rhythmic “oom-pah-pah” waltz figure is replaced 
by simple held chords, with the addition of a high, melancholy violin line. 
The actor’s performance should work with rather than against such textural 
cues in the orchestration. 

Where is there repetition and how should we use it? Not only should 
the three verses be sung differently despite having the same melody: at the 
end of the song, there is a coda in which she sings “It all goes on ...So 
who cares? Who cares? WHO CARES? So what?” (emphasis mine). By 
this point in the song, the audience has heard these phrases repeated many 
times. The coda isn’t there to lengthen the song—it only adds 8 bars. So 
why is it there? 

Often there is no “right” answer; but what is important is that there be 
some interpretation for why the coda is there. Our interpretation was that 
while most of the song has been about survival, the coda punctuates her 
resignation. Each “Who cares?” can get more and more resigned, until the 
last “So what?” 

This amount of detail may seem like nitpicking, but with only two and 
a half minutes to make the audience really care about this character when 
they see her in trouble later, every nuance of the performance counts. 

3.11. Example: Dulcinea (Man Of La Mancha) 

When Don Quixote first sees Aldonza, the kitchen wench and prostitute, 
he believes he has found Dulcinea, his (mythical) noble and chaste lady 
patroness, about whom he then sings. 

Why is this song in the show? Aldonza is initially scornful of Quixote, 
then uneasy when he worships her apparently without guile, then resentful 
that his sincerity disarms her toughness, and ultimately, becomes a believer 
in Quixote’s ideals and his “quest,” identifying herself finally as Dulcinea. In 
this song, seeing her take the first steps on that journey is at least as impor- 
tant as hearing Quixote sing the lyrics, which without this deconstruction 
come across as overwritten. 

lyrics as dialogue. Although Aldonza/Dulcinea is onstage with 
Quixote throughout the number, we decided he is not serenading her but 



a ee ee ee 

1 T T 

Now I've found you, and the world shall know thy glo - ry, Dulei -  ne-a!___. 

Figure 3.12: Even though it’s difficult to avoid some emphasis on the high note of the phrase 
(“Now”), we decided to make “found you” just as significant by adding a small tenuto, because it 
was the more important lyric in our reading. (Dulcinea from Man of La Mancha) 

rather singing to himself; the song then serves to show us Dulcinea’s reac- 
tion. The actor playing Quixote and I identified a key lyric: 

Let my fingers but see, 
Thou art warm and alive, and no phantom to fade in the air! 

So far, everything about Quixote’s interactions has been in his head: the 
windmill was to him a giant, the inn a castle, the innkeeper a lord. But now 
Quixote is telling us, “See, it’s not all in my head. Dulcinea is real! She’s 
standing right there!” 

In the last stanza, Quixote sings “Now I’ve found you, and the world 
shall know thy glory!” Because the word “Now” coincides with the high 
note of the phrase, most actors make it the climax of the phrase. However, 
given the above reading, the more important phrase is “found you”, so we 
decided to emphasize that with some tenuto marks. Indeed, highlighting 
“Now” subverts the song’s drama by focusing on the actor’s singing rather 
than the character’s thoughts, and by this point in the show Quixote has 
already had two solos, so the audience already knows he can sing. 

Dealing with repetition. My Quixote actor perceptively compared the 
endless repetition of “Dulcinea” in the lyrics to Maria in West Side Story: 

Dulcinea, Dulcinea 

I see heaven when I see thee, Dulcinea! 

And thy name is like a prayer an angel whispers— 

Say it loud, and there’s music playing 


Say it soft, and it’s almost like praying 
Maria, I'll never stop saying— 

So we decided that Quixote would use the repeated word “Dulcinea” 
throughout the song to savor all the different ways it sounds as he says it 
to himself, as Tony does with “Maria”. Indeed, the performance might be a 
bit different every night—and that’s OK, it’s live theater! 

3.12 Example: /’m Alive (Next To Normal) 

In this brilliant and quirky musical about Diana’s struggle with bipolar dis- 
order, Gabe is her long-dead son about whom she still has delusions. (Sorry 
about the spoiler if you haven’t seen the show.) I’m Alive is Gabe’s first big 
solo: he is nominally singing to Diana (inside her head), but he’s also re- 
vealing to the audience the relationship between Diana and himself. 

Fundamentally, this is a list song, with Gabe enumerating all the differ- 
ent ways he has his hooks in Diana, letting us see why it’s so hard for her 
to let him go. Some lines include: 

I am what you want me to be, 
and I’m your worst fear, you'll find it in me... 

I am flame and I am fire, 
I am destruction, decay, and desire. .. 

I’m your wish, your dream come true, 
I am your darkest nightmare too... 

Interestingly, each couplet opener above can be tied to a specific mo- 
ment in the show. The first couplet could refer to the fact that Gabe only 
exists in Diana’s fantasy, so he is “what [she] wants [him] to be,” but also 
her “worst fear” because the fantasy is fueling her psychosis and tearing 
her from the rest of her family. The second couplet could be an allusion to 
Gabe’s destructive effect on Diana’s psyche, which will ultimately drive her 


to attempt suicide. The third couplet could be seen as a flash-forward to 
when Diana reveals near the end of the show (How Could I Ever Forget) the 
joy of experiencing the birth of her first child, too soon afterward followed 
by the nightmare of being told he had died of an undiagnosed intestinal 

It’s true that at the time these lyrics are sung, some of the moments 
to which they arguably allude haven’t happened yet. But as with so many 
other examples, the important thing is that the audience can tell when 
there is depth in the acting, and creating interpretations like this gives the 
actors something to work from, even if they later change their minds about 
what moments in the show each lyric refers to. And it may even inspire 
audience members to return for another visit, to mine the additional depth 
they perceived in the performance! 



Diction, Rhythm, and Dynamics 

Diction, Rhythm, 
and Dynamics 

Actors worry about singing wrong notes or dropping a lyric, but the audi- 
ence notices only the most egregious such errors. In contrast, since lyrics 
are critical to most musicals, and they can go by very fast without giving 
the audience a chance to “rewind the recording,” the audience gets angry 
if they don’t understand every word—that is, if the performers have poor 
diction, rhythm, or dynamics, any of which can keep the lyrics from being 
easily understood. Such problems usually reflect lack of effort or lack of 
directorial attention, rather than lack of ability. This chapter will help you: 

e Identify performances whose diction needs improvement 

e Apply simple (usually) practice and performance techniques to ad- 
dress some of the most common problems related to diction, includ- 
ing some connected to rhythm or dynamics 

4.1 Diction Basics|...............20-02+0000- 74 
4.2 Vowels and Consonants| ...............-- 75 
nk eR ee He RR Se ee eR RS 76 
Oa RS Rew 78 
Bi bs mints goBicite “ase Re Bese, echo, aSein gs ee eee oe ye Pewee 80 
eeadehes 82 
ib deh seh 85 

4.8 Summary and Checklists|................. 86 


4.1. Diction Basics 

Each style of sung music has its own conventions for diction. Theater is 
no exception. A few specific cases are worth calling out before we go any 

Theater diction is not opera diction. Classically trained (“legit”) 
singers may need to be reminded that “sing” and “kiss” are not pronounced 
“seeng” or “kees”, no matter how long the syllable is held. Furthermore, 
tremolo is usually the enemy because it compromises diction; while Bar- 
bara Cook can pronounce every word clearly and maintain a beautiful (and 
non-overbearing) tremolo, most of us have to compromise. When compro- 
mise is necessary, clear diction should be the highest priority. 

Theater diction is not pop diction. “Natural” untrained singers with 
great voices often need the most help in fine-tuning and polishing their 
pitch and diction, because they are used to being told that they sound great 
but not that they need to be more precise. In most pop songs, diction is 
deemed secondary to “authenticity” (whatever that means when you can’t 
understand half the lyrics). In theater songs, diction is just as important as 
acting. It is not “second” to anything. 

Gratuitous melisma belongs on American Idol, not in a musical. 
Melisma refers to varying a pitch while holding a single vocal syllable: it 
may surprise you that Idina Menzel’s melisma at the end of Defying Gravity 
is actually written in the score, Figure shows. However, if the score 
does not indicate melisma or a similar marking such as vocal ad lib., the 
performer shouldn’t insert it. Whereas in pop songs melisma is sometimes 
added as a special improvisational effect by the performer, in theater songs 
it usually sounds cheesy unless it’s specifically indicated because a spe- 
cific pop (or comic) effect is desired. Gratuitous melisma is a particular 
peril for show tunes that have become famous independently of the shows 
they came from (such as “Memory” from Cats), or when burgeoning young 
singers try to imitate a performance they’ve heard on American Idol. Unfor- 
tunately, combined with the current Broadway trend to feature the “Ameri- 
can Idol favorite of the week” in musicals, thousands have been misled into 
thinking that those performances represent good theater diction. 


194 195 196 197 

Gud = - 5 8 8 og — 

ENSEMBLE: So_ we've got to bring her down! 


baslnegy- oss Ssoce sess ss -sease tosses 

Figure 4.1: Until I saw the conductor’s score, I thought the melisma that closes Act I (in measures 
195 and 198) was improvised by Idina Menzel, but it’s right in the score! (Defying Gravity from 

Hard breaths are for cheaters. A nasal “hard breath” before a word 
that starts with a vowel—e.g., saying hyou for you, hall for all, hi for I, and 
so on—is a device used by amateur pop singers when they can’t nail the 
pitch properly in full voice on an initial vowel. Like melisma, it is cheesy in 
the extreme and should not be done unless the show’s score calls for it as a 
special effect—that is, to make a song more cheesy. 

Now that we’re clear on what theater diction is not, here are some sug- 
gestions to help singers achieve what it is. 

4.2 Vowels and Consonants 

Distinguish the vowels, especially when the lyrics are going by very 
fast. Even the lowliest sixteenth note deserves to be heard as a distinct vowel 
sound. Remember that “uh” (represented phonetically by a schwa, 9) is not 
a proper vowel sound and is rarely the sound called for by the sung syllable. 
For words whose vowel pronunciations depend on dialect (roof, either, and 
so on), you and the director should make an appropriate choice depending 
on the show’s setting, the character’s persona, or other dramatic factors, 
and everyone should be consistent about following it. 

Emphasize interior consonants (i.e. the ones that occur in the mid- 
dle of a word as opposed to ending the word). The vocal warmups on 

the book’s web site help somewhat with vowels and 

ge se ht AEE ld yh 
° ; 

kee ono 


consonants: for example, when singing “Doo-bee”, the lips should be exag- 
geratedly rounded for “Doo” and exaggeratedly cracked on “Bee”. For the 
second part of this same exercise, “Too-bee”, overemphasize the dental “T” 
and plosive “B” to warm up those muscles. 

Close off final consonants by putting a tiny o after them. Trained 
vocal performers call this a “shadow vowel,” and it is especially critical for 
words that would otherwise be ambiguous. For example, if holding the 
syllable “too” on a long note, is the word going to end up being too, tune, 
tomb, or tube? Often it is evident from context, but not always. Avoid 
the risk and sing too, too-noa, too-ma, too-be accordingly. The final o should 
be just enough to allow the consonant to be crisply pronounced, no more. 
Remember to have everyone write down the specific beat on which to close 
the consonant; if you happen to have a free conducting hand during the 
performance, you can use it to give the cutoff cue, but the singers should 
not rely solely on this cue as a crutch. 

Distinguish double consonants. In Stephen Sondheim’s famous song 
Send In the Clowns, Désirée sings the lyric “Don’t you love farce?” Unless the 
v of love is closed off before pronouncing the initial f of farce, it will sound 
like “Don’t you love arse?”, which is particularly amusing to speakers of the 
King’s English. Similarly, consider the lyric “This is my quest, to follow that 
star” from The Impossible Dream. Without first closing off the t of quest, the 
audience might hear “This is my quess, to follow that star’. Some of them 
will be wondering “What the hell is a quess?” and by the time they figure it 
out they will have missed the next lyrid"| and they will be angry. 

The solution in both cases is easy, as Figures [4.2] and [4.3] show, though 
the specific fixes must be applied slightly differently due to the rhythm of 
the lyrics. 

4.3. Diction and Rhythm 

Good diction is particularly imperiled in “patter songs” or up-tempo songs 
whose lyrics go by very fast, especially when the rhythm of the lyrics is 

1«No matter how hopeless, no matter how far.” 



tf.» a oe Se ee ee ee ee ae ee ee ee eee ee eee 

This is my ques - tuh, - to fol-low that sta - ruh, no mat-ter how... 

Figure 4.2: Literal (and somewhat exaggerated) depiction of placing shadow vowels to 
disambiguate closing consonants. In the first lyric, the performer can use an interior beat of the 
measure to pronounce the schwa. (The Impossible Dream from Man of La Mancha) 

EE) re eee 
a - ee ee ee 

Dont you luvwvuh = farce? % fauh, | fear. 1 thought that... 

Figure 4.3: When no existing rest is available for a shadow vowel, the schwa must be hurried in 
between two lyric counts. If you listen to the original cast album, Glynis Johns puts a tiny pause 
before “farce” and turns it into an “actable moment.” (Send In the Clowns from A Little Night Music) 

“swung”. This is similar to pitches getting “thrown away” when they oc- 
cur on unaccented notes such as pickups, and the variable-stress practice 
technique (section |3.6) can be used here as well. 

For example, consider the excerpt in figure[4.4]from “Don’t Tell Mama” 
in Cabaret. There is a tremendous risk that the diction rules about over- 
enunciating vowels and pronouncing interior consonants will go out the 
window on the short (16th-note) swung syllables. An easy fix for this is to 
have the singers sing the rhythm nearly straight as opposed to swung. A 
tiny amount of swing, plus the fact that the musicians are playing swung, 
will suffice to give the impression of a swung melody, as Figure|4.5|suggests. 

A related problem occurs when diction or pitch accuracy is imperiled 
because of a pickup that is shorter and unaccented. Again, the solution 


= Sa 

Thinks I'mon atour of Eur - op With a coup-le of my school chums and a la-dy chap-e - rone. 

Figure 4.4: Diction is at risk on the sixteenth notes in this swung melody. (Don’t Tell Mama from 



oe oe o 

- ma Thinks I'm on a tour of Eur - ope With a coup-le of my school chums and a la-dy chap-e - rone. 

Figure 4.5: An easy fix is to have the singers perform the melody nearly “straight”. (Don’t Tell 
Mama from Cabaret) 


Why can't you throw-'em a = crumb?____ What's wrong with let- ting em tap____._ their___._ toes_____ a bit? 

Figure 4.6: The pitches on “Why can’t you” were indistinct, because they are both non-accented 
short notes and low pitches. (Opening Doors from Merrily We Roll Along) 

is to overcompensate: have the singer write in an accent (and if neces- 
sary a tenuto mark) over the pickup to remind herself of this fact, and use 
variable-stress practice if necessary to drill it. For example, in Figure 
were no pitch problems on “throw” because the melodic leap naturally ac- 
cents the note, nor on “crumb” because it’s a downbeat. But the pitches of 
“Why can’t you” were getting “thrown away”, i.e. not struck with the same 
accuracy as the other notes. Figure [4.7] shows a similar problem in a song 
from the recent original musical Oh My Godmother! Overenunciation and 
applying the occasional tiny tenuto avoid the pitfall. 

4.4 Tempo: Jump On the Entrance 

Related to diction is precise timing. Left to their own devices, the ensemble 
will drag behind the orchestra more and more during long passages. This 


== as SS | 

I'm no prize in their eyes, just a shmuck they des - pise. Cin- der - Al 

Figure 4.7: The pitches on the first eighth notes of each pickup (I’m, in, just, they) are particularly 
vulnerable because they’re both unaccented and in a lower register. Recall that tenor melodies are 
usually notated an octave higher than sung. (CinderAlbert from Oh My Godmother!) 


ey = 
| ==5=—====2= ——— es 
It on-ly hurts when I cry... It on-ly hurts when I work... |_— 
: ———== = === ====--— 
os = a =a a ee 
It on-ly hurts when I cry... It on-ly hurts when I play... 

Figure 4.8: Singers must anticipate their entrances by counting beats; if they wait to “reply” to the 
singer who has the previous line, they will be late. (Just Another Day from Next to Normal) 

is human nature. If the orchestra then slows down to match, the ensemble 
will slow down even more. 

The remedy is to remind singers to mentally anticipate their vocal en- 
trances, or “jump” on the entrance. This works because the only way to do 
so is by counting on one’s “internal metronome” until the entrance in order 
to anticipate it. The alternative, which many singers do, is get their cues 
by listening to someone else, for example, in a patter or dialogue, listening 
for the line to which they are presumably replying. Figure [4.8] illustrates 
the pitfall: invariably the second entrance will be just a hair late, the or- 
chestra will slow down just a tiny bit to match the singer, and this will keep 
happening until the song grinds to a slow tempo. 

