Updates of All Kinds!

Hello and welcome back!

If you’ve been watching this site, you’ve undoubtedly been bored, as nothing has happened here since January.

But now things have kicked off! I’ve done a fair amount of revision over the last few days, and there is more to come. It will take me a while to get everything cleaned up and consistent, but it’s something.

In addition to site updates, here’s an unfairly brief summary of my life recently.

Big Changes

In March, I found out that I had been accepted to Shenandoah Conservatory, to study conducting there. This program has been highly recommended by several people who I respect, and I jumped at the chance to be involved.

I accepted the offer and resigned my job at Magnolia West High School. I finished out the end of the year (earning a UIL Sweepstakes trophy in the process!) and moved to Winchester, Virginia. I’m renting a house with several other grad students, and I’m sitting on the couch as I type this.

I’ve spent the time since my move working with Shenandoah Summer Music Theatre, the summer stock program run by the conservatory. In addition to showing me around the school, I’ve had a chance to interact with faculty and staff who I will be working with during the year. Needless to say I’ve spent plenty of time at the piano and in the library.

I was awarded a partial assistantship, which was recently converted to a full assistantship, which will cover many of my expenses in exchange for my work. I’m excited to see what that will lead to!

Other Events

At the same time, I also left my job at Advent Lutheran Church, where I’d been playing since December of 2018. I am incredibly thankful and blessed to have worked with Pastor Kim and with Scott MacAdow there, and I learned a lot. I also finished my studies with Dr. Dave Englert, and earned my Service Playing Certificate from the American Guild of Organists.

Before I moved, I had a chance to go one last time to UIL State Solo & Ensemble. I accompanied about 20 students, including covering for two students who I had never worked with but found themselves in need.

The move went smoothly and I enjoyed seeing many parts of the country. You can check out my Instagram feed for pictures of the travel.

Looking Forward

My time with SSMT has nearly ended. I’m still playing for some occasional rehearsals while David, the main rehearsal pianist, is busy with shows. But it allows me many free days and not much to do.

So with the remaining summer, I’m making a point of sightseeing and preparing myself for the fall. I’m playing plenty of piano and reading a lot. I hope to visit friends in Washington, D.C., and possibly even in New York City before the summer ends.

And of course I’ll be updating and filling this site in as well. No excuses, since I have plenty of free time.

2018 in Review!

I promised a year-in-review post, so here’s a quick rundown of this year. Meant to post this last night but I wanted some time to review it before I sent it.

This has been an eventful year and I’m sure I’ve missed some things. It has felt incredibly long. I tried to hit the highlights of things, especially things that have built into where I am now.

I purposefully kept this list brief and dry because it’s so long and I don’t want to drown it in emotion forever and ever.

So without further ado: a brief list of what I did this last year.


Auditions for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at The Players Theatre Company.

Trip to New York to tour a college, including seeing performances of Sleep No More and Come from Away. Thanks to family friends, I was able to get onstage at Come From Away after the performance. Spent the night with my friend Michael Williams, and sadly missed his roommates Ryan Jacobs and Austin Jacobs.

Saw snow in Ithaca, NY!


Pop Show, Solo & Ensemble with choir students.

Piano Solo & Ensemble.

Continued Rehearsal for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee.


Performances of The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee at the Players Theatre Company

Trip to Phoenix, AZ to visit Arizona State University, where I have applied for my master’s degree. I’m looking forward to auditioning in February of this year. I stayed with friends Dale Sakamoto and his wife Jayna.

Hatched the idea for The Woodlands Chamber Music Project along with John Paddie.


UIL Concert and Sight Reading

Rehearsals with Stageworks Theatre for Bonnie and Clyde (sadly, I was replaced on this show, as I was unable to play the score well enough on short notice.)

Rehearsals with Stageworks Theatre My Shot Cabaret.


Pop Show

Performance of Stageworks Theatre My Shot Cabaret.

First “The Woodlands Chamber Music Project” recital. It was the same night as the above, so I was unable to attend it.

State Solo & Ensemble with a number of band students.


Auditions for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers with the Players Theatre Company.

Performance with “The Woodlands Chamber Music Project”


Trip to the Grand Canyon (see Instagram for more detail on this one).

