Revisiting a Score

If you've looked around this site since launch, you probably know that I'm coming up on an exciting event! I'm revisiting "The Twenty-Fifth Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee" with The Players Theater Company!

Auditions are in next week (click here for the event).

The show dates are March 9-30 (click here for tickets).

My last production was at Magnolia West High School just after arriving there. It was my first big collaboration with the theatre department. I learned a great deal, as you can read at the link at the beginning of this paragraph.

In preparation for auditions, I'm reviewing the score. I'm reminded of a lot of things I learned the first time through. But I'm also a better musician than I was in spring of 2016. I'm also trying to solve some issues ahead of time. Here are some things I'm considering:

1. What will be challenges for the singers? Which songs will need the most attention? These will need to be rehearsed early and/or often.

I'm bringing my experience as a teacher to this question. One thing I pride myself on is my ability to break down a work into important component parts and make sure those are well in hand. I hope to have a skilled cast of singers for this production, which means I can tackle the challenges of this work without having to simplify. At the same time, I don't want to make it unnecessarily difficult.

This is also a chance to look at the vocal challenges. For example, there's one female role who needs to have a nice, classical ("legit" in musical theater terms) soprano quality. So I have to keep an eye out for that among the actors we audition. All of the men who sing--one character only speaks in rhythm--need high notes, but are they all the same? Perhaps a singer who's not as comfortable up there can be adjusted for. This is community theater, after all. We work with who comes to us. This challenge of working around limitations is exciting, and one I should address another time.

2. What are the tricky spots at the keyboard?

I don't want to waste rehearsal time on things that are my fault. One of the expectations of me as a music director/accompanist is that I am prepared well in advance of rehearsal. This means, as accompanist, I need to have the pieces under my fingers before I can teach them to the cast. Playing wrong notes or harmonies, and missing cues are unacceptable.

I'm helped by the fact that I've played this show before. Although it was a few years ago, I should be able to pick back up large chunks quickly. But I will still have to practice.

3. What will be tough to coordinate onstage?

For this production, I'm in the unique position of being behind the cast. While this is not an unheard of position, it does mean that I will be unable to give them a visual cue at spots. Most of this show works well if the cast and orchestra listen to each other (see the next section). But there are some cues I will need to figure out how to give the cast. For example, when a singer enters the last time on a vamp (a repeated section of music) they need to know what the music sounds like right before they sing. And hopefully, what to do if they miss it and need to wait for it to come around again.

In addition, there are cues that work the other way around. There are songs and sections of songs that need to respond quickly and immediately to dialogue. I need to go through the orchestra books and look through what they have. I may need to write in some instructions to them tool.

4. What can I communicate to the orchestra ahead of time? What do I need to communicate to them?

In my previous collaborations with Sal Jiminez, I've learned a lot about how ensemble players process information. They seem to respond well if I can give them a clear tempo indication ahead of time. They're less likely to listen to recordings and see how their part fits in.

Besides basic tempo indications, I want to make sure to clarify cues and places for greater rubato or strict tempo, separate from what the singers are doing. For this ensemble, I want the orchestra to be more of a band following the singers as an ensemble. I'm hoping to have them in rehearsals earlier, and generally for them to be highly responsive to the cast.

Answering these questions requires me to study the score in detail. I've never been great about marking up my score, but I want to be more on top of things. This work will be the first new work attached to my portfolio since I started laying out into public. I want it to be good!

Come see Spelling Bee at the Players Theatre Company! Click here for tickets!