Figure [4.9] shows an extreme example of “jumping on an entrance,” in 
which each singer must follow their internal metronome and subdivide the 
beat as necessary. For example, for an eighth-note pickup in 4/4, ask the 
singer to mentally count the pickup measure (“1-and-2-and-3-and-4-and”). 
To sing on the “and” of 4, the pickup breath must occur on the ictus of 
4. Whereas many singers in this situation would instinctively aim for the 
downbeat after the pickup, that would run the risk of “losing” both pitch 
and diction on the pickup syllable as described previously. Just as when 
practicing tricky rhythms (Section 3.7), it may help to practice speaking 
the lyrics in rhythm before adding the melody. 


=— — (to : ) — - 
oe = x gi tes 2 ad a_¢ 
Who had the oth-er bean? YOU pock-et-ed the oth-er bean. 
ram tS ="! z = f ts 7 7 
Sg fe 
The oth-er bean? I did-n’t! Yes, I did. No it is-n’t, cause I... 
= a a . 2 2 = rE - z @ 7 z 
é 4 oe 
The oth-er bean? So it’s your f—! 

1 ™ i =e = —= = = = = ] 
os 7 pt —— i—te a webs te 2 oH 
gave it to my wife! No it is-n't! Wait a min-ute! She ex-changed that bean to ob-tain your shoe... etc. 


= 2 re — Tp = = | 

pe J — 
So it’s her f-! Then whose is it? 

Figure 4.9: In this patter song, the characters argue about whose fault it is that terrible things have 
befallen everyone. Singers should cue their entrances based on their internal metronome rather 
than cuing off of other singers, especially for vowel or soft-consonant entrances such as YOU 
(pickup to measure 3). (Your Fault from Into the Woods) 

4.5 Dynamics 

Pitch and dynamics. Whether in solo or ensemble singing, lower pitches 
naturally sound softer than higher pitches, especially when there is a large 
enough interval leap in the melody that it straddles ranges of the singer’s 
voice that have different timbre. The solution is to actively modify the 
dynamics to compensate for the difference: sing the low pitches louder 
and/or the high pitches softer. Figure|4.10|shows an example. 

Ensemble dynamics. When singing in ensemble, the ensemble mem- 
bers must understand that everyone’s volume control, taken individually, 
contributes to the ensemble’s sound. A small change in the volume of every 
ensemble member creates a large change in the overall ensemble volume, 
so when something needs to be louder, each individual ensemble member 
may only need to be a little bit louder. 

Consistency is also important. If you want the ensemble singing f, you 
need everyone singing somewhere between mf and f, rather than one or 

4.5. DYNAMICS 81 

Ev-ry lan-guage ea - sy, Ea-sy as the re-ci-pe for mak-ing Jel - lo. 

Figure 4.10: The lower pitches on the first syllables of “Easy” (bar 3) and “recipe” (bar 4) will be 
softer by default, so special precautions must be taken to maintain a constant volume. (I Speak Six 
Languages from The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee) 

SSS See 

I am I, Don__Qui-xo-te, the lord of__La Mancha, my des - ti - ny calls and I go! 

= t 

Tm San-cho! Yes, I'm San-cho! [ll fol-low my mas - ter till the 

Figure 4.11: In this duet between Quixote and Sancho, if each can hear the other’s lyrics about as 
well as his own, the audience will be able to hear both lines as well (J Am I, Don Quixote from Man 
of La Mancha) 

two people belting and others singing sotto voce. The latter are simply go- 
ing to sound unconfident and wrong (Section [4.6). Conversely, when you 
want the ensemble singing p, this means each individual will be singing be- 
tween pp and p, but it doesn’t mean “sing indistinctly under your breath”— 
it means sing with equally precise (or even more precise) diction, pitch 
control, and intensity, but less volume. 

Counterpoint. When two or more soloists singing overlapping or coun- 
terpoint lines—a duet, as in Figure|4.11] or a trio or multipart counterpoint 
in which the lines are all of essentially equal importance—an easy way to 
self-regulate volume is to ask each ensemble member: Can you hear the 
other lines as easily as you hear your own when you're singing? If the 
singers (or groups) can clearly hear each other, the balance will be approx- 
imately correct for the audience too. (Needless to say, each vocalist must 
master their own line before concentrating on listening for balance!) 

Projection. Projection refers to the ability of a vocalist to “sing to the 
back of the room” and is a quality that is different from volume. Good 
projection consists of applying all of the above polishing—precise diction, 



precise rhythm, expressive dynamics—and combining it with just enough 
volume to “hit the back wall of the theater” without compromising any of 
that precision. Sometimes, simple physical things such as keeping one’s 
chin off of one’s neck will help projection, but projection is an active effort 
that singers must think about at all times. Many situations of “undersing- 
ing” result not from a lack of volume but from a lack of precision in the 
other ingredients. (A loud singer with poor diction or imprecise attention 
to the details discussed in this section will not be perceived to be projecting 

4.6 Polishing Away Easily-Avoided Pitfalls 

An unpolished performance lacks the clarity and energy that the show de- 
serves, and nothing saps the energy of a song worse than a bunch of people 
mumbling. A potpourri of easily-avoided (through rehearsal) vocal perfor- 
mance pitfalls rounds out our discussion of polishing the material. Note 
that polishing is even more critical for the ensemble than for soloists—the 
only thing worse than someone mumbling lyrics is a whole group of people 
mumbling lyrics! 

Uncertain or tentative entrances. Less-confident singers may start 
a phrase tentatively, and once they’re sure (usually by listening to other 
singers around them) that they’re singing a correct note or coming in at the 
right time, they get louder. This must be avoided at all costs: in perfor- 
mance, tentative entrances always sound wrong, whether they are or not. 
Pay special attention to tentative starts when tricky intervals are involved— 
everyone seems to wait for someone else to sing it first. If necessary, work 
with individual singers or groups of singers by training the entrance pitch 
using the “interval method” (Section|3.4). 

Uncertain or tentative cutoffs. Cutoffs should occur at the exact same 
time for everyone. A bunch of vowels fading out at different rates, or a 
bunch of people closing off a “t” at slightly different times, just sounds 
sloppy. You should mark what beat (or part of a beat) signals the cutoff of 
each held note, and have the singers write it down. If the cutoff is on a vowel, 
there should be no decrescendo leading to the cutoff (unless it’s specifically 


o = E J mt 7 tee ate 2 = =r a eo— tte 

Got my tweed pressed, Got my best vest,__._—- All I need now__—— iis the 

Figure 4.12: The stepwise chromatic motion of this melody makes pitch accuracy particularly 
important, since each syllable’s pitch must be distinct. (All I Need Is The Girl from Gypsy) 

marked as such in the vocal book). If the cutoff is a consonant, everyone 
must close it off at the same time. You may be able to cue the cutoff while 
conducting, but this should be an “extra help” and not something that the 
singers rely on. 

Sounds flat/sounds sharp. Some unusual intervals like tritones and 
minor seconds (half-steps on the piano) are particularly troublesome to sing 
without sounding flat or sharp. Examples are the motif for “Maria” from 
West Side Story, which starts with a tritone from C to F't, and the excerpt 
below from Gypsy, which has lots of half-step neighbor tones. Furthermore, 
some regular major and minor intervals may present tonal difficulty for 
whatever reason to less-experienced singers. The solution is disarmingly 
simple: if a note sounds slightly flat, just ask the singer to mentally “aim 
a little higher” to fix it, and vice versa. (And make him write that down 
in his vocal book!) For flat/sharp problems in harmony singing, a different 
approach is needed; see Section |3.5] 

Goes flat/goes sharp. A related problem occurs when a long-held note 
gradually goes flat or sharp. This is particularly common when the har- 
monies are changing under the held note, as in Figure [4.13] The problem 
arises because of the physics of sound vibration and the relationships be- 
tween pitches in diatonic intervals: A note G sung against a D major chord 
is a different note than that same G sung against a C major chord. This 
difference is formally called a comma, and a surprisingly good way to help 
the singer hear it and adjust accordingly is to have her “re-sing” the note 
(instead of holding it) with each chord change, as the figure suggests. This 
practice technique forces “re-tuning” against each chord change, by pre- 
senting each change as a renewed opportunity to re-establish pitch based 
on how the note sounds relative to the new harmony. 

Sloppy ensemble diction. Singing well in an ensemble is often more 



fe | | 
Gare =e zi = [ee eee | 
...and so ea Bah yah yah yah yah 
efe ain 
ret = e 5 oz = 
A He Gas 
[Ves] [Vc+Vn] PLAY oe 
- | DAD's p 
9-4 4 —__= =e 
ro eee ee a 

Figure 4.13: Left: Diana holds an A while the strings play a figure that transitions between A major 
and D major (I and IV in Roman numeral harmony notation). Right: Mentally (or during practice, 
physically) re-articulating the A over each change will help re-tune the note. (So Anyway from Next 
To Normal) 

demanding than singing solo, yet it’s distressingly common for the MD to 
treat the ensemble as second-class citizens, giving them less time and at- 
tention than the principals. Performers must be aware that the ensemble 
is not a place to hide! A strong ensemble is a joy to the audience and 
adds tremendously to the music; a sloppy ensemble sounds like a place 
where deficient singers are sent as punishment. Drill the ensemble as hard 
or harder than the leads—you will be highly rewarded, and they will be 
energized when they realize how critical they are to the show. 

Inconsistent performance. Singers are human, and they sometimes 
forget rehearsal notes. You can minimize the likelihood of this happen- 
ing by always telling them to write down things like pronunciation, cutoff 
beats, technical notes (remembering to “aim high” or “aim low” on a tricky 
interval), and so on Then, if you are able to cue them in performance, the 
cue is an added help rather than a crutch. Ideally, once the music starts 
the singers should be able to perform the song correctly and consistently 
without seeing you or relying on your conducting. This will be helpful in 
tricky situations such as when eye contact with singer(s) is impossible or 
when you don’t have a free hand to conduct them onstage; we discuss these 
situations further in Section 


4.7 Microphones: A Blessing and a Curse 

There are two principal reasons that mics are often badly misused. One is 
that the tech staff may not realize how hard it is to get the right balance and 
sound with mics: it requires a mixer, possibly wireless/body mics, a sound 
board, amplifiers and speakers appropriate for the space, and a sound op- 
erator who can competently set up and actively operate that equipment for 
every performance. In other words, you can’t just turn a mic on and forget 

about it. (For an excellent discussion, see Campbell, |Technical Theater For’ 
Nontechnical People.) More often, though, even when properly set up, mics 

are misused by performers who haven’t been taught how to use them prop- 
erly. Mics and amplification systems increase the volume of sound put into 
them. Under the best of conditions, that is all they do, and they do it to vary- 
ing degrees for different timbres and pitches. If the sound going into them 
is flawed, the audience will simply hear flawed sounds loudly. And even 
if the sound going into them is good, all amplification systems, however 
expensive, introduce some distortion and noise. Here are some guidelines 
to help actors make effective use of mics. 

Mics are not a substitute for projection. A singer with poor projec- 
tion will be mumbly and unintelligible through a mic. A singer with good 
projection probably doesn’t need a mic unless the orchestra is large and the 
house is vast. Good projection is possible even in softer passages. Worse, 
the mic can become a psychological crutch that the actor relies on “when 
my voice gets a little tired.” This can result in “undersinging”, which can ac- 
tually be more dangerous to the health of the actor’s voice than “straining”, 
and once the crutch habit is acquired it is very difficult to break. 

Mics are not a substitute for diction. I’ve already beaten the dic- 
tion horse to death in the preceding sections. Some singers think that a 
mic relaxes the restrictions of good diction. This is wrong, and in fact the 
opposite is true because even the best sound systems introduce some dis- 
tortion. Less-experienced singers may not realize this because they listen 
to recorded albums and they think that is how a mic makes you sound. But 
those albums are recorded in soundproof studios under ideal conditions 
and postproduced by expert sound engineers using thousands of dollars’ 


worth of electronics. Less-experienced singers may also assume that the 
sound of a mic in live performance resembles live performances they have 
heard recorded for broadcast or for sale as albums. Again, such recordings 
require hundreds of microphones placed hours ahead of time, a crew of 
professional sound engineers, and hours of pre-show trial-and-error sound 
checks with and without the orchestra. It is extremely expensive and error- 
prone, which is why live recordings of stage performances are rarely done. 

Finally, no mic can change the fact that the acoustics of a live room 
are hard to control and differ fundamentally from those of a studio sound 
booth. The close-in “studio sound” of a mic simply cannot be achieved 
under live conditions. Using studio singing technique in a live setting will 
result in the audience hearing a lot of sibilance (hissing) and unintelligible 

Mics are not a substitute for good stage acting. Much more than 
actors realize, audience members rely on visual cues and even some lip- 
reading to catch all the lyrics. If the actor has her back turned to the au- 
dience while singing, those lyrics will be harder for the audience to catch, 
no matter how loudly they are amplified. This is a particular challenge in 
theaters where thrust (audience on 3 sides) or arena (audience all around) 
staging is used: vocal numbers must be staged so that the audience is able 
to see the singer’s face as much as possible. 

Does this mean mics are never appropriate? Hardly. If the staging is 
careful, the singers are projecting, and their diction is good, but they are 
still not loud enough to be heard over the orchestra, it’s appropriate to 
try mics as a way to bring the vocal balance up a bit. But do so with a 
realistic understanding of what they can and can’t do, and of the technical 
requirements involved in getting it right. 

4.8 Summary and Checklists 

The following list summarizes the most common diction-related problems 
that arise in rehearsal, as described in this chapter. Keep it at hand and 
you'll have it memorized sooner than you think! 


e Emphasize final consonants and cutoffs. 
e Make interior vowels distinct. 

e Don’t sacrifice diction to rhythm: swing it less, and “sit” on a pickup 
or short note to make sure it gets the pitch accuracy and diction it 

e Use dynamics to compensate/cancel out “built in’ volume changes 
due to pitch or rhythm: lower pitches sound softer, so compensate by 
singing a bit louder, and vice versa. 

e In ensemble counterpoint, cue yourself based on the metronome, not 
on others’ lines, and anticipate (“jump on”) your entrances just a tiny 

e When using a mic, sing as if you weren’t using it. In fact, sing as if 
you were singing through a handkerchief. 

The Orchestra 

The Orchestra 

The orchestra’s main goal is simple: Don’t be mentioned in the review. 
The orchestra is there to serve the show without drawing attention to it- 
self by being the weak point. Therefore a review that doesn’t mention the 
orchestra is a compliment, and a review that praises the orchestra should 
make you ecstatic (or worry you, because it means they wanted to pan 
the production and were looking for something nice to say to soften the 
blow). When in doubt as to whether to simplify an arrangement, relieve a 
musician of playing a tricky passage, and so on, always decide in favor of 
this goal. 

This chapter will help you as you work through the four main phases of 
putting up the show with the orchestra: 

1. Recruiting: identify which instruments/musicians you'll need; you 
may find you have to settle for fewer than the official instrumenta- 
tion requires, something we'll discuss in Chapter|7| 

2. Rehearsing: perform one or more play-throughs of the score without 
the singers. If your orchestra is experienced, this is probably also 
the first time the orchestra will be playing together, and may be the 
only orchestra rehearsal before tech week. Any technical issues ex- 
posed here should be fixed before the sitzprobe. | have found that 
if the orchestra consists of fairly experienced pit musicians, a sin- 
gle orchestra-only run-through is enough; less experienced pits may 
benefit from two or more run-throughs. 

3. Sitzprobe (or “sit-n-sing”): the cast performs the songs with the or- 



chestra, but no staging. This exposes any problems of balance or 
cuing. This step is optional, and | often skip it for reasons I'll de- 
scribe later. 

. Tech/dress rehearsals: full rehearsals with staging and orchestra. 

. Production: | usually ask the pit to be prepared for an earlier call 

than usual for the first two shows (typically 45-60 minutes earlier) to 
fix last-minute bugs that didn’t get nailed down during the orchestra- 
only play-throughs. 

5.1 Instrumentation on a Shoestring|............ 91 
a ee a eee eee 92 
5.4 Rehearsal Pianists} ................006. 95 
Seales Gee SG sare eet Re ee a ee we 96 
5.6 Electronic Instruments}.................-. 97 
5.7 Orchestra Rehearsal Venues}..............-. 99 
5.8 Preparing the Book for Rehearsal)............ 101 
5.9 Play-Through and Sitzprobe (Sit-n-Sing)|........ 102 
5.10 Tech Week]... 0... 2. eee ee ee ee eee 106 

5211 Subs] 2 ee be ee oe a ER a BS 107 


5.1 Instrumentation on a Shoestring 

Most small theaters can’t cover all the instruments for anything larger than 
a chamber orchestration because of budget constraints, lack of space to 
seat the musicians, or both. If yours can—perhaps you have access to a 
school band or similar and they can sit in a real full-size pit—then all you 
have to do is get familiar with the instrument books and recruit musicians. 
Congratulations, you’re done! 

Otherwise, you have some choices to make. 