Continued Rehearsals for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Performance with “The Woodlands Chamber Music Project”


Final rehearsals for Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Performance with “The Woodlands Chamber Music Project”


Performances of Seven Brides for Seven Brothers

Short & Sweet Choir Concert


Men’s Choir Performance at MWHS Football Games

SHSU Men’s Choir Showcase

Trip to Shenandoah, VA to tour Shenandoah University where I have applied for my master’s degree. I’m waiting on feedback, as I submitted just before they went on winter break.

Began rehearsals for [Title of Show] at Iconotheatrix.


Performances of [Title of Show] at Iconotheatrix.

Hired as organist at Advent Lutheran Church. This opportunity came about thanks to meeting with Scott McAdow, who judged my students back in the spring.

Submitted application to Arizona State University.


Merry Mustang Show & Auction

Christmas Services at Advent Lutheran Church

Thanks to all of my friends and family for their support during the past year. I’ve tried so many cool things and some have been successful and other haven’t. All of them were opportunities for personal or professional growth, so I’m thrilled to have had them.

I’m also incredibly grateful for the new friends and colleagues I have met in the last year. I have met so many talented actors and musicians through my travels and expanding my network. I have worked with committed, talented amateurs at the theaters and at school and at church. My heart is full of love for those who have given their art into the world during 2018. Let’s do it again in 2019!

The Best Laid Plans


It’s been a bit since I wrote here. In fact, from what I can see of my publication dates, it has been almost a month. A lot has happened in that time. Here’s a quick run-down:

  • Thanksgiving 2018. I had actually scheduled a post for this day, but I never finished editing it for publication. The gist of it was this:

I am thankful for my loving family and friends, for the actors and musicians I’ve worked with over the last year, and for the incredibly fortunate life I have to to be able to do this and to pursue it.

  • Church Organ at Advent Lutheran Church. This has been a big focus of my life in recent weeks. As I begin working regularly, I’m having to spend more time developing skills and picking up repertoire for Preludes, Postludes, and Offertories. This was quite a challenge at first, but I’m finding that my pace has increased as I’ve gotten familiar with the instrument.

  • Application to Arizona State University. I submitted my application on the afternoon of November 30, just before the December 1 deadline. I am still waiting to hear back. One of my references sent me a copy of her recommendation letter and I was really honored by the glowing terms she used to describe my work.

  • Magnolia West Choir Concert. This past Thursday was our annual “Merry Mustang Show and Auction” at MWHS. This concert is a huge undertaking, as it is one of our main fundraisers for the year. In addition to the longest concert of our year (about an hour and a half), we present a silent auction of gift baskets made by our students (and constructed by the head director), and a live auction of decorated Christmas trees by parents. All of this money goes toward student scholarships. It’s a genius idea, and I’m always excited to see how it goes. This year was quite stressful, as we seemed to be a little behind the curve on things. The two days leading up to the concert I didn’t even have time to stop for lunch between paperwork and rehearsals.

  • Pride and Prejudice at Fourth Wall Theatre Company. I returned to my favorite local professional company to see “Pride and Prejudice” in an adaptation by Kate Hamill. I still haven’t read the book so I can’t comment on comparisons, but my two companions were intimately familiar with it and seemed to have a good time. It took some liberties with the plot in the interest of time and comedy but it was, as always, well-acted and exciting.

  • Application to Shenandoah Conservatory. Last night, a friend helped me re-record the interview portion of my application to SU. I’m hoping to edit that together with video of myself leading rehearsals so that I can submit in the next few days. I know it’s well ahead of their January deadline, but I’d rather be done with it so I can enjoy my holidays.

Upcoming events are of course Christmas 2018 and New Year 2018-2019. I have Christmas eve services at the church that I will put on the calendar as soon as I have sorted out the repertoire. I need to make a Christmas list to send to family this weekend. I need to start making plans for the new year.

Oh and I need to continue to post here regularly…

Show Thoughts: Urinetown at Shenandoah Conservatory

I’m in the middle of a wonderful trip to northern Virginia to visit Shenandoah Conservatory. I’m considering applying to their degree for a Masters of Music in Musical Theatre Conducting.

During this trip, I’m going to observe classes at the conservatory, but in the meantime I had the chance to see their first musical of the season: Urinetown.