Before you recruit, get a good look at the pit space and estimate how 
many musicians can be accommodated. This is discussed in section|5.7| 

First, check whether a reduced orchestration is available from the li- 
censing house. These arrangements tend to be quite good because they are 
usually prepared by a professional arranger and include extensive cross- 
cuing (which was introduced in section|1.6) to allow more flexibility in the 
composition of the orchestra. 

If a reduction is not available, you can try to reduce the orchestration 
yourself. One easy option is “piano combo” (piano, bass, drums). While 
using piano only might seem an obvious choice, I wouldn’t recommend it 
unless the show is specifically scored that way; even a tiny complement of 
instruments will completely change the sound of the show and move you up 
into a higher league. Adding bass and drums gives the music a tremendous 
amount more backbone and rhythmic “punch” than even the most muscular 
pianist can provide. If bass and drum books are provided, you’re done; if 
not, the bass can be inferred from the piano/conductor book, and a good 
drummer can probably pick up the drum part by listening to the cast album, 
notating the important breaks, and discussing the part with you. 

If you’re willing to invest a bit more time, the next step up would be 
piano combo plus a single soloist—typically a wind player, ideally an ac- 
complished one who can cover multiple instruments. Listeners will hear 
this as a small “orchestra” even though it’s just one additional instrument 
over piano combo because they will hear multiple sound colors in the tonal 
palette. If you can cover some but not all of the instruments, another op- 
tion is to do some reduction, thinning out, or omission of the orchestration. 


Chapter [7| gives some helpful hints about selecting the most important in- 
strument cues when doing this kind of reduction. 

Your recruiting may be subject to the talent available in your area: There 
are fewer tuba players out there than trumpet players, fewer bassoonists 
than clarinetists, and fewer harpists than just about anything. Therefore 
one instrument may have to cover another, or several others, as we discuss 
in Chapter |7| I’ve had good luck using Craigslist to advertise pit work and 
recruit musicians; the Appendix contains a sample posting I’ve used. 

5.2 Recruiting Tips 

A surprising number of amateur musicians, as well as some professionals 
who have a passion for musical theater, are willing to work for minor con- 
sideration such as complimentary tickets, returned favors (you fill in when 
they need a substitute musician in one of their other bands), and/or a ser- 
vice stipend. Where I live, community theaters that can afford to pay such 
stipends typically offer from $25 (at the very low end) to $100 (at the high 
end) per musician per service (performance or rehearsal). This is lower 
than what semi-pro theaters pay and a lot lower than union scale, so be 
aware that musicians who rely on their music for a living may find it dif- 
ficult to absorb the high opportunity cost of working with you. Whatever 
your budget, be up front about it, to avoid wasting your own time and 
that of others who are simply unable to justify working for the pay you can 
offer. And if your budget is zero—if you expect the musicians to play for 
free—say that too. You will still get some volunteers, if not as many or as 
experienced as you might have liked. 

However you recruit, here are some caveats. 

Some technical chops required. While show music is not as demand- 
ing as classical symphonic music, neither is it trivial, and some of the older 
shows have some pretty killer solo parts (the clarinet part in Fiddler is a 
classic example). Be sure the players are technically up to the job, and/or 
supplement them with a few “ringers” to anchor the orchestra. Musicians 
who have played only as part of a section in a larger orchestra may find 
themselves a bit overwhelmed in a small-pit setting where they cannot 


blend with (euphemism for “hide behind”) other members of their section 
when the going gets tough. 

Small pits require better players. If you’re working with a smaller 
pit of 5-10 people—whether it’s because the show is scored that way, or 
because you have to work with reduced resources—be aware that every 
instrument is exposed and you really need solo-quality players to make it 
sound good. 

Ensemble skills help. Playing in an ensemble is a different skill from 
solo playing. While pit playing differs from classical ensemble playing in 
some important ways, classical musicians with orchestra or ensemble expe- 
rience will do well; strong soloists without ensemble experience may find 
it more challenging than they expect. 

Be cautious with rock drummers. A drummer whose experience is 
limited to rock bands may be unable to read drum charts or follow the 
conductor for tempo, cues, and dynamics rather than setting these himself. 
That is, rock drummers may lack orchestral ensemble skills. A less-virtuoso 
drummer who has these skills and can read charts is preferable to a techni- 
cally astonishing drummer who doesn’t. 

Try to get references. I maintain a “personal Rolodex” (actually just a 
big Google Drive spreadsheet) of musicians I’ve worked with. Of course, the 
theaters I work with have their own contact information in the volunteers 
database, but their information is not as detailed as mine (“This accordion 
player can also play harmonica”, “This player has great clarinet chops but 
only so-so flute chops”). Their list also doesn’t include my personal black- 
list: musicians I will no longer work with, not because of poor playing, but 
because they have flaked out on previous commitments and left me hold- 
ing the bag at the last minute, or have been difficult for other musicians to 
work with. Neither I nor many of the people I work with on these shows 
are in it for the money, which in my view means I can justifiably reserve the 
right not to work with jerks. 


5.3 The Mighty Piano, or Pit Piano for Classical Pianists 

The piano’s role in modern pit orchestras is so important that it deserves 
its own section. In arrangements that include an actual piano part (Rent, 
Godspell, A Chorus Line, Chicago, Ragtime, Pippin... ), the piano is the back- 
bone of the rhythm section. In arrangements that don’t, the pianist may 
cover a good deal of what’s in the conductor’s score if you have less than 
the full complement of musicians called for by the orchestration. (In Sec- 
tion [7.4] are some hints for the pianist who finds herself handed the con- 
ductor book and instructed to “fill in the gaps.”) Either way, the pianist 
cannot “hide” behind any other instrument and must play with confidence. 
Note that sightreading isn’t a prerequisite for pit piano (though it may be 
for rehearsal piano; see below). 

I was classically trained when I started doing pit work, and I had to 
break a number of bad habits. Most of them boil down to the realization 
that the piano’s role in a pit is fundamentally that of a rhythm instrument, 
not a solo instrument. Even classical ensemble work doesn’t place as much 
pressure on the pianist to handle this responsibility. As such, you may find 
yourself having to break some habits of your own, including these two: 

Beat down, not up. Many classical pianists have a habit of “recoiling” 
from playing a big chord by having their head and body move back or 
slightly up as their fingers push down on the keyboard. Unfortunately, this 
is exactly the opposite of what your musicians probably expect, which is a 
rising motion on the pickup and a downward motion on the downbeat (or 
ictus). Train yourself so that your head and body make a downward, not 
upward, motion when you play on the beat. If your head or body is moving 
up or backwards on beat 1, instead of down or forwards, your musicians 
will be confused. 

Bass and chords trump melody. In fact, unless you’re in an instru- 
mental section (overture, underscoring, and so on), the singer(s) are al- 
ready singing the melody, they don’t need you to play it, and playing along 
with them will probably make things worse because you won’t be precisely 
synchronized with them. What they do need is to hear some structure 
in the music: rhythm and harmony. The bass line and chords give them 


this. If you have a bass player, make sure you are “locking up” with her 
(tight ensemble) if you’re doubling the bass line on piano; don’t play a bass 
line that is in any way different unless you’re sure you know what you’re 
doing—instead use the piano to strengthen and solidify the existing bass 
part. If you don’t have a bass player, it’s that much more important that 
the bassline you play be crisp, rhythmic, and audible. Even in the absence 
of chords, the bassline at least suggests harmonies and serves as an anchor 
for the singers. 

5.4 Rehearsal Pianists 

Some productions budget for a rehearsal pianist; others assume that you, 
the MD, will do that job (as well as the job of conducting the orchestra). 
Still others budget a total amount for all music-related expenses and it’s up 
to you to figure out how to spend it. In an case, be aware that a rehearsal 
with a bad pianist is worse than a rehearsal with no pianist, and almost 
worse than no rehearsal at all. As above, getting the rhythm and basic 
chord changes correct are far more important than playing all the right 
notes. A good rehearsal pianist is a confident player who can slop her 
way through something given a few days’ time with the rehearsal score. 
A great rehearsal pianist is a good rehearsal pianist who has played this 
show before or is otherwise familiar with it. Good (and great) rehearsal 
pianists are hard to find, so if you find ones that you like working with, do 
everything you can to make them happy. 

Rehearsals where there will be lots of drilling of music or adjustment 
of choreography really need a rehearsal pianist, but rehearsals where mu- 
sic is not the emphasis—scene blocking, run-throughs, and so on—may be 
able to make do with “karaoke tracks” prepared by you in advance, as Sec- 

tion|A.3] describes. 


5.5 Strings 

The string parts in show scores fall into two categories. “Traditional” scores 
call for a string section of 6-12 players. If you can recruit, pay, and seat that 
many string players, good for you. If you can’t, please resist the temptation 
to have, say, a string quartet stand in for a full string section written in the 
score. Besides the volume balance not being right, the intonation probably 
won't be right. Tiny variations in intonation actually add warmth to a string 
section, but stick out like a sore thumb when the strings are individually 
exposed. An exception is the cello: a good cello player can probably hold 
down the cello “section” because of the size and warmth of the instrument. 

The other category of show score calls for a small number (1-3) of solo 
string players, with very exposed parts. For example, A Grand Night For 
Singing calls for a single cello, a reed player, and a rhythm section. Next to 
Normal includes cello, violin, guitar and piano. In these cases, intonation 
problems will be mercilessly audible and you need particularly strong en- 
semble players to avoid them. Unfortunately, strings are highly idiomatic 
to write for, and inexperienced arrangers sometimes end up writing string 
parts that only an extremely strong player can handle. 

Because both scores with large string sections and scores requiring a 
small number of solo-quality players present real challenges, many modern 
show scores (especially for smaller pits) omit strings altogether, as do many 
re-orchestrations of revived shows, in favor of a leaner sound and fewer 

Lastly, accomplished arranger Don Sebesky writes “There have been sev- 
eral attempts to get a large string ensemble to swing, but to my knowledge, 

none has ever been very successful” (Sebesky, |The Contemporary Arranger, 
Definitive Edition). If your show’s string parts involve the kind of com- 

plex polyrhythms of jazz and Latin music—The Last Five Years is a good 
example—it may be worth the extra effort to seek out string players who 
also have jazz or world music experience and are comfortable with such 


5.6 Electronic Instruments 

Synthetic instruments. High-end synthetic instrument servers designed 
for live performance, such as those provided by Apple MainStage and sim- 
ilar high-end products, have come to sound incredibly good. However, be- 
ware: making them sound like realistic substitutes for acoustic instruments 
also requires “playing” them the way the acoustic instruments would be 
played. String players pay a lot of attention to bowing and articulation; 
woodwind players must breathe; and so on. Unless you are confident that 
you can do this, you might be better served omitting those instrument parts, 
or assigning them to other instruments, as Chapter|7|suggests. 

Synthesizers. Synths are becoming more common not only in small or- 
chestras, but in original orchestrations. Synths appear not only in rock/pop 
scores like Rent and Little Shop of Horrors, but are also called for to provide 
essential effects in modern scores like Sunday in the Park with George and 
Into the Woods. 

Synths are sometimes used to substitute for string sections, to add 
midrange to the sound, or to produce unusual percussion sounds such as a 
xylophone or marimba that would otherwise require a specialist. Whether 
to use a synthesizer in this way is a matter of taste: to make them sound 
truly realistic, you need good sound samples, a very good sound repro- 
duction system, and capable sound operators. And as with electronic in- 
struments, you must be able to perform the part as a string section would. 
Depending on the sound you are able to achieve, omitting the string part 
entirely may be preferable. 

If you lack a bass player, covering bass on synth is an option, but usually 
a bad one. A real bass can provide so much backbone and punch, even 
with a small amp and electric bass, that synth bass should be considered an 
option of last resort (unless, of course, the score specifically calls for synth 
bass for stylistic reasons). 

Digital vs. Acoustic Pianos. A lot of theaters are now preferring 
digital pianos over acoustic uprights. While not cheap, digital pianos are 
maintenance-free, easy to move, easy to make louder or softer, and often 
capable of making other sounds (organ, electric piano, and so on) that ren- 


der them useful in situations where space is at a premium. Some advanced 
models also have features like automatic transposition, which seems like a 
boon but is really an accident waiting to happen when you forget to turn it 
back off after playing the one song that was transposed. 

The downside is that even a really good digital piano must be properly 
amplified and reproduced through an excellent sound system in order to 
sound like an acoustic piano, and much of the “liveness” associated with 
an acoustic-instrument sound may be gone. I prefer a run-of-the-mill up- 
right piano over a digital piano if at all possible, but budget or technical 
considerations may dictate your choice; for example, you may need both 
a piano sound and an organ sound, and lack room for two instruments. If 
you do use a digital piano, make the most of it, perhaps by also using it 
for sound effects, other percussion (xylophones, bells, gongs), eerie back- 
ground noises, and so on 

In a few cases, dramatic considerations may intervene. For example, 
both Chicago, which takes place in the 1920s, and A Little Night Music, 
which takes place at the turn of the 20th century, require a piano on stage 
as part of the action. As there were no digital pianos available back then, 
the dramatic rationale of preserving a “period look” may carry the day (as- 
suming the stage piano can double as the orchestra piano). Another option 
is to have a real but nonworking stage piano and play the actual piano 
parts on a digital piano in the pit, but this only works if you can stage so 
that there is no way for the audience to tell the onstage player isn’t really 
playing. Otherwise it looks and sounds so cheesy that it’s hard for me to 
recommend (though that doesn’t stop a lot of theaters from doing it). 

Drum Machines. Unless the show specifically calls for one (Rent, 
Chess), a tiny, 3-piece trap set, heavily muffled, sounds much more acous- 
tically interesting than a drum machine. Electronic drums performed by 
a human drummer may be appropriate if the show has a rock score with 
which an amplified drum sound would fit. 


5.7 Orchestra Rehearsal Venues 

Make sure you have adequate rehearsal space for the orchestra rehearsal. 
Rehearsing in the theater is ideal for working out issues of seating, bal- 
ance and sightlines, but sometimes the theater is not available because it’s 
needed for stage rehearsal or tech work. When choosing a rehearsal space, 
keep in mind: 

e Will all the musicians fit? 

If a piano is needed, is one present in the rehearsal room or does one 
need to be brought in? 

Are there music stands and stand lights? Can some musicians bring 
their own? 

Are there power outlets and/or extension cords for plugging in am- 
plifiers, electronic keyboards, stand lights, and so on? 

Are the acoustics at least tolerable? (A church is not a great place to 
have an orchestra rehearsal.) 

There’s also the important question of where the pit is located during 
actual performances, which you should investigate early even if you’re not 
rehearsing the orchestra in the theater. If you have a real full-size pit in 
front of your stage, you’re lucky and probably in the minority of people 
reading this. This is logistically the easiest arrangement from the point 
of view of doing your job (as conductor and MD), though often the least 
popular among the musicians, who don’t get to watch the show as they 
play because most of their seats are shoved under the apron of the stage. 
It also means your theater is large enough that you probably will have to 
use microphones and a sound system to balance the orchestra and singers, 
which is astonishingly hard to get right, even in “simple” cases (see Camp- 
bell, Technical Theater For Nontechnical People| for an excellent discussion). 
Pll assume you are not using microphones and will discuss some ways to 
address balance problems without using a sound system. 


More common is a smaller “pit” that is offstage, backstage, upstage, in 
a loft, in the wings, and so on Some important considerations for you to 
think about regarding the pit space: 

e Space: Map out where the musicians will actually sit. An upright or 
digital piano’s footprint is about 4’x4’, including the seated player; a 
minimal trap set, 5’x5’; seated soloists (small winds and strings), at 
least 3’x4’; seated soloists on large instruments (cello, large winds) or 
who double, 4’x4 or more if they cover lots of instruments. Also, an 
upright bass (vs. electric or “Fender” bass) player needs somewhere 
to lean the bass when he’s not playing. 

e Acoustics: Is the pit closer to the audience than the actors are (e.g., 
in an overhead loft that is actually closer to the audience’s heads than 
the actors are)? If so, unless it’s a real pit, your balance and volume 
problems may be severe unless you take many steps to compensate: 
install sound damping (big chunks of foam or blankets), use mutes 
more often, tone down all dynamics by a notch, and so on Similarly, 
if the orchestra is higher off the ground than the actors, this will tend 
to amplify the instruments. 

e Eye contact: in general, can you see the onstage performers and can 
they see you? It’s not necessary to have 100% unobstructed view of 
every performer all the time, but in general, someone on stage will 
need to see you for cues and you'll need pretty good peripheral vision 
to the stage. 

There is a temptation, especially when you have a few electronic in- 
struments like digital pianos or guitar/bass amplifiers, to send only these 
few instruments through a house sound system while leaving the others 
unmiked or using only their own small amps. This destroys the illusion of 
having all the music appear to come from the same approximate location, 
whether the overhead house speakers or someplace onstage, and can be 
disorienting for the audience. It also makes it impossible to use dynamics 
to control the balance among instruments. Don’t do it. 


5.8 Preparing the Book for Rehearsal 

Well before the orchestra rehearsal, you should be in a position to collate 
your book. This involves arranging the pages to meet several goals. (I 
assume here that you’re working from a photocopy of the original mate- 
rials; if you’re using the actual book that was sent to you, your ability to 
rearrange pages is very limited.) 

e Remove material that has been cut. 

e If numbers have been moved or duplicated (e.g., re-using a chunk 
of scene change music or underscoring), make additional copies to 
insert in the right sequence in the book so you don’t have to flip back 
and forth during performance. 

If there is a tricky page turn, re-photocopy the pages by inserting 
blanks to avoid the bad page turn. 

Highlight important cues—vocal, instrument cues, scene changes, 
stage actions that you need to be aware of, and so on Use a bright 
yellow highlighter, because during the performance you'll be glad you 

Highlight warnings (so you can get musicians’ attention to start a 
number) and segues (so you know to keep their attention when a 
number is finished). 

You should also have your musicians tell you which entrances in which 
songs are uncertain for them, and highlight those entrances. For example, 
if the trumpet has 40 bars of rest before her first entrance in a song, she can 
write in the last couple of lines the singer is singing before she comes in (or 
if there’s no appropriate line, write in something like “2 measures after the 
vocals come in,” or “after flute solo,” and so on), and you can highlight her 
entrance and mark “Cue tpt” to remind yourself to give her a special cue. 
Some instrument books have such cues written in, and many conductor’s 
scores have the cues written in so you can give them to musicians while 


playing. This preparation will speed things up a lot during dress rehearsals 
when the show has to be stopped (and it will). 

Be sure measure numbers are clearly written in the score; as a last re- 
sort, you or another musician can stage-whisper measure numbers to a 
musician who’s lost. You'll sometimes find that measure numbering is in- 
consistent between the books and the conductor’s score, or that certain 
measures appear to have been added or deleted in one or the other. This is 
less common with modern scores that are machine-typeset, but try to catch 
these during orchestra rehearsal! 

mg Musicians should collate their books too 

This is especially important if a sub may be needed. Under emergency 
conditions, a good sub can play a show “cold,” i.e. with less than 1 hour 
of preparation, from a well-marked-up book. It’s your musicians’ job to 
use the cut sheet to create that markup: cuts, vamps, special performance 
markings (fermatas, unusual conducting, going to double-time or half-time, 
and so on) should all be marked—you’ll be amazed how often the instru- 
ment books display these minor inconsistencies—and where necessary, an- 
notated as to how the cue will be given. 

5.9 Play-Through and Sitzprobe (Sit-n-Sing) 

By the time you rehearse the orchestra, you'll probably have played whole 
scenes, if not whole acts, with the cast. This means you know where many 
of the dialog cues, stops, and so on all are; which songs may have to be 
transposed or have cuts; and so on. You can use this information in various 
ways when preparing for the orchestra play-through. 

Remind less-experienced musicians that they’re expected to come to or- 
chestra rehearsal already able to play their parts; there will be plenty to 
fix during rehearsals—tricky entrances, transitions, dynamic changes, bal- 
ance, and so on This is especially important in more recent shows with 
smaller orchestras where the instrument parts are very exposed, and mu- 
sicians who don’t know their parts won’t be able to “hide” behind other 
players in their section as they might try to do in a larger orchestra. 


Here are a few of the most common problems with the conducting or 
arrangements that may be exposed at the play-through, or if you’re hav- 
ing multiple orchestra rehearsals, that you can prepare for as you go into 

mw Budget 30 extra minutes 

During the first orchestra rehearsal—or at least, the first one actually held 
in the performance space—plan to fritter away about 30 minutes futzing 
with the orchestra setup: how are the chairs and music stands arranged? 
Do you need to run extension chords to plug in amplifiers, synthesizers 
or stand lights? Do all the musicians have a reasonable sight line to the 
conductor? This all takes time but usually has to be done only once. Add 
30 minutes to your first rehearsal to accommodate it. 

Tricky Entrances. By now you’ve read a good book on conducting 
(right?) and maybe even looked at Chapter |6| and you realize that there’s 
no single right way to conduct tricky entrances. The play-through is the 
time to clarify how you're going to conduct each one, or to try a couple 
of methods and see which one works best. For example, for an entrance 
on beat 3, are you going to conduct the whole measure starting from the 
downbeat? Or are you just going to give beat 2 as a pickup? Are you going 
to conduct a full measure going into any of the songs (“1 for nothing”) or 
just give a pickup? Write down (and highlight!) what you’re going to do, 
and make sure the musicians do too. Having them write it clearly makes it 
easier for a sub to fill in later if needed. 

A special case of a tricky entrance is a button, the punch at the end of 
the song that signals the audience to applaud. These are worth practicing 
because they are the last thing the audience hears in that song, and they 
won't likely forgive sloppiness there. For similar reasons, make sure the 
overture and finale are flawless! And while scene change music often gets 
short shrift during rehearsals, it is one of the few times that the audience is 
probably listening intently to the orchestra, so it’s worth doing right. 

Vamps and Repeats. Set aside time during a rehearsal to actually time 
the dialogue or stage action and figure out how long it will take; you may 
have to shorten the underscoring by cutting measures, or lengthen it by 


repeating parts of it or by marking certain measures as vamps or safety 
measures (see Section 6.8). They will doubtless change when you go into 
full rehearsals, but have a definite plan for every such point. How many 
times are repeated sections played? What’s the cue to come out of a vamp? 
Are some vamps going to be ignored? 

Typos in the Score. Surprisingly often, especially with older hand- 
copied instrument books, there are inconsistencies between the instrument 
parts and the conductor’s score. These can include differently-numbered 
measures, differently-marked cuts and vamps, and just plain wrong notes. 
(Although be careful of concluding that a note is wrong without careful in- 
vestigation. Some scores, notably Sondheim’s, have eclectic harmonies that 
can sound wrong initially, especially if you’re playing a spare orchestration 
like Jonathan Tunick’s with only a subset of the indicated instruments, or if 
there are minor tuning issues among the instrument sections.) 

“Holes” In The Arrangement. Most community theater orchestras are 
resource-limited and can’t supply the full instrumentation required by the 
score, so you will find yourself making decisions about which instruments 
or parts to omit. We'll discuss this in detail in Chapter [7| but you may 
find during the play-through that your reduction results in an unpleasant 
surprise—a “hole” in the arrangement where some part of the texture just 
seems to fall out of the music. You may have to fix this outside rehearsal 
and communicate the changes to your musicians before the sit-n-sing. If 
you had to do a lot of arranging or reduction, this is a good reason to have 
the play-through and sit-n-sing (see below) on different days; if not, it’s 
probably fine to have them on the same day, since the orchestra will get to 
play the score twice and you'll save on having to schedule another group 

@ No hiding 

Holes can also happen because a player is “hiding” or not playing confi- 
dently during a certain passage. If she’s having a lot of trouble with a 
passage, it may be best to simplify it. See Chapter[7] for some hints. 

Bring out important lines. Especially if you have reduced the orches- 


z — 




(Hi hat] YT p 
re 2 Pa 

fate 99 
se a TOP Pp pt Dp 

Figure 5.1: The complex polyrhythm in this example between the bass, piano, and percussion is 
particularly tricky since the transition into it also has a tempo and time signature change, but 
locking this groove is what makes this part of the song “pick up.” (Have I Got a Girl For You from 



a — A 
ee ee ee ee ee ee ee eee eee ee eee ee ee ee ee ee 

— oo aT 

Figure 5.2: This figure is straightforward to play on the piano, but tricky to conduct in ensemble 
because (a) the guitar and cello 2 have the (syncopated) bottom line while the violin and cello 1 
have the top line, and (b) cello 1 has that eighth-note pickup. (The Next Ten Minutes from The Last 
Five Years) 

tration, be sure you know what the important counter-lines are and that 
they are brought out. The additional texture of counterpoint lines is a lot 
of what makes the arrangement sound full. We’ll return to this topic in 

Tight Rhythmic Ensemble. Look for the rhythmic figures in the score 
that are most audible and will therefore make the ensemble sound “tight”. 
Syncopations and polyrhythms are often the place to start looking, as the 
examples in Figures and suggest. 

Sins of Omission vs. Sins of Commission. Don’t be afraid to leave 
notes out if there is a passage that is so demanding that some of your 
musicians are simply not quite up to it. In most cases, wrong notes are far 


more noticeable than omitted notes. There is no embarrassment in making 
some adjustments this way—remember the First Goal of the Orchestra. 

Once the orchestra has played through the score as an ensemble, some 
directors like to do a sitzprobe (sometimes called the sit-n-sing): the cast 
will sing the songs with orchestra accompaniment, but no blocking, chore- 
ography, or cuing, just so that the cast and orchestra get accustomed to 
each other. The cast is usually very excited about it, since up to that point 
they probably have only rehearsed with piano. 

Some singers may get completely lost, off-pitch, and so on the first time 
they sing with the orchestra, often because they are subconsciously relying 
on something in the rehearsal-piano accompaniment as a cue. (For this 
reason, it’s good to have a competent rehearsal pianist who can stick close 
to the notes when playing the piano reduction in the piano/vocal score; the 
reductions are usually pretty close to the orchestration in terms of bringing 
out important instrumental lines that singers may cue from.) 

I have found that with experienced casts and orchestras, a sitzprobe 
doesn’t add much: the tricky part is putting it all together when the singers 
are on stage and moving around, rather than sitting in chairs watching your 
cues. But if your singers or orchestra are inexperienced, a sitzprobe is fun 
and may serve as a good “dry run” before the full dress rehearsals. 

5.10 Tech Week 

This is it: tech rehearsals are just like playing the show, though the first 
one (or two) may have a lot of starts and stops. This is your opportunity 
to identify mundane but important issues in performing the score under 
realistic conditions, for example: 

e Note stage directions that affect the orchestra (e.g. “Turn off stand 
lights prior to blackout”). It helps for the pit to know what’s happen- 
ing onstage that motivates the non-musical cues. 

e Note places where the orchestra must avoid drawing attention to it- 
self, whether aurally or visually. For example, during a quiet moment 
or dramatic pause in songs or dialogue, avoid extraneous noises such 



SUBS 107 

as turning pages, swapping instruments, silent/muted “practicing” of 
passages (as reed players do), taking a sip from a bottle of water, or 
opening that magazine they brought because there’s a 20-minute gap 
in the music during Act I. 

Some issues of balance won’t emerge until tech. Be prepared to do 
last-minute arranging or adjusting using the techniques covered in 
Chapter |7| In particular, you may find moments where singers are 
softer/less audible than they were at the sitzprobe, e.g. because they 
are far upstage or for some other staging-related reason. 

During the first couple of runs with the cast, the orchestra will likely 
be too loud. This is because they are thinking more about technical 
things (playing the right notes, following cues) than about dynamics, 
and the problem tends to go away during tech week. Make sure the 
cast understands this so they do not panic or burn out their voices 
trying to sing over the orchestra. 

That said, when the orchestra really is too loud, it’s usually the 
rhythm section, since they’re always playing. Except in very dense 
arrangements, horns and other solo instruments usually don’t play 
often enough to be a persistent cause of being too loud. 

m Keep your chin up 

I’ve found that usually the low point is the second-to-last tech rehearsal—I 
don’t know why. Often, that rehearsal seems to go worse than the ones 
before it. Invariably, things pick up again at the last tech, so hang in there. 


If you can’t get people to commit to all the dates due to schedule conflicts, 
or if late-breaking conflicts arise (as they often do), you may have to lo- 
cate subs for certain musicians on certain nights. If you have an orchestra 


manager (Chapter[I), it may be their job to advertise and recruit, but you'll 
probably still want to vet the sub at some level. 

If there is no orchestra manager, then you should be clear with your pri- 
mary musicians whether it’s their responsibility or yours to identify subs. 
Subs are at a disadvantage because they haven’t been rehearsing with your 
ensemble (usually), so if anything a sub needs to be a stronger player than 
the one she’s sitting in for. Good subs are hard to find and often more 
expensive than the player they replace, especially on short notice. As men- 
tioned in Section [5.8| the sub will rely on the musician to have annotated 
the book as to how each situation will be handled during a performance, 
and the sub will rely on these markings being complete and legible, which 
in practice often isn’t the case. 

I like to have a sub play at least one rehearsal before playing in a show. 
If this absolutely impossible, I ask the sub to attend a performance and take 
notes in her copy of the book regarding cues, vamps, and so on. I also try 
to have the sub arrive 45-60 minutes before orchestra call to go through 
the book with me, using my conductor’s score as a reference and making 
sure all their cuts, fermatas, and so on are properly notated. 

Some continuity in an orchestra is good: it’s much easier to plug a sub 
into an otherwise cohesive pit, so if you can avoid having multiple subs 
start on the same day, do so. In particular, having some continuity from 
tech week into the first few performances of the run really helps, since that 
is when the pace and timing really start to solidify. 

5.11. SUBS 109 


When most people think of the “conductor,” they think of someone standing 
on a podium, wearing a tux and waving a stick around. In fact, the con- 
ductor is whoever holds the orchestra together and glues it to the on-stage 
performers. When the orchestra changes tempo, starts on a cue, starts 
or exits a vamp, and so on, one person must set the tempo, make a cue 
happen at the same time for the musicians and the cast, or decide when a 
vamp is over; the conductor performs these functions. 

The piano/conductor role is a particularly challenging combination be- 
cause it requires you to constantly alternate between two roles that call 
for completely different attitudes towards performance. In the conductor 
role, you must make decisions and telegraph your every intention to the 
musicians; in the piano role, you must play like a good rhythm instrument. 
In other words, you have to switch between leading the ensemble of mu- 
sicians through starts, stops, and tempo changes, and playing as part of 
that ensemble when nothing is changing. This chapter gives suggestions 
on how and when to switch between those roles, and warns of common 
pitfalls that can happen when one role spills over into the other. 

6.1 Pit Conducting vs. Other Conducting Gigs}. ...... 113 
6.2 From Pianist to Piano/Conductor}............ 114 
6.3 Hands-Free Conducting] ................. 116 

6.4 The Secret Language of the Piano/Conductor Score} . 119 
6.5 Script Cues: Segues and Safeties and Vamps, Oh My}. 122 
6.6 Warnings and Starts) ................... 126 



6.7 Tempo Changes, Fermatas, Track Marks, Dictated| . . 127 
6.8 Vamps and Safeties|..................2. 128 

6.9 Underscoring|.................22208- 130 


6.1 Pit Conducting vs. Other Conducting Gigs 

There’s a pile of fine books on conducting, and many bad ones that sound 
pretentious. My favorite for down-to-earth concise advice is McElheran, 
If you've done some 
conducting before, you have a head start. If you haven’t, then please go 
read that book, or a comparably good one, before continuing! There isn’t 
nearly enough space here to even review the basics, nor could I pretend 
to do justice to the topic the way McElheran does. If you’re in a hurry, 
you can check this book’s website |pianoconductor . com|for suggestions on 
online resources and even videos to help you learn the basics. The rest of 
this section will assume that you have basic knowledge of the mechanics of 

If you’ve done orchestral conducting, you should be in good shape. The 
main difference is that you may find yourself having to play piano (or some 
other instrument) and conduct at the same time, and/or you may find that 
you're both conducting the pit and cuing actors. Section [6.3] explains the 
secrets (such as they are) of “hands-free conducting” to help you with this. 

If you’ve done choral conducting, bear in mind that the fluid motions 
favored by many choral conductors may not work well. In instrumental 
conducting, the players need a definite ictus (beginning of the beat pe- 
riod) delineated by the “bounce” on each beat, making the beginning of 
the beat an unambiguous instant in time. Fluid motions work well for 
choirs because of the naturally soft “attack” of an ensemble of voices, but 
in an instrumental situation, fluid conducting just obscures where the ac- 
tual downbeat is, and makes for a mushy ensemble. 

Some people find the image of “dipping your finger quickly in water” 
helps make the bounce definite; others swear that this imagery leads to 
jerky and difficult-to-follow conducting and should be avoided. A surefire 
way to evaluate yourself is to watch yourself in the mirror, or even better, 
constantly ask your musicians how you could improve—after all, they’re 
the ones who have to follow you. 

Whether you have previous experience or not, the new ingredient in pit 
conducting is that the music has to follow the stage action, so there are 


probably some new conducting situations—vamps, safeties, starts/stops, 
underscoring—that you may not be familiar with. In all such situations, I 
find these three guidelines particularly useful to remember: 

Precision. The musicians must know exactly where the downbeats are, 
as described above. This is largely a matter of technique—practicing in a 
mirror or with your musicians is the best way to improve. 

Confidence. Don’t be wimpy. Entrances must be absolutely unambigu- 
ous to distinguish them from conducting through rests, setting tempo be- 
fore a cue, and so on; use whatever body language you have to. It’s better 
to err on the side of too much and adjust later. 

Consistency. Once you’ve identified a particular way that a certain cue 
or entrance in the score will be conducted, do it the same way every time. 
This means every time the cue is played is one more opportunity to further 
tighten your ensemble. 