Urinetown is one of that class of shows that was a bit of a cult favorite a decade ago, then kind of dropped off. This is the first production I’ve even heard of since I saw it in high school. I’m sure that it gets produced regularly, but it’s not on the level of, say, Hairspray or Avenue Q, both of which came out at a similar time.

As usual when I discuss shows, I’m going to spend most of my time on the material, and comment briefly on the production briefly at the end.

The Story of Urinetown

I remember reading a preface to a published version of the script to this show when I was in high school. The creators stated that the show was inspired initially by a trend in Europe of pay-per-use toilets in public locations. The creators encountered this and decided to take it to its logical conclusion.

In Urinetown: The Musical (as opposed to Urinetown the place, which is “full of symbolism and things like that”), the plot is pretty straightforward.

A nasty drought has been going on for 20 years, and water is in very short supply. The Urine Good Company (UGC), under the leadership of Caldwell B. Cladwell, has contracted with the government to regulate water consumption by charging people every time they need to use the toilet.

And, before you ask, the creators address both questions that immediately arise: first, it is made illegal to eliminate waste anywhere other than in a public facility. Violation of this law leads to exile to the much mythologized “Urinetown” of the title.

Unfortunately, Cladwell is massively corrupt and uses the regulation as a cover for increasing his own personal fortune and rewards the politicians who support him with big payoffs. When he pushes through a new rate hike, the locals revolt, under the leadership of Bobby Strong, an assistant custodian at Public Amenity #9.

Bobby leads the people in kidnapping Cladwell’s daughter Hope for leverage, and demanding that people be allowed to pee for free all the time. Cladwell tries to pay off Bobby, and when rebuffed, sends him to Urinetown (which turns out to simply be tossing him off the roof of the building).

Rather than giving up, Hope (who was in love with Bobby, of course, as he’s the hero of the show) takes charge of the rebellion. She and the rebels storm the UGC headquarters, send Cladwell off to Urinetown, and open the water to everyone.

Unfortunately, Hope is ignoring the obvious issue. Corrupt as her father was, the water did need to be regulated. In a rather tidy epilogue, we are told that the water dried up, Hope was likewise disposed of, and the suffering continued.

The Script

Despite the dark subject matter, Urinetown is a comedy. It’s a hilariously self aware show that begins with “Welcome to Urinetown—not the place, of course, the musical!” and ends with a chorus of “That was our show!”

In between are

  • commentary on the fact that the concept is massively oversimplified

  • references to other musicals (mostly in the score and staging, which comes later)

  • meta commentary on how dark the show is and how it’s structured (“Nothing can ruin a show like too much exposition.”)

  • a ton of puns on Hope

  • continual conflating of the metaphorical heart with the actual biological organ

and more.

It’s the kind of script that does a lot of the work for the actors. As with a Gilbert and Sullivan script, it works best when delivered deadpan with appropriate pauses for laughter. This makes it a challenge, because good actors want to bring something to the role. With comedy, though, my taste runs toward deadpan and dry humor, which this show has in spades.

The primary thrust of the show is about economics of scarcity. The last spoken line of the show is “Hail Malthus” a reference to economist Thomas Malthus. Malthus’s primary contribution to economics is a theory of extreme scarcity, which is explored quite well on his Wikipedia page.

But there’s another layer that I find particularly interesting in light of current cultural trends.

Listen to Understand, Not to Reply

The show sets up a very weird dichotomy for the audience. On the one hand, we’re clearly supposed to root for the rebels and for Bobby Strong. They get all the good tunes, the more distinct characterizations, and we’re naturally disposed to root against authoritarian regimes.

On the other hand, Cladwell isn’t entirely in the wrong. Of course he’s massively corrupt and kind of a jerk. But, as the epilogue points out, he’s the only one who has the power or the will to regulate water consumption so what little is left can be preserved.

It sets up a tension between

  • the guys we like but are short sighted (Bobby and the rebels who have our heart)

  • the guys who are infuriating but have the right idea. (Cladwell and the company, who have our brain, if we give it more than a cursory consideration)

To get the full effect of the show, we have to be able to differentiate between style and substance. This is important in our relationships with people.