Of course, the most important uber-guideline is: Get feedback. If your 
musicians have trouble following you, it doesn’t matter whether you think 
it’s your fault or their fault: you must change what you’re doing. Ask them 
for constructive criticism frequently and use it as an opportunity to improve 
your skill and your versatility. 

6.2 From Pianist to Piano/Conductor 

Piano/Conductor is a common dual role because of the piano’s role as a 
rhythm instrument and a substitute for missing instruments and because of 
limited personnel budgets. 

mg Other combinations 

Drummer/conductor and other combinations are possible too; in commu- 
nity theater, you have to be willing to improvise a little. 

The piano/conductor role is challenging because it is really two roles 
that call for quite different attitudes towards performance, and a pi- 
anist/conductor must be constantly alternating between the two. In the 
conductor role, you must telegraph every intention; in the piano role, you 


must perform like a good ensemble rhythm instrument. Sometimes you 
have to do both, for example, holding down a vamp on piano while also con- 
ducting and telegraphing when to come out of the vamp. In most scores, 
neither the piano part nor the cues to be conducted are technically exhaust- 
ing, but constantly switching back and forth between the roles certainly can 

In the role of conductor, the most important task is to telegraph every 
intention. This is most challenging for pianists coming into the conductor 
role. The players cannot see your hands to know where the beats are, nor 
should they have to. This means you should more or less “perform the 
score” with your head, eyebrows, limbs, or other body parts marking the 
beats. (See Section [6.3] below for some specific ways to do this.) It’s not 
too much of an exaggeration to say that a deaf person should be able to 
more or less figure out where you are in the score based on such cues. And 
musicians need time to react; if you’re going to cut them off, give a full 
count of preparation before the cutoff gesture; to give them a pickup, make 
sure it’s a full beat unit in the current meter; and so on. 

Bear in mind you need to be “performing” the beats even when you are 
not playing them (such as when the piano is tacet or just playing long held 
notes or “footballs”), since other instruments may have rhythm and they all 
need to be together too. This is especially true when there are temporary 
tempo changes like ritards, fermatas, or accelerandos. You may be playing 
half notes through those measure, but if the cello is playing eighth notes, 
she cannot follow your ritard unless you’re conducting quarter notes, either 
with your hands or using other body language. 

Once a song goes into “time”—that is, once it’s underway and there 
aren’t any cues to worry about for awhile—the pianist/conductor must now 
assume the piano role, which as Section|5.3|describes is the role of arhythm 
instrument. The rhythm section now owns the tempo, and the pianists’s job 
is to listen and form tight ensemble with them. In modern pits, the rhythm 
section is usually piano, bass, drums, and possibly guitar. In older scores, 
the strings may be keeping time (see Section|7.4), although even then, the 
drummer is the best rhythmic reference. 

There are two big pitfalls that can occur when you are trying to do both 


tasks at once: 

e Don’t speed up in vamps. In a vamp, your “conductor brain” is con- 
centrated on the stage action so you can come out of the vamp at the 
right time. Unfortunately, it’s easy for your “rhythm brain” to thereby 
be shortchanged, and a typical side effect is that you will speed up. 
If you were just the rhythm instrument following another conductor, 
this would be caught early, but accidentally slowing down when you 
are the conductor is a risk. The remedy is to devote some fraction of 
your energy to staying in time. 

Don’t get louder as you speed up or vice versa. In fairness, many 
classical pianists have this fault even when they don’t also have to 
conduct, but again, when the pianist is the conductor, the stakes are 
higher. Practicing with a metronome helps check yourself. 

6.3. Hands-Free Conducting 

Although we'll discuss several strategies for hands-free conducting, giving 
cues, and so on, all of them are based on the same fundamental “body 
language” as conventional conducting with your hands. So even if you 
expect to have to do a lot of hands-free work, it’s worth developing a solid 
conventional conducting technique as the foundation. If you don’t have 
such experience, some experience playing piano in an ensemble will help. 

Many musical theater conductors use one hand to conduct the orchestra 
and the other to help conduct or cue the singers. If you have the luxury of 
having both hands free and can teach yourself to do this, great, but in the 
piano/conductor role it’s limited to stretches where the piano doesn’t play, 
which are rare. For the vast majority of times when you have one or zero 
hands free, here are some tricks that can help. 

One hand conducts, one hand plays. As described in Chapter|7| many 
older scores rely on a large group of strings as the “rhythm section”. By 
conducting with your right hand, your left hand is free to play some of this 
rhythm on the piano. This is a tricky but useful skill to develop. You may 
find yourself sometimes conducting with one hand while playing the piano 


with the other. Sometimes you can do some re-voicing of chords to free up 
one hand for conducting if need be. You'll be a real hero if you can learn to 
use either hand to conduct while the other plays. 

Conducting with your head. Conductors already rely on body lan- 
guage; you just have to take it to a greater extreme when you lose the use 
of your hands for conducting. Think of your nose as the baton and conduct 
with your head. Use your whole body for emphasis: rise up off the bench 
somewhat in preparation for a downbeat, e.g., and then use smaller bobs 
of the head to keep the beat. (Think of it as “bouncing to the beat,” as you 
might do in your car when a really good song is on the radio.) But keep 
these movements subtle or they become distracting; my experience is that 
even when the musicians are pretty far away from you, subtle movements 
are surprisingly effective. 

A particularly good use of this technique, even when a song has al- 
ready gone into time, is conducting tricky or compound rhythms. Referring 
back to Figure[3.9] a slight pickup before the two accented eighth notes on 
counts 4-5 of each 5/8 measure may help the orchestra stay together the 
first few times they play the song together. 

m Play on the ictus, not before it 

Remember that the point where you “bounce” (change direction) defines 
the ictus of the beat, so if you’re playing the piano while bouncing, be sure 
that your playing matches the ictus. The tendency is for the playing to 
slightly anticipate the ictus because most pianists are accustomed to using 
the downward portion of the “bounce” as momentum to start playing, as 
opposed to playing at the moment of the bottom of the bounce. If in doubt, 
play a tiny bit later than you think you should. 

You can similarly suggest dynamics by rising up or lengthening your 
posture to indicate “more” and crouching or hunching down to indicate 
“less”. It’s all about force of will—use your eyebrows, shoulders, facial 
expressions, or whatever else conveys the dynamic you want (louder, softer, 
more intense, mellow out, slow down, and so on) Don’t overdo it; you'll 
find your sweet spot eventually. 


Setting initial tempo without using your hands. Since the drummer 
or rhythm section can hold down the basic beat very well once things are 
underway, one trick is to set the tempo well before the song starts. During 
pre-song dialogue, start conducting full measures in the target tempo, in a 
subtle way that all the musicians can see. Then, when it’s time to play, you 
can just conduct a pickup beat with your head. 

A major pitfall for conductors is setting an inappropriate initial tempo. 
If you err on the side of too fast, the singers will be in trouble; too slow, 
and cues may be in trouble. Metronome markings help (if you have a silent 
metronome!), but you can also sing the lyrics to yourself to make sure it’s 
not too fast. It’s hard to recover from an inappropriate starting tempo since 
you won’t have the use of your hands to call attention to slowing down. 

Giving vocal pickups. Silently mouthing the words for onstage singers 
may be helpful now and then, but if the conductor’s face is in full or partial 
view of the audience, it’s very distracting to the audience. (Also, you don’t 
want the singers to rely on this as a crutch.) If you do it, give a visible 
(but not audible!) “pickup breath” in rhythm, giving it a full beat unit 
if at all possible, whether it’s a true pickup beat or just the beat prior to 
the vocal entry. For example, for a vocal entry on count 3 in 4/4, the 
preparation breath is on count 2. (This is the same technique you should 
advise singers to use for themselves to come in strong on entrances, as 
Section |4.4]describes.) 

The rest of this chapter has some hints on how to conduct the various 
constructs that are mostly unique to theater. 


m Practice the Cues During Cast Rehearsals 

When you're rehearsing piano-only with the cast, pretend the orchestra is 
there and is expecting to be conducted and cued: Give the drummer that 
starting tempo. Cue that trumpet player who’s been resting for 40 bars. 
Slow the players down at that tenuto or cut them off after that fermata. To 
do these things, you’ll need a free hand, an eyebrow, or some other bodily 
motion; practicing these during regular rehearsals will make you aware of 
which limbs are available. If you’re playing the piano as well as conducting, 
you may have to do some planning in order to have a limb or other bodily 
feature free to give these cues. Now is a good time to start thinking about 
how you will do it. 

6.4 The Secret Language of the Piano/Conductor Score 

A key goal of the music copyist is to achieve clarity of what is to be played 
using the minimum possible number of marks on the page. Various short- 
cuts have evolved to serve this purpose, as Figure |6.1]shows. 

If you’re lucky, your score will have measure numbers or letters, for easy 
reference during rehearsal. Even if you have measure numbers, don’t be 
surprised if there are gaps in the middle of the sequence (such as jumping 
from measure 55 to 88) or measures inserted with a different numbering 
(such as inserting measures 16A through 16H between measure 16 and 
17). These edits usually reflect changes made very late during the rehearsal 
process of the original show. 

Here’s a brief review of theater score terminology to anchor the rest of 
the chapter: 

e Vamp: A few bars of music during a song (typically 2-4) repeated 
while an event of indeterminate length is going on—spoken dialogue, 
dancers getting into position, or whatever. 

e Safety: Similar to a vamp, a safety is a measure or a repeat to be 
played only if needed; it’s up to the conductor to come up with a “call 
sign” indicating whether it’s needed during a given performance. 



a a 
oe 8 = o = = = = = = e os i—¢ 
.Sail - or has a ship - mate while at sea, - - - - - There's a 
5 Zz Zz Z Z F = Fe 
Bor Bb9 Bb6 Bb7 Eb 7 —_ z 
= = be 
oe 5 e 2 2 S — — 
P I I T ee ee oe eee 
é ob K 
= t ~ — — 
oa = = a J es fo" a J = = oa ta 
Mic - key has a Min - nie who can keep him sat is - fied. 2 Ev' ry 
7 i i 2 
Bb Bbaug Bb6 Bbaug 


_ ——— 
ee == 

Figure 6.1: Top staff: Slash notation accompanied by chord names give the accompanist some 
freedom in voicing the specified chords and setting the exact comping pattern; rhythmic notation is 
used when the rhythm is important, usually because everyone in the orchestra has that rhythm. 
Bottom staff: Two-bar repeats economize on notation and usually apply to both staves. One-bar 
repeats (not shown) are also common; the same symbol is used but it sits inside a measure rather 
than straddling a bar line. (Somebody For Everybody from Oh My Godmother!) 


e Underscoring: Music that plays while other stage action, usually di- 
alogue, is occurring. As such, it must usually be played very softly 
to avoid drowning out the dialogue. Sometimes underscoring is a 
standalone piece of music, such as when it plays throughout a whole 
scene. Other times it occurs in the middle of a song, where some di- 
alogue or other action occurs between verses. Underscoring is gener- 
ally of fixed length, although it may include vamp or safety measures 
to allow some stretching or shrinking of length. 

e Scene change: A particular type of underscoring that covers the 
movement of actors and scenery between scenes. 

e Playoff: 8-12 bars of additional music to get the actors off the stage 
at the end of a large “production number.” Sometimes it’s a separate 
piece of music in the score; other times you can simply repeat the last 
8-12 bars of the number itself. 

e Segue: Pronounced “SEG-way”, Italian for “continue”, it means “go 
on”: during or immediately after the applause for this number, go on 
to the next number, which will probably be a scene change, play- 
off, or similar. Attacca is like a segue, but even faster and more 
aggressive transition—barely time to turn the page and go. Segue as 
one means go right into the next number without breaking rhythm, 
i.e. the audience will perceive the whole thing as a single number. 
Sometimes a long number will be split into multiple sections with all 
but the last marked segue as one; other times a scene change may 
lead directly into a musical number, and so on 

e Colla voce: From the Italian “with the voice”, indicates a section of 
music where the performer will take considerable rhythmic freedom 
and the orchestra must follow him. 

e Time (sense 1): A song is said to “go into time” when you enter that 
part of it that is in regular rhythm rather than rubato or colla voce. 
Markings such as light time in the piano/conductor or percussion 
part mean “play rhythmically, but don’t clomp the notes out.” 


e Time (sense 2): At the end of a song, it means that spoken dialogue or 
other action follows the number, so you can relax for a bit. Sometimes 
also marked scene continues. 

No rest for the weary? 

At the end of a number, your immediate concern is whether you can take a 
breather (“time” or “scene continues”) or whether you have to go straight 
into more music (segue, segue as one, attacca, playoff). Highlight any kind 
of segue in yellow highlighter so you know what to do during rehearsals 
(and while conducting!). It’s remarkably easy to be so relieved at finishing 
a difficult number that you forget you have to immediately go on to the 
next one. 

6.5 Script Cues: Segues and Safeties and Vamps, Oh My 

In a song recital or concert, the singer and conductor make eye contact, the 
song begins, the song is played through, and the song ends. Since theater 
songs are interspersed with dialogue and stage action, and the actors often 
cannot make eye contact with you because they are playing to the audi- 
ence, there are techniques and corresponding notations for starting a song 
(warnings and start cues), getting into and out of a “holding pattern” dur- 
ing the song while waiting for a line of dialogue or stage action to happen 
(vamps and safeties), and getting out of a song and right into the next one 

The beginnings of songs will usually be marked with a start cue, which 
tells you when the music starts. The cue may be a line of dialogue 
(ADELAIDE: It says here in this book...) ora stage action (SALLY 
sits down). There may also be a warning, which is a dialogue line or stage 
action that occurs a couple of bars before the cue line; this lets you get your 
musicians’ attention, or if it’s just you, lets you get ready to play. 


g Early warning 

If no warning is written, look at the prompt book or script and write one 
in. I usually want a “pre-warning” as well, especially when I’m still getting 
familiar with the pacing of the show. 

Sometimes the singing starts right away, but frequently the music starts 
before the singing does. There are three variants of this situation: 

1. Timed underscoring—you control when the singing starts 
2. Vamp—you control when the singing starts 

3. Vamp—actor(s) start singing, you follow them out of the vamp 

In the first, timed underscoring, you have a fixed number of bars of mu- 
sic before the singing starts, though some of those bars may be marked as 
vamps or safeties to give you more time if needed. If the underscoring is 
more than a few bars long, write specific dialogue lines or stage actions 
into your score at the approximate points where they occur. These “land- 
marks” will help you figure out where you are in the underscoring when 
conducting the scene, and allow you to slow down or speed up your con- 
ducting to compensate for minor variations in timing from performance to 
performance. (However, since staging can be in flux up until and during 
tech week, don’t try to fix this in stone too early in the process.) 

The second scenario is a simple vamp until the music starts. In this case, 
The vamp will usually be annotated with Continue on or Cue to continue 
indicating the spoken line or other event that should cue you to exit the 
vamp. You are responsible for picking up on this cue and indicating to the 
musicians, that it’s time to move on and play past the vamp’s repeat bar. 
Section|6.8|describes suggestions for how to conduct all these types of cues. 

The third scenario is a vamp with the marking vocal last time or vocal 
last x, meaning that the actor starts whenever she’s ready, and when that 
happens, everyone in the orchestra agrees that was the last time through 
the vamp. This marking is especially important for musicians who are not 


playing during the vamp, because hearing the vocals lets them know when 
to start playing or when to resume counting measures.) 

If other dialogue or stage action occurs during the song, there will be 
vamps, safeties, and/or underscoring to cover it. A vamp til cutoff marking 
means to play until some specific cue happens, at which time the music just 
stops; usually it'll be your job to watch for the event to happen and then 
stop your musicians, and wait for the cue to restart. 

The famous opening of Fiddler on the Roof ties these concepts together. 
The curtain rises in the dark to the sound of a solo violin playing the motif 
that has become world famous. After a few bars, a light comes up and we 
see the fiddler perched on the roof of a house. A few more bars, and Tevye, 
the dairyman and narrator, appears and introduces the show with these 

A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? 

But in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one 
of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, 
simple tune without breaking his neck. 

It isn’t easy! 

You may ask: Why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? 

We stay because Anatevka is our home. 

And how do we keep our balance? 

That I can tell you in one word—Tradition! 

As Figure [6.2] shows, Tevye’s monologue starts approximately at mea- 
sure 10, but depending on the production and even the particular night, 
it may start a measure earlier or later. There are then various vamps and 
safeties to get from his monologue into the song: 

1. The vamp in 33 is repeated until Tevye reaches the line “how do we 
keep our balance?” in his monologue; and then, 

2. The vamp in 34 is repeated under Tevye’s phrase “That I can tell 
you in one word—Tradition!” On the original cast recording, Zero 
Mostel takes quite a bit of freedom to imbue this phrase with gravitas, 
requiring four times through the vamp to cover it. Then, 


No. 1 Prologue/Tradition 

Vin. sol 

; —— da a 2 

_ e on fiddler] dad | Fl feck a. ing ia comes forward] 
, FI. solo agg f Pet F r tite 
pd dd dt Say 
Sm par? oT Tor er 
TEVYE: A fiddler on the roof. Sounds crazy, no? But in our little village 
ad bly TTI led) ld 
e 2 is ro > 

of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof, trying to scratch out a pleasant, 

yd JUds ST, pop ey 
° repr 

ee breaking his neck. It oie You may ask: Why do we stay up there... 
Pris air on or ar a 

That I can tell you 
33 ..keep our balance? in one word—Tradition! [vocal last time] 

= AE: = == ae = | 


a eS = 
Pno a ‘ P . f = sept 
Poet: = ss -— 1. t— — x x 

Figure 6.2: The opening of Fiddler, illustrating underscoring, vamps/safeties, and “vocal last time” 
marking. We wrote in dialogue “landmarks” corresponding approximately to Zero Mostel’s 
performance on the original cast recording, following the suggestion in Section|6.5] Copyright 
1964, 1965 by the Times Square Music Publications Company. Used for commentary only. 
(Prologue/Tradition from Fiddler on the Roof) 


3. There is a safety in 35, to allow the other actors to get into position, 
or to provide a bit of buffer in case you exited the 34 vamp a tiny bit 

In the original score, the vocal entrance in 35 is actually marked “2nd 
time”; in this transcription, I’ve marked it “vocal last time”. Note that the 
musicians as well as the cast need an advance cue for this entrance, since 
the orchestra has additional material starting in 36 (clarinets divisi, ex- 
plained in Section |1.5). 

Why didn’t the orchestrator simply include the vocal cue and “vocal last 
time” notation in 34, and omit the additional repeated 35? Because 34 has 
the dynamic marking p (since it’s still under Tevye’s dialogue), whereas 36 
has the marking f, which also serves as a signal to the cast that we’re out 
of the monologue. 

6.6 Warnings and Starts 

Conducting the opening four notes of Beethoven’s Fifth is terrifying for 
many conductors. Happily, most show music isn’t this demanding to con- 
duct, but cuing an entrance can still be tricky. 

First, get musicians’ attention. Allow 5-10 seconds for this, and write 
in (and highlight!) a warning cue (stage action, dialogue, or similar) that 
occurs 5-10 seconds before the music must start, if one isn’t already pro- 
vided in the score. A typical “warning” gesture is raising the baton to chest 
height and holding it still, or if you’re not using a baton, raising your hand 
to higher than the highest it gets on a normal upbeat. 

To actually get the music to start, the most common techniques are giv- 
ing a pickup only (1 or 2 counts) or conducting a full measure of silence 
before the downbeat (“one for nothing”). In a fast 2-count tempo, “two for 
nothing” may be more helpful. The best choice depends on the particular 
situation, so you'll have to experiment. But whichever you do, the beat that 
corresponds to the entrance of the orchestra must be absolutely unambiguous. 
In other words, if you’re conducting 1-for-nothing, there should be no con- 
fusion among the musicians about whether that first measure is the “for 


nothing” measure or the cue to play. One common way to do this is that 
the “silent” measure is conducted with small, almost rigid (straight-line) 
motions, until the pickup and subsequent downbeat which are conducted 
using the larger “normal” motion. 

Of course, as often as not, the orchestra must come in on a beat other 
than the downbeat. While the remarks above generalize to those cases, I 

strongly urge you to read through McElheran, |Conducting Technique: For’ 
Beginners And Professionals| for a much better and very concise treatment 

of such cases. The executive summary is: experiment, work it out with 
your musicians (and make special note of cases where you have agreed on 
a specific kind of cue, so that you can inform a substitute musician about 
them should you need to), and don’t assume there’s a single right way to 
conduct an entrance. 

6.7 Tempo Changes, Fermatas, Track Marks, Dictated 

Abrupt tempo changes aren’t too bad as long as (a) you have previously 
established what the tempi are, so the musicians have some idea what to 
expect, and (b) one person sets the new tempo. This can be you, if you have 
the time to give a pickup (ideally more than 1 count) in the new tempo, or 
it can be (for example) the drummer—that’s how we handled the tempo 
change in Figure[5.1]the last time I worked on Company. 

Be careful to distinguish between fermatas (hold the note) and track 
marks (cut off the note). I usually do fermatas by “holding” my hand (or 
head, or whatever) in the same location for the duration of the hold, and 
cutoffs by either making a hand gesture or (if no free hand) physically 
rising up away from the keyboard. 

“Dictated” refers to the conductor conducting every single note in a 
passage; this is common if the notes are fermatas, if the notes are tied 
to stage cues, or if some special musical effect is required that can’t be 
easily expressed in terms of conducting a fixed beat. One trick for cleanly 
conducting dictated notes is to treat each dictated note as a downbeat, and 
make the pickup beat the same duration or an easy multiple. This gives the 
musicians (and/or the cast) a natural way to figure out when the actual 



oe —_ = ; £42 = 

i a ae — 

—_ a -) 

4 : : = s = 
CS = 

Ree ci g LUCY: “You're [DICTATED] 

ees: = Chane Brown" ee 
Dae ieee ——— = 

een S vs 

Figure 6.3: After a dialogue in fermata, the last three notes are dictated. Give pickups that are 
rhythmic with respect to the timing of the dictated notes. (Happiness/Finale from You’re a Good 
Man, Charlie Brown) 

dictated note is coming: they can observe the timing of your pickup (from 
beginning of stroke to top of stroke) as the duration of one beat, and come 
in with you on the chords. For example, as Figure|6.3|shows, the last three 
notes of You’re A Good Man, Charlie Brown, in the clarinet/violin parts, are 
dictated. One possible strategy might be to give a 16th-note “pickup” to 
each of the two eighth notes, giving the pickup exactly half the duration 
of the eighth notes and using the size of your pickup gesture to indicate 
that duration. If your hands aren’t available, you can easily do this by 
conducting with your head, as section [6.3] suggests. 

6.8 Vamps and Safeties 

Vamps allow matching the music to the timing of dialogue or other stage 
business, as Figure shows. Conducting through a vamp requires two 
simple tasks. The preparation consists of making sure your musicians 
know, unambiguously, which measures are vamped; The execution con- 
sists of committing to getting out of the vamp when conducting the song. 
Deciding when to come out of a vamp is always a judgment call. If 
you come out too early, the actor may miss jumping onto her next lyric. 
If you come out too late, the actors may be standing around awkwardly 
waiting for the music to come back in. You should practice the vamps 
with the actors, and their timing should ideally be pretty consistent from 


[VAMP under stage action] [VAMP - vocal last x] 

nor RP PPP OP nr PIP 

= = 4 ee eet 3 
(jh f: REE: 
Paes aise a5s eee a 
F : 

SSS : 


x * ¢F . 2 7 

Figure 6.4: In this textbook example of a vamp from A Chorus Line, on stage the dancers are being 
sorted according to who will be cast; there are 17 dancers, so it’s a long vamp. Curiously, in the 
original conductor’s score, the vamp we have marked as measures 1-4 is written out as 24 
measures, with measures 17-24 repeated; our measure 5, which is measure 25 in the original score, 
preserves the “vocal last time” marking (described later in this section) in the original score. (One 
from A Chorus Line) 

performance to performance, but variations (and mistakes) will happen. 
The important thing is once you have made the judgment call to come out 
of the vamp, follow through. You can’t go back on your decision or your 
musicians will get confused and so will the actors. 

How do you indicate to musicians that they should exit the vamp? De- 
pending on your preference and what limbs you have free, you can do as 
many bands do and hold up a closed fist to mean “This is the last time 
through the vamp.” If a fist isn’t available, do a very obvious pickup using 
one of the “conducting with your body” techniques described in Section|6.3] 
during the last time through the vamp. Be sure you give the musicians 
enough time! Use body language to “prepare” the pickup as early as you 
possibly can in the vamp. 

A special case of a vamp is often marked “Vocal last time” or “Vocal last 
x,” as in Figures |6.4] and [6.5] In such cases, the vamp measures also serve 
as the beginning of a sung phrase, and when the phrase is sung, it’s time to 
exit the vamp. Make sure your musicians know about this and you won't 
have to do much. 

Tricky vamps. Some vamps make the judgment call harder if you’re 
trying to time coming out of the vamp and there’s no obvious vocal exit. 
The longer the vamp unit, the harder it is to make a judgment call: if the 
vamp is a 3-count measure, the “cost” of misjudging the exit is at most 
3 counts of idle awkwardness, but if the vamp is four 3-count measures 
as in Figure [6.6] the cost is up to 12 counts of idle awkwardness. That’s 


DIANA: I want to remember DIANA: How DAN: He 
everything, Dan. a did he die? was — Vamp (vocal last x) 
ay" any ae 
ry —=" 
Cues == = & ss ee =e ge i = 
= Some-thing the doc - tors all issed, the... 
a 2 
om AN | % ff +f £ 1 we 4 = 
——_—_———= Ede a 
Je eS: SS a 
_s ee oa = re a fee 

Sa Ces aeeees 

Figure 6.5: This vamp serves as a safety between a timed-dialogue underscoring and going into 
another verse. It’s important for the musicians to know that when the vocals start, that’s the last 
time through the vamp. If you’re cuing the vocals, it’s important that the musicians know that the 
vocal cue you’re giving the actors comes one measure before the orchestra cue to continue out of 
the vamp, so that they don’t confuse the vocal cue with the cue to continue. (How Could I Ever 
Forget? from Next to Normal) 

probably one reason the orchestrator of A Chorus Line reduced the actual 
vamp in Figure [6.4]to just a single measure. 

If youre having trouble syncing up a long vamp or extended under- 
scoring with the dialogue, you may end up in an awkward pause while 
the orchestra finishes the vamp or underscoring (if the dialogue ends too 
early) or rushing the actors out of the vamp before they’re really ready Cif 
the dialogue ends too late). You have a few options in such cases: 

1. Insert a safety near the end of the timed phrase, similar to how the 
vamp measure is used in Figure[6.5] 

2. Decide that it’s OK to exit the vamp on any measure even if the vamp 
is longer, as directed in Figure|6.6 

6.9 Underscoring 

Unlike a vamp, underscoring is nonrepeated music that must coincide with 
dialogue timing. Depending on how the director has the actors speaking the 
dialogue, underscoring may need to be cut or extended. When cutting, look 
for “seamless” cuts in which connecting the two parts across the cut doesn’t 
result in a drastic harmony or texture change—this would be distracting 
to the audience. When lengthening, consider repeating a subset of the 


DR. FINE: Goodman, Diana. Second adjustment...etc. Vins} 
DIANA: ...which, you know, is just not fair. (GO) £ “I > 
cc a a a ee ee ee ee ee ee ee ee — 4 
[Guy Play last bar before out — any bar , Ld te bl 
May cause the fol_- low - ing... 

Gm9 An7/D Gm9 D+ D7(#5) i 
[Bs. Drs] > #£ ool oe ii fit 
= ez 

i ee 2 ee a ae a ae ee ee eae 


Figure 6.6: This vamp is at the end of another long piece of underscoring, so the dialogue indicated 
between Dr. Fine and Diana start after we’re already in the vamp. Although it’s a 4-measure vamp, 
the cue direction says that as soon as Diana says her line “... is just not fair,” we immediately finish 
whatever bar of the vamp we’re in and jump immediately to the violin cue in measure 5. (My 
Psychopharmacologist and I from Next to Normal) 

measures, or turning the last couple of measures into a vamp, whichever is 
more appropriate. Also, in some situations the underscoring need not be in 
tempo—you can slow down or speed up as needed during the underscoring 
section in order make the timing work out. 

The key to doing this is to write in “dialogue landmarks” that you 
can use to vary your conducting speed in performance to match the ac- 
tor. (If the underscoring accompanies stage action without dialogue, write 
in “stage action landmarks” instead: ADELAIDE smacks NATHAN with the 
back of a spoon.) The opening of Fiddler on the Roof (Figure il- 
lustrates this nicely: I have written Tevye’s monologue in such a way that 
certain dialogue words line up approximately with the music, but there is 
a safety at the end, in case the actor speaks the dialogue more slowly than 
usual during some performances. 

Of course, in that example, there’s still a nice safe vamp at the end in 
case the timing doesn’t work out, and it’s a short vamp (1 measure) so it’s 
easy to use it to compensate for dialogue timing. When that’s not possible, 
you can sometimes insert a fermata in lieu of a vamp before the song starts. 
For example, in Figure [3.4] the fermatas over the half note and rest in the 
last measure before the double bar line can be milked a little if Herr Schultz 
doesn’t finish his cue line in time. 

Finally, some underscoring doesn’t lend itself to either of these tricks, as 
in Figure|6.7} you have some latitude in the last couple of measures to do a 
ritard., but there’s no easy way to extend the underscoring. In these cases, 
there’s nothing to do but practice with the actors so that their dialogue is 


——<— SS [Viola —solo obbligato] 

Figure 6.7: The underscoring under Charlie Brown’s final monologue gets us from the previous 
up-tempo song (Snoopy’s Dinnertime to the serene night-scene mood that sets up the lovely closing 
song of the show. (Night Scene/Happiness from You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown) 

delivered with consistent timing, and you can mark dialogue landmarks 
and adjust tempo as you play. 


7 Emergency 

Arranging (and its big brother, orchestration) are specialized and demanda- 
ing crafts. Reading these few pages won't make you an arranger, but in 
community theater, sometimes you are forced to do some minimal amount 
of arranging: reduction of the number of instrumental parts to be played by 
consolidating or eliminating parts, substitution of an instrument you have 
for an instrument you don’t, or using the piano to cover missing instru- 
ments. This chapter gives some rules of thumb for how to approach such 
scenarios and a few examples of those rules in practice for shows I’ve 
actually reduced. 

S Rite hed tahoe 136 
Ged 6 Cae id ne ba eis 137 
een ee Reaees 138 
pt die thdie BIE Aaa dnd 139 
aid aon ts 146 
eee iaeh wn Lk bees 147 
Nah db inp ohoed as 148 

7.8 Example: Gypsy|.............2.220000058 149 


7.1. Transposition 

Transposition is arguably the simplest change you can make to an arrange- 
ment, and it may be needed to accommodate the range(s) of singer(s) or 
to improve continuity around a cut. At its most basic, you are simply taking 
each instrument’s part and moving it up or down by the chromatic interval 
between the original key and new key, which seems like the kind of tedious 
job that can at least be done by brute force. If you’re doing piano only or 
piano combo, this is is not too bad. 

Sometimes transposition can’t be avoided, but other things being equal, 
it’s a bad idea to cast a show oblivious to vocal ranges and assume you 
can “just transpose” troublesome songs later. Besides the fact that well- 
crafted songs won’t sound good if sung far outside the range for which 
they’re written, transposition is more perilous and fraught with caveats 
than most people realize. Most nontrivial arrangements for multiple in- 
struments are surprisingly sensitive to transposition, since part of a good 
arranger’s job is to use each instrument in its most effective range for that 
piece. Some passages may move out of the playable range of an instru- 
ment if transposed. Other passages may become very hard or impossible 
to play because of idiosyncrasies of the instrument, for example, a trill re- 
quiring major changes of fingering between the two trill notes on a valved 
woodwind instrument, or certain glissandos that are impossible on a slide 

trombone. Donald Sebesky’s book (Sebesky, |The Contemporary Arranger, 
Definitive Edition) does a great job of explaining all these cases, but the 

bottom line is that transposition should be undertaken with caution, kept 
to a minimum, and announced as early as possible so that transposition- 
related problems can be identified early and fixed. 

If you must deal with multiple instrument transposition, music typeset- 
ting programs like Finale and Sibelius (see Section |A.4) can save you a lot 
of time because they can basically do transposition automatically. They also 
take care of the inherent transposition required for instruments that read in 
non-concert pitch. (If you don’t know what this means, then you probably 
shouldn’t attempt transposition of a multi-instrument arrangement.) The 
only downside is that you have to first enter the music into the program, 


which can be time-consuming. The “pro” versions of music typesetting pro- 
grams like Finale and Sibelius (see Section|A.4| Technology) now allow you 
to scan printed score pages into them and play melodies in real time using 
a MIDI-capable keyboard, but both methods usually require manual fix-ups 
and may not save you any time over doing it by hand. Also, scores for 
many older shows (anything written before about 1975) have often been 
written out by hand by music copyists, which makes automated scanning 

MD’s I know have varying opinions as to whether it is the MD’s respon- 
sibility or each musician’s responsibility to write out the transposed parts. 
My musicians tend to be accommodating and able; your mileage may vary. 

7.2. Part Consolidation 

Before diving into doing a reduction or arrangement, check whether a re- 
duction is available from the licensor, as discussed in section The 
quality of reductions varies from lively to abysmal, but if you have lim- 
ited orchestra resources, this will save you a lot of work. Flex combos and 
other reductions already make heavy use of cross cuing (section[1.6), which 
allows the arrangement to be played even if some instruments are unavail- 

If no reduction is available, you can apply the same basic ideas used 
to create them to shrink an existing orchestration (or to further shrink a 
flex combo or existing reduction). In a recent production, the orchestration 
called for a 7-piece flex combo (piano, bass, drums, alto sax/flute/clarinet, 
tenor sax, trumpet, trombone) but we had room for only 6 players. Since 
we really wanted to include the trombone for reasons of tonal color, we 
consolidated the two reed parts into a single part. Specifically, we discov- 
ered that most of the tenor sax lines were well within the range of the alto 
sax (even though they were not all cross-cued to it), although in some cases 
where both saxes were playing, we had to choose the “best” line. 