Bobby and the rebels repeat catchy soundbites like “Pee for free,” but they don’t think beyond that. Cladwell speaks reason, but it’s mixed with his own personal evil. The problem isn’t the rules. The problem is the person who can and will manipulate the rules for his own gain. Neither side has the right idea, but they’re not listening to each other.

The second message of this show is to pay attention carefully. Before you fight everything your opponent stands against, make sure you don’t agree on something. Don’t oppose a good idea simply because the other side likes it. It’s not about vindictiveness, it’s about what’s best for everyone.

The Score

Urinetown sounds like nothing else. The orchestra is a piano-driven ensemble of five or so players, featuring brass and woodwinds. There are no section strings, just a bass. The singing style is essentially standard musical theatre, with some extreme ranges and a lot of stylistic pastiche.

Most of the songs are your standard “book” songs, meaning they advance the plot. They are paired up with lyrics of varying degrees of cheesiness, from the tight rhymes of the title song to the comically forced metaphors of “Don’t be the Bunny” and “Follow Your Heart”

Act 2 is more musically interesting than Act 1. Much of this comes from the run of three songs right at the start of the act. These three are a microcosm of musical reference, but pretty cleverly disguised. (The production I saw highlighted these references with choreography references to the original shows).

The first song, “What is Urinetown?” is a klezmer-infected tune, with some overt references to the Fiddler on the Roof score. The choreography of this production referenced the wedding dances, but the music is more remniscent of the song “To Life” based on my quick glance back at the original cast recording of the latter.

The next song is “Snuff that Girl.” This one is a clear parody of “Cool” from West Side Story. Complete with the dance break explosions from individual singers and the hi hat solo. This choreographer cleverly included a number of moves from the Jerome Robbins choreography to West Side Story

The final number in this sequence is “Run, Freedom, Run” which I have been told is intended to parody “Gonna Build a Mountain” from the musical Stop the World—I Want to Get Off. A cursory listen to the latter makes a strong case, but there are enough differences between the two that I wouldn’t immediately connect them.

Outside of those three numbers, the rest of Act 2 feels a little rushed, but the music stays tonally consistent. In fact, nearly ever number is in a minor key, which lends some unity to the zany plot.

My favorite element of this show, from a director’s perspective, is that it seems quite rewarding for the ensemble. There are only a few numbers that don’t feature them, and they do get significant roles in most of the songs. It’s a crowd musical, with a small handful of leads, a few featured roles, and a lot of stage time for the ensemble.

The Production

I was excited to see what this show would look (and more importantly, sound) like. As I mentioned at the beginning, I am considering applying to Shenandoah Conservatory for a master’s degree, so it was a chance to see the kind of work they put out.

Overall, I was quite impressed with the cast. This is not an easy show to sing, or to characterize. The characters are caricatures, but need at least a little humanity. The ranges are pretty extreme, but I felt the voices were well-suited to the demands of the roles. The weak spots were few and far between, and they mostly happened in the most likely places (high belts, or low notes for high voices). The singing tone was lovely, though. In a few places words weren’t totally clear (mostly in faster songs).

The staging was effective and clever, using a simple two story set with a staircase, and some moving walls to quickly transition between locations. The curtain was only used at the end of both acts, with everything else happening in view of the audience. Even the pre-show involved the actors interacting with the audience (mostly begging for coins).

The acting was one of my biggest surprises. It was effective, but overdramatic for my taste. As I said earlier, this script is quite funny in its own right, and it doesn’t need more exaggeration for effect. Some of the bits (e.g., the way Hope reacted every single time someone said her name, or the homonym) were funny and highlighted the humor. But there were more than a few physical bits that I felt distracted from the script in the interest of a visual gag.

The other annoyance to me was the balance of microphones. On the positive side, I felt the overall level was perfect. Everything was clear without being overwhelming, and I was in the back half of the theater. However, there were a few hiccups where microphones didn’t come on at the entrance. Many times the background vocals were too loud, which made it hard to follow the lead vocals. I would have liked to see some subtle boosting of the lead, and softening the ensemble.

Overall, though, it was a wonderful performance. I am glad I got to see this thought provoking and hilarious show in a high-quality production. My congratulations to all of the actors, musicians, technicians, and the creative team.