Sometimes such arranging exercises come down to losing one or an- 
other solo line; other times it’s a matter of consolidation, deciding which 
counter-lines we were willing to lose in the process. If you are short on mu- 


sicians even after exhausting the above strategies, you can use cross-cues to 
cover some lines on piano. The decision process includes trial and error, lis- 
tening to the recording, and looking at the conductor’s score. Fortunately, 
I had help from our toucan during this process, as the picture on the back 
cover of the book shows. 

Synthesizers. Some scores have synthesizers written in, usually for spe- 
cific sound effects that can’t be achieved on acoustic instruments or to sim- 
ulate other electronic instruments such as Hammond organs and Rhodes 
electric pianos. I tend to stay away from using synthesizers as stand-ins for 
acoustic instruments (see Section [5.6), but they can be used effectively in 
other ways. For example, we performed Company with a rhythm section, 
a single violin (to play some important counterpoint lines), a reed player 
who covered 5 instruments, and a synthesizer used for a Hammond or- 
gan sound and some marimba-like sound effects. We used the Hammond 
sound to play certain chords that actually had been played on the organ in 
the show’s original 1970 orchestration but were re-scored for more reeds 
(which we didn’t have space for) in the revised orchestration; using the 
Hammond sound allowed us to pay tribute to the original orchestration, so 
it made sense to us. We also used the synthesizer effectively for sounds like 
electric marimba and glockenspiel. Your listeners will thank you, though, 
for resisting the temptation to use synthesizers to cover string parts; better 
to omit them or handle them on piano, since only a high-end synthesizer 
played by an experienced synthesist is likely to even approach the sound of 
real strings in a live setting. 

7.3 Doing Your Own Reduction 

If the reduced orchestration is unavailable or still exceeds your resources, 
and you don’t want to go all the way down to piano-only or piano combo, 
you can do even more of the above tricks and produce your own reduc- 
tion. This is a lot of work and you will probably want your (experienced!) 
musicians to help you with it, but it can be done. The key to a success- 
ful reduction is to pick out the elements of the original arrangement that 
are most prominently audible and try to preserve them (or preserve their 


spirit, at least), even as you change and thin out the instrumentation. The 
first step is to determine what kind of pit you can actually recruit, and 
then match that up with what each instrument or section is going in the 
score. Here we discuss some reduction strategies and I include some real 
examples of reductions I’ve done using these strategies that have worked 

One motivation for doing your own reduction is that you’re constrained 
in who you can recruit to play in the pit. Do some musicians play mul- 
tiple instruments? This is common for single reed players, less common 
for double reed players (except that Oboe/English Horn is a standard dou- 
bling), occasionally true for brass players, and rarely true for string players. 
Are the tone colors appropriate? A tuba makes a beautiful sound but your 
possibilities are limited if it’s your only solo brass instrument. Do the in- 
struments blend well? Clarinet blends with almost everything; saxophones 
can be made to sound either “more brassy” or “more reedy depending on 
how they’re played and what they're blended with; but strings can sound 
thin and brittle if they're competing with brass or with a big woodwind sec- 
tion, or if a small complement of strings is being counted on to carry a lush 
string part. The arranging books in the Bibliography, particularly Sebesky, 

The Contemporary Arranger, Definitive Edition| have a lot to say about this. 

7.4 Score Analysis 

Your first goal is to identify the “bare bones” elements of each song in the 
score and come up with a strategy for it: assign it to one or more instru- 
ments, omit it, or change it. Covering the third is way into the realm of 
orchestration so we'll stick to the first two. 

The elements of most “traditional” show tunes orchestrations are: 

1. Rhythmic foundation 
2. Melody lines 
3. Counterpoint lines and Embellishments 

4. Solo/obbligato lines 


5. “Signature sound” 

Not all songs have all features or fit this template, but it is a good start- 
ing point. 

Rhythmic foundation. This is what keeps the song moving. Especially 
in older shows, the percussion/drums part is less critical to this than you 
might think; commonly, the rhythmic foundation will be assigned to a full 
string section, which you probably don’t have, sometimes with flutes or 
other instruments doubling the strings. For example, the famous opening 
of Fiddler on the Roof, an excerpt of which we saw in Figure |6.2| has the 
rhythmic foundation carried by the strings, mandolin, and guitar (measure 
34). In smaller pits, depending on the character of the song, you can usu- 
ally assign such a rhythmic foundation to the piano or, if appropriate, a 
guitar or similar percussive instrument. 

In the modern score for The Last Five Years, there are no drums at all, 
and rhythmic movement is left to the guitar (for pop-like strumming-based 
rhythms) or the piano (for syncopations and more complex rhythms); such 
scores are difficult to reduce because in these cases those instruments not 
only provide the rhythmic foundation but provide a distinct sound palette 
for each song. 

Melody Lines. In a large orchestration it’s common for one or more 
instrument sections to double the melody that the singer is singing. I’ve 
found that you can usually dispense with these lines altogether. However, if 
the song also includes some underscoring or other non-sung sections where 
the melody is expected to be heard, someone will have to cover melody on 
those sections. The piano may get called on for double duty in this case: 
covering rhythmic foundation throughout the song, and also covering a 
melody line here and there. 

For example, in Figure[7.1| how would you cover the important clarinet 
line if you didn’t have a clarinet? One strategy is to observe that while the 
clarinet plays the melody (measures 125-127), the rhythm part is domi- 
nated by eighth-note arpeggios that are split between the harp and electric 
piano; then at m128, the (electric) piano takes over the melody, and the 
remainder of the phrase is split between the electric piano and the organ 


p.C 5 he FmMne€ (Fe. 

cx i Rites S5_EFEFEe__ETFEHFE_EHFOTC Hee eoeTOHT+OmmaarT>?T HY 
(ae = 

Dm \ 

A rg pg or rh 

Ll Se ee ese -— et 
—————————————— ps ——— 
) —————_———————————— SS eee Sa oe ee 

N b Ig 
es Oo oe 7 
a ae So oe oe 
er ui SY ee 2 a SSS eee 
r. 1p ee 

Figure 7.1: This 7-bar excerpt comes between two sections of the finale that are sung; the melody in 
the clarinet represents the continuation of the sung melody, so this line needs to be heard. (Pippin 
copyright 1972 by Stephen Schwartz, copyright 1975 by Roger O. Hirson. Rights controlled by 
Music Theatre International. Used for commentary only.) (Finale from Pippin) 


man: Bam oo 
ose = = 1s 2 2 = 
P - Pp P = F - 

ges ee ee 


rae Beret 
oz pit gete Oy ite zmae 

— > 


Figure 7.2: Possible piano-only reduction of Figure|7.1] (Finale from Pippin) 


Most reasonably accomplished pianists should be able to play the piano 
reduction in Figure This “implosion” of parts preserves the flavor of 
the arpeggios by bringing the harp part down an octave so that the piano 
can cover it with the left hand, gives the clarinet melody (and the oboe 
counterline in m126-127) to the right hand, and combines the piano and 
organ parts more or less as written in m128—131 to preserve the continuous 
eighth-note motion that moves this section forward. 

Throughout all of this, the strings are holding tremolo chords (top staff 
of each system in Figure (7.1), but with only a piano we don’t have the 
luxury of including that element. Depending on how critical the director 
judges this lost “texture” to be, one possibility would be to substitute sotto 
voce ensemble singing for the strings. 

Counterpoint Lines and Embellishments. Counterpoint lines provide 
a stable legato line against which the rhythm can play. In traditional large- 
pit orchestrations, these lines are often given to cellos or horns; this has 
led some people (including Stephen Sondheim) to call them “thumb lines,” 


6H 4 o 5 25 = = =e Sa = — Ee 
roeooip ow PP dP POP pe 

eat g— FoF 4:44 4 $$ $4 ss 4s 
Tht p op op te pe pty Pp pep TT 
Se. = 2 =r ee = Bes o 


oye $448 pe 
rr pr" ee reer 

Figure 7.3: In this piano reduction, for clarity we show the bass and accompaniment on the lower 
staff and the melody and thumbline on the upper staff, except that the thumbline moves to the 
lower staff in measures 9-12 for notational convenience. In the orchestration it’s played by 
clarinets and cellos. (One Wonderful Day from Saturday Night) 

since a piano reduction of such an orchestration would probably require 
the pianist to use her left or right thumb to play those lines (since they fall 
in the middle register right around middle C) while also playing the bass 
and rhythm chords. Figure[7.3]shows an example. 

The other job of the counterline is to keep the general motion of the 
song going (and give the audience something to listen to) when the singers 
are holding a long note or have a long rest. Depending on how playable the 
figure is, you might have the pianist try to cover the entire line or only the 
exposed “fills.” A skilled orchestrator will feature the counterlines when 
there are rests in the melody lines, as in Figure[7.4] 

Obbligato Lines. Obbligato is a term from classical music that describes 
a musical line that is “indispensable” (the word is, unsurprisingly, Italian 
for “mandatory”). Obbligati are tricky because by definition you can’t omit 
them and still retain the original characteristics of the orchestration. Fig- 
ure [7.5] shows An excellent example: the woodwind obbligato underlying 
the Night Waltz in A Little Night Music is a signature element that the song 
won't sound the same without. 

Ideally, you should keep as many obbligati as you can and assign them 
whenever possible to the instrument for which they were originally written. 


! el Dek ee Ns See SSeS eee Og ae ae ee he a ee ee eee eee ee ee ee ee 
= a 1 — Pay ati 
ats 5 ae Z f F at Pe aa a iz Ere fat e 
eo Strings f 
2 3 # 6 \7 9 
Melody (Br., WW) 1 
te = 
oy) 2 f = 9 a 7 =o Se a — 
10 (8™)- ~ To Sen eeererrs sete ro See ST PSP res eee ses 
. = Coe See eee 
= z te», = ae SSeS == 
et = cA cA fo= - 


She : 

Figure 7.4: A schematic of one of the counterpoint lines in Robert Russell Bennett’s classic 
orchestration of Oklahoma!. During the statement of People Will Say We’re In Love in the overture, 
the famous melody (lower staff) is carried by brass and horns. Violins and high woodwinds have a 
lovely counterline that only calls attention to itself with movement when the melody is sitting on a 

long note, in measures 4, 8, 12, and 15-16. The counterline therefore serves to keep the pulse of 
the song moving during the whole notes. (Overture from Oklahoma!) 

a ee 
pbb = == 
— ae z 2 =a ft is be ol 
Sun sits low, ——_____ Dif -|fus - ing its u - su - al glow. 

G 2 g [Fl] (FJ = 
iS oe raises —— = 
a ie * oe aie 2 eres Jane gore soe oe 

(c alia = jee ery 

Figure 7.5: In this example, the obbligato is split between the clarinet (stems up) and flute (stems 

down). The melody and lyrics are shown for clarity; other instruments are omitted. This obbligato 

is doubly important because it also outlines the harmonic structure in a way that makes a “strong” 
chordal accompaniment unnecessary. (Night Waltz from A Little Night Music) 


If that instrument’s not available, you have three choices: 

1. Assign the obbligato to a different instrument. See Section [7.5] for 

2. Assign the obbligato to its original instrument, and decide what to do 
with the line that instrument would otherwise have played (cover on 
another instrument, or omit). 

3. Omit the obbligato. Your ear will tell you if the result sounds funny. 
Also, consider whether this obbligato line is part of an important vocal 
cue (i.e. some singer is getting either the timing or the pitch of her 
entrance from this obbligato). 

“Signature Sound”. When a score has a “signature sound”—a timbral 
color that people will remember as distinct, because it pervades the score, 
because it’s not often heard in musical theater orchestration, or both—you 
should latch onto it as a “non-negotiable” element of the orchestration. The 
“signature sound” can take many forms: 

e A solo instrument sound or texture that pervades the score, such as 
the flamenco acoustic guitar in Man of La Mancha. 

e A particular instrument that gives unique color to “period piece” 
scores, such as the accordion in Cabaret or the vaudeville-style banjo 
in Chicago. 

e An instrument that plays solo line(s) strongly associated with the 
show, like the solo violin in Fiddler on the Roof or the bassoon 
basslines in Into the Woods. 

e An instrument whose use in the orchestration is unconventional or in 
memorable contrast to how it’s usually used, such as the “rock cello” 
in The Last Five Years and Next to Normal 

In all cases, the benefit of retaining the signature sound is its distinc- 
tiveness: the pit may be a fraction of the size of the one used in New York, 
but the audience will remember that accordion or Spanish guitar simply 
because they don’t hear those sounds as often. 


7.5 Reduction and Substitution Strategies 

A full treatment of choosing instruments for an arrangement could be the 
subject of its own book (and there are many good ones; see the Bibliogra- 
phy for some), but in general the key in getting a “big” sound with a small 
orchestra is to augment the rhythm section with a few instruments that 
span different ranges and timbres. 

The rules of thumb I use are these: 

Look for duplication. Who features a line vs. who reinforces it? In 
larger pits, common reinforcements (having multiple instruments play the 
same line) include flutes/violins (or high woodwinds/violins), horns/low 
woodwinds, cello/low woodwinds, cello/low brass. 

Move lines to another instruments, including the piano. For midrange 
solo lines and harmonies, I like clarinets because they blend with pretty 
much everything and 2 clarinets together sound remarkably full without 
being overpowering. Saxes are also good because they can be played softly 
to get a mellow intonation or powerfully enough to blend well with brass 
instruments (or beef up the sound of a small brass section). Also, since 
sax often shows up in pop music as well as jazz, sax players may be easier 
to find than other reed players. On the other hand, my experience is that 
more clarinetists double on sax than vice versa. 

Flute or violin are great for counter-lines (and are often interchangeable 
when a reduced orchestration is provided, as the flute’s volume and agility 
are comparable to the violin’s, especially in the higher registers). Viola can 
often substitute for violin in solo work unless the range is extreme and/or a 
very specific sound is required (the viola sounds “woodier” and less bright 
than the violin, especially in the upper registers, to my ear anyway). Some 
accomplished reed players can also cover flute. 

If the score calls for a traditional string section, you would need 8 or 
more string players to sound even halfway decent. My advice would be 
not to attempt that: understand how the string section is being used, and 
cover those parts on other instruments. For example, if the strings are used 
to provide a rhythmic foundation, that can be covered on piano. Pizzicato 
strings and moving block chords can sometimes be covered on a synthe- 


sizer. Low string counter-lines (e.g. cello lines) can be handled on clarinet 
or bass clarinet, and so on. 

When I say “the rhythm section” I usually mean piano, bass and drums. 
In most shows, upright or electric bass will work, especially if the score 
is “jazzy”; a few shows really call for one or the other (e.g. Bye Bye 
Birdie’s rock and roll songs call for electric bass and electric guitar, whereas 
Chicago’s vaudeville style calls for upright bass if at all possible). However, 
Ive heard nontraditional rhythm sections that sound great; for example, 
substituting a tuba for the bass, or ditching the trap set in favor of some 
other percussion. 

To give you an idea of how to proceed, the rest of this chapter gives 
sketches for taking some shows that normally come with full orchestra- 
tion and reducing them to “shoestring” orchestration while maintaining 
the character of the piece. 

7.6 Example: Assassins 

The signature sound of this eclectic Sondheim score is the American-folk 
sound of many of the songs, which can be suggested by the use of folk in- 
struments like fiddle and harmonica. A good solo violinist can play both 
fiddle and “straight” violin material, and I use an accordion since it can ap- 
proximate the harmonica sound very well but also provide rhythm, texture, 
fill, and cover some woodwind solo lines. It can also make the “calliope” 
sound that opens the show. 

A solo violin is necessary for the folksy “fiddle” sound in The Ballad of 
Booth, Guiteau, and other songs. Finally, I know a multi-instrumentalist 
who plays drums and banjo (among many other things), so he can strum 
the banjo in some of the folk songs where drums aren’t necessary. 

With all of that in mind, here’s how we performed Assassins with a 4- 
piece orchestra; I would have liked to include bass, but there just wasn’t 
room (the orchestra was onstage with the cast). 

1. Piano/Conductor 

2. Accordion 


3. Drums/banjo (banjo played when no drums) 

4. Solo violin 

7.7 Example: Man of La Mancha 

The signature sound of this score is clearly the flamenco-esque feel of many 
of the songs, which makes the Spanish guitar a must. The guitar is one of 
the few instruments that is as capable as the piano in carrying the rhythm 
section—fortunately so, since a piano would sound out of place in this 

Similarly, the flute/piccolo solos that combine with the guitar to give the 
“Spanish troubadour” sound are indispensable. A good flute player gives 
me clarinet coverage as well, and on this show I was lucky enough to work 
with woodwind players who can play both single reeds and some oboe, 
letting me keep some of the beautiful oboe solos in songs like Dulcinea and 
The Impossible Dream. But most of what I assigned to the oboe could have 
been covered on clarinet as well. 

The show also has a number of “knightly” fanfares scored for one or 
more trumpets. The original score calls for 2 trumpets, 2 trombones and 
2 horns, but the trumpet sounds so distinctive when doing fanfares that I 
decided a single solo trumpet would be enough to characterize the fanfares. 

Two horns provide a nice full texture for some of the other songs, and 
make a lovely backdrop for clarinet and oboe solos, as well as having a no- 
bler brass sound of their own (for brass passages that sound more thought- 
ful than fanfare-like). My horn players also double on trumpet, so some 
parts of the show have 2 horns and other parts have 1 horn plus 1 trumpet. 
(The original score calls for 2 of each, but in a small space, one of each is 
more than enough.) 

So the final complement is: 

1. Spanish guitar 

2. Acoustic Bass 

7.8. EXAMPLE: GYPSY 149 

3. Percussion/Conductor: bass drum, snare drum, floor tom “tympani”, 
crash cymbal, castanets. (I found some great YouTube videos that 
teach how to play castanets, and as a percussionist and pianist I had 
the dexterity to more or less do it.) We saved some space by using a 
“cocktail” trap set in which the bottom head of the floor tom doubles 
as the bass drum. (I jury-rigged it using an angled kick drum pedal 
for about $20.) 

4. Horn 1/Trumpet 
5. Horn 2 

6. Reed: piccolo, flute, clarinet, oboe 

7.8 Example: Gypsy 

This is a traditional score for a 20+ piece orchestra, and representative of 
doing a “conventional” reduction. The strings were first to be cut: in songs 
where the strings carried the rhythm, the piano took over that job, and 
string solos were given to woodwinds (usually flute). The horn’s extensive 
range (the largest compass of any woodwind/brass) and variety of timbres 
allow the horn players to also cover important cello and bass clarinet lines, 
as well as trombone solos or trombone parts in fanfares. Although my 
horn players generally double on trumpet, there was enough trumpet solo 
material in this show that it needed its own chair, and the horn players 
were busy enough doing all the other stuff. And as usual, I counted on my 
woodwind players to be superheroes. So we have: 

1. Piano/Conductor (covers most string rhythms) 
2. Bass 

3. Drums 

4. Reed 1 (alto sax, flute, clarinet, oboe) 


. Horn 1 & 2 (covers parts of horn, cello, bass clarinet, trombone 


6. Trumpet 

7.8. EXAMPLE: GYPSY 151 

Technology Resources 


In the last 10 years, technology has streamlined almost every aspect of 
the MD’s job—recruiting musicians, creating audition packets, running re- 
hearsals, and creating practice tracks for singers. This appendix suggests 
some of these uses. 

ies ore @hareadre oa Oa eae aed 154 
eo waiesirane pou weted 154 
Babu gues 155 
banetiars 156 

A.5 Recruiting Musicians}................006. 157 


A.1_ File Sharing 

For keeping the cast and orchestra informed, as soon as the show is cast 
I set up a free Google Group to which all 
cast and crew subscribe. The group alias serves as a mailing list, and the 
messages are automatically archived in case someone claims you never sent 
that reminder about the upcoming rehearsal agenda. 

I also create a folder in Google Drive to 
post PDFs and MP3s of practice tracks, arrangement sheets, and the cast 
contact list as a Google spreadsheet; conveniently, you can grant access 
to the folder for the entire Google Group all at once, rather than having 
to add each individual. (That’s one reason I use Google Drive rather than 
similar services like Dropbox for this purpose; also Google Drive gives you a 
generous amount of space for free, which is important when storing media 
files that can get big quickly.) 

For maintaining the rehearsal schedule and cast/crew contact list, 
Google Drive documents are vastly superior to mailing around copies of 
documents: you have a single online copy of each document that is always 
up-to-date, and can even be viewed on cell phones when people are away 
from their computers. If you rely on emailing schedules as attachments, 
and sending a new email with a new attachment each time the schedule 
changes, you will have at least one incident in which someone misses their 
call time because they have an out-of-date copy of the schedule for some 
reason. I am so sure of this that if you have a nontrivial rehearsal period 
that avoids this problem despite relying on emailing attachments, I’ll give 
you a free ticket to any show for which I’m Music Director or send you a 
free copy of this book for a friend. OK, that’s not a huge prize, but still. 

A.2_ High Speed Scanners 

Many heavy-duty workplace copy machines now offer the option of scan- 
ning a document to PDF or a similar format. If I need to mark up a copy 
of something for an actor’s use, I find this method more convenient than 
making physical photocopies, especially if my own copy of the book is al- 


ready marked up. If you don’t have access to such a machine, you can scan 
documents using a flatbed scanner (slower), or, remarkably, take pictures 
of document pages with a cell phone camera, which is slow but results in 
very readable copies. Of course it would be tedious to capture an entire 
score this way, but it’s great for making a “callback packet” consisting of a 
few pages from the Conductor’s Score or script that can be uploaded as a 
PDF file to the Google Drive folder, where auditioners can download and 
print it at home. The Preview app on Mac computers lets you move pages 
between PDF files by showing the Thumbnails view of each document; this 
is a handy feature if you’ve scanned a handful of sheets from different songs 
(for example, to make a callback packet) and want to put them into a single 
PDF file that auditioners can download and print. 

A.3 Practice Tracks and “Karaoke” Tracks 

For recording practice tracks ahead of time, you can use a program such as 
Audacity, which is an excellent open-source (free) audio recording program 
that runs on Mac and Windows and lets you record from the mic built into 
your laptop or from an inexpensive mic plugged into your PC. Or you can 
just record to your smartphone. Either way, I always post the tracks as MP3 
files in Google Drive so actors have immediate access. 

I also use this method to record “karaoke” tracks, which can be used 
during rehearsal when no pianist is available. A karaoke track contains 
exactly what the rehearsal pianist would play for particular songs. If there 
are tricky sections of songs, such as a 32-bar dance section that is likely 
to require a lot of rehearsal, you can split that karaoke material into its 
own track for convenience. If music is needed simultaneously for a vocal 
rehearsal and a dance rehearsal, karaoke tracks are lifesavers; more than 
once I’ve ended up recording an entire karaoke CD that could practically 
be used to run the whole show in rehearsal if I’m absent. It takes the same 
or less time than playing a full run rehearsal, and it can be used over and 
over again. 

Music Theater International, one of the “big four” US-based licensing 


companies for musical theater works]"] now provides a “RehearScore” with 
many of their shows—a MIDI file which, combined with a software-based 
sequencer, can be used to generate karaoke tracks and certain vocal practice 
tracks. I haven’t used these but my understanding is that the process of 
turning the RehearScore disk into usable practice tracks is nontrivial and 
time-consuming, so I’ve stuck with this lower-tech approach to date. 

A.4 Music Notation, Transposition, Arranging 

For notating arrangements, I use Finale (http://www.finalemusic. 
\com/)—indeed, I used it for the examples in this book. This extremely 

versatile program is available in a variety of levels, including a free 
entry-level version (“NotePad”), a $50 intermediate version, a ridiculously 
overfeatured professional version, and a free viewer program that can 
view, play and print (but not edit) files created with any of the others. Even 
the entry- and mid-level products are fine for the kind of work discussed 
in this book. I have colleagues who use Sibelius, which is Finale’s main 
competitor; I haven’t used it myself and I am not making any attempt to 
compare the two, but it is likely that for the relatively straightforward 
applications I’ve discussed, either would be fine. These programs have the 
side benefit that you can simply generate PDF files of your arrangements, 
and email these to musicians/actors or post them on a groups service. In 
general, if you have just one simple arrangement (or transposition) to 
do for one or two instruments, it may be faster to do it by hand, since 
both Finale and Sibelius have steep learning curves; however, for anything 
but the most trivial tasks, using such programs will save you time and 
frustration in the long run, so it is worth getting familiar with them. The 
most recent versions of these programs can even generate MP3 files of 
your arrangements using synthetic instrument sounds. They also allow 
you to connect a MIDI-capable keyboard and play melodies into them in 
real time for transcription, but a lot of settings have to be tweaked in order 
to get a usable result, so don’t assume this works magically. 

1The others are Tams-Witmark, Samuel French, and Rodgers & Hammerstein. 


A.5 Recruiting Musicians 

At least in the Bay Area, Craigslist is pretty great for finding musicians when 
you need a player who’s not in your existing social network. Since musi- 
cians with pit experience are often reachable through my social network, 
when I do an “open posting” I tend to target musicians who don’t have pit 
experience but would be open to trying it out. Below is a sample posting 
I used several years ago when I was just getting started MD’ing in the Bay 
Area and didn’t yet have a large network from which to draw musicians. 
(For that reason, I went out of my way to say something about the show. 
When recruiting experienced musicians, my target recruits would not only 
be familiar with the show but possibly also have played the book.) 

SUMMARY: MUSICIANS WANTED (must be able to read music) for a 
community theater staging of Stephen Sondheim’s "Company". 
Drums, bass, 1 reed/wind, 1 string. Shows every weekend in 
April, production week 3/29-4/1, orchestra rehearsals TBD 
based on musicians’ availability. 


If you like musicals but have never played in a pit 
(actually in this case, more of a "loft"), it’s a lot of fun 
and this is a great opportunity. The Altarena Playhouse 
( is a long-established (50+ years!) 
community theater in Alameda and this spring we’re staging 
Sondheim’s breakthrough show "Company". The show follows 
permanent-bachelor Bobby, in his 30’s, who can’t seem to 
make a commitment to anyone. Surrounded by his married 
friends (who are always trying to set him up, but never seem 
to approve of his girlfriends), Bobby defines the marriage 
experience both in terms of what he sees in his friends’ 
relationships---good and bad---and in terms of his own 


You can hear clips of the show’s songs at: 
<I inserted a URL to album page here> 

Since this is community theater, we all have day jobs so 
this isn’t a for-pay gig (mine is, though we have modest 
amounts of money to cover actual expenses, buy some dinners 
for the orchestra, etc. 

TIME COMMITMENT: 2 (or 3 if needed, which is unlikely) 
orchestra-only rehearsals of 2-3 hours each, to be scheduled 
at the convenience of the musicians; dress rehearsal Mar 29, 
30, 31, and Apr 1; performances every Fri & Sat in April at 
8pm, plus afternoon matinees on Sunday Apr 4 & 18. 

If you have to miss 1 or 2 shows, we might be able to work 
something out. If you can only do part of the shows, let me 
know, since I may be able to split the shows among two sets 
of musicians. 

All performances and dress rehearsals are at Altarena 
Playhouse in Alameda; we can arrange transportation from 
Fruitvale BART. Orchestra-only rehearsals may be held at 
another location in the City or East Bay if that’s better 
for all of you. 

4 MUSICIANS NEEDED (in addition to piano/conductor; that’s me) 
to play a reduction of the full score: 

Bass - electric preferred. Bonus if you can strum simple 


chords on acoustic guitar. 
Alto (pref.) or tenor sax or clarinet. A plus if you can 
handle both sax and clar; a BIG plus if you also play some 

simple flute lines. 

Drums - there’s room for a fairly compact 3 or 4 pc set. 
Must be able to read drum charts. 

Violin or viola 



Closing Thoughts 

Closing Thoughts 

The modern musical is a quintessentially American art form. While its roots 
lie in opera, it was the English-language light-opera works of Gilbert & Sul- 
livan that were economically viable to produce in colonial America, starting 
musicals on the path to attracting a popular audience. The subsequent in- 
fluence of vaudeville and jazz (themselves American contributions) made it 
acceptable and even expected for musical theater to feature popular music 
styles. The “book musical,” foreshadowed by Show Boat in 1927 and defini- 
tively established by Oklahoma! in 1943, made it acceptable and even ex- 
pected for the songs to serve a story about characters and situations, rather 
than the other way around. Since then, the combination of music acces- 
sible to a popular audience but driven by the needs of a good story has 
produced eight musicals] that have won the Pulitzer Prize for drama—a 
distinction historically awarded to “serious” plays—and many others that 
have won dramatic acclaim. When I started Music Directing, I missed out 
on this combination by focusing almost entirely on the technical aspects of 
getting the music right; only later did I become involved in the dramatic 
aspects of the job, by working with enlightened stage directors. Great mu- 
sicals, in other words, not only have something substantive to say, but (in 
my opinion) they can say it more potently because they can employ music, 
lyrics, and dance as well as spoken dialogue. 

Of course, not every show you do has to be a Pulitzer or Drama Desk 

2 Of Thee I Sing, 1932; South Pacific, 1950; Fiorello!, 1960; How To Succeed in Business 
Without Really Trying, 1962; A Chorus Line, 1976; Sunday in the Park with George, 1984; Rent, 
1996; and Next to Normal, 2010. 


contender with a serious message; some shows are just plain fun to do. 
I hope this book makes those shows even more fun by smoothing the re- 
hearsal process and helping you polish the performances to perfection. And 
when you do get involved with a show that has something substantial to 
say, I hope the information in this book not only helps you appreciate the 
ability of musicals to carry such a message, but also inspires you to com- 
municate that message to audiences for whom “musical” is perhaps synony- 
mous with “jukebox” or “revue.” When you do that, you will have created 
something new, and the audience will remember it. 

Look, I made a hat ... where there never was a hat. 

—Stephen Sondheim, Sunday in the Park with George 


Boland et al.: Musicals: Directing School and Community Theatre 

Robert Boland and Paul Argentini. Musicals: Directing School and Commu- 
nity Theatre. Lanham, MD, and London: Scarecrow Press, 1997. 

Abstract: A good step-by-step to putting together a musical, aimed primar- 
ily at the same kind of audience I’m aiming for. The kind of book to which 
the present one would be a good companion. If you’re interested in what 
your counterparts on the production staff have to do for “the show to go 
on,” this is a good overview of the problems that arise and practical ap- 
proaches to solving them. 

Boyd: Rehearsal Guide for the Choral Director 

Jack Boyd. Rehearsal Guide for the Choral Director. West Nyack, NY: Parker 
Publishing Co., Inc., 1970. 

Abstract: A book that attempts to do for the high-school choir director 
what mine attempts to do for the first-time Music Director. Full of great 
ideas about running rehearsals, auditioning singers, teaching singers, and 
keeping their attention focused during the learning of difficult pieces. An 
essential for the Music Director’s bookshelf, in my opinion. 

Campbell: Technical Theater For Nontechnical People 

Drew Campbell. Technical Theater For Nontechnical People. Allworth Press, 


Abstract: If you want to understand the technical aspects of putting a show 
on, this belongs on your bookshelf. Realistically, very little of it will di- 
rectly impact the Music Director’s work (unless you need to mic the orches- 
tra), but I find it’s useful and interesting to understand what is involved in 
putting on the whole show. 

Grote: Staging The Musical: Organizing, Planning, and Rehearsing the 
Amateur Production 

David Grote. Staging The Musical: Organizing, Planning, and Rehearsing the 
Amateur Production. New York: Prentice-Hall, 1986. 

Abstract: A great starting point for the creative team staging their first mu- 
sical; does for the rest of the production staff what I’ve tried to do for the 
MD. The material in the present book can be considered a supplement to 
Grote’s book. Also contains excellent suggestions on selecting a show given 
your talent and budget constraints, and so on. 

Lamb: Choral Techniques 

Gordon H. Lamb. Choral Techniques. Dubuque, IA: Wm. C. Brown Company 
Publishers, 1974. 

Abstract: Aimed at the director of a semi-pro choir, but has some good 
suggestions for vocal warm-up exercises and for auditioning singers. I tried 
to capture the highlights of the audition techniques but this book is well 
worth a read. 

McElheran: Conducting Technique: For Beginners And Professionals 

Brock McElheran. Conducting Technique: For Beginners And Professionals. 
2nd Revised Ed. New York, 2005. 

Abstract: This is a great no-nonsense concise book on conducting, covering 
both the basics and tricky situations. If you read only one book on this topic, 
this is the one. The original 1966 edition is just as good. 

Novak: Staging Musical Theatre 

Elaine Adams Novak. Staging Musical Theatre. 1st ed. Cincinnati, OH: Bet- 
terway Books, 1996. 

Abstract: This is a good all-around guide to getting your first show up, since 
it covers show selection, production, direction, choreography, the audition 
and rehearsal process, and more. It also has an extensive bibliography on 
various aspects of musical theater production and a useful glossary of terms 
used in musical theater production. 

Sebesky: The Contemporary Arranger, Definitive Edition 

Don Sebesky. The Contemporary Arranger, Definitive Edition. Alfred Publish- 
ing Company, 1984. 

Abstract: With a focus on arranging for medium-to-large bands, this book 
discusses both the artistic aspects of arranging—voicing, combining instru- 
mental timbres, and so on—and the technical ones, such as what figures or 
notes are hard or impossible to play on certain instruments. Unique to the 
book is a handful of annotated anti-examples explaining how NOT to do