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Musical Theater accompanying (Read 3224 times)

Offline accompanist

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Musical Theater accompanying
« on: June 21, 2015, 11:35:18 PM »
Hey everybody!

I am looking for some advice from individuals who have ever been the accompanist for a musical theater production. I have done a couple so far, but for the first time ever I have to accompany vocalists at a cast audition.

I just received the music now and the audition is at the end of the week. Since I won't have time to learn the whole show by then and do not know which numbers will be expected of me, I'd like to ask a few questions to ease my nerves and make me more familiar with the whole process.

Mainly, if I am required to play a number I have not seen before, is it acceptable to simply double the vocal melody and not deal with the rest of the notes (Especially if it's in a strange key  ::))?

Should I always be doubling the vocal melody?

Do you think I will have to play whole songs or just snippets?

Thank you so very much to anybody who can help out by answering my questions or just sharing some of their own experiences. I really appreciate it! I would ask the director these questions but do not have the contact information.

Offline themeandvariation

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #1 on: June 21, 2015, 11:49:03 PM »
Hi.
The bass/ left hand is more important in this context, unless the vocalist is having terrible pitch problems…  Otherwise, (mostly) the vocalist is not to be doubled.  Try site reading thru the whole thing…  (several times)..  Try to play up the the tempo prescribed.. or at least try to keep it steady..   Sight reading for this kind of work is a most necessary skill… Something one must practice (a lot) each day in order to improve.  It is quite challenging…  Then, one can be concerned about the expression…
The other thing that is possible is to reduce the score to a chord chart.. just to get by in the meanwhile…But you may have to ask the director if that would be OK til you can play  the written score (somewhat) comfortably.
Cheers and good luck!
4'33"

Offline accompanist

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #2 on: June 22, 2015, 02:10:54 AM »
Hi.
The bass/ left hand is more important in this context, unless the vocalist is having terrible pitch problems…  Otherwise, (mostly) the vocalist is not to be doubled.  Try site reading thru the whole thing…  (several times)..  Try to play up the the tempo prescribed.. or at least try to keep it steady..   Sight reading for this kind of work is a most necessary skill… Something one must practice (a lot) each day in order to improve.  It is quite challenging…  Then, one can be concerned about the expression…
The other thing that is possible is to reduce the score to a chord chart.. just to get by in the meanwhile…But you may have to ask the director if that would be OK til you can play  the written score (somewhat) comfortably.
Cheers and good luck!

Thank you so much!!! Your information is really, really helpful. Since I have been given the piano conductor's score, the vocal melody is often written into my part. Now that I know I don't need to play it, I can cut the melody out and make the score a lot simpler for myself. ;D

Offline j_menz

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #3 on: June 22, 2015, 02:39:31 AM »
One additional thing. Check the score for musical lead ins - where what you play queues a singer to start. You need to do the melody here, and be solid on the rhythm otherwise chaos ensues (singers missing their queue or singers starting of at different tempi).
"What the world needs is more geniuses with humility. There are so few of us left" -- Oscar Levant

Offline andrewuk

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #4 on: June 22, 2015, 01:36:22 PM »
As someone who has done a lot of MT accompanying, I would say it's often not necessary, and sometimes positively undesirable, to double the vocal part, even if it's written in the piano part, as is often the case in collections of MT songs. If the singer knows the song, hearing their line on the piano won't be much help, and may be a hindrance if (as MT singers tend to do..) they vary the tune or rhythm. What matters most is to keep the bass and harmony going, and the rhythm of the accompaniment if that's important (e.g. "Tonight" from West Side Story has a syncopated pattern in the RH that complements the flowing vocal melody).  You need to keep going in tempo at all times (except if there are rits, etc, naturally, in which case try to be guided by the singer) - don't stop or pause to correct mistakes.

Of course, it depends on the singer: if you're accompanying children or inexperienced adults they may need the help of the vocal part from the piano - as you get more experienced you will learn to recognise what sort of support a singer needs, and how to provide it.

Whether you have to play the whole song or just snippets depends on the length of the song, and the MD's (and others') preference, but I think you should be prepared to play all of it, just in case.   Make sure you can deal with any tricky page turns and repeats.  (There should be a special place in hell for people who bring illegible, unmanageable, badly-stapled copies to audutions.)

Good luck!

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #5 on: June 23, 2015, 03:44:31 PM »
play the chord changes and a bass line.   Learn a few patterns with your left hand and know your chords and inversions and extensions inside and out.  Usually at those kinds of auditions the pianist is expected to transpose at sight for those who are unable to sing in the written key...  The pianist is also expected to sight-read any MT piece put in front of the and to anticipate the singer and follow them wherever they go in the music.  In fact if there is any musical question  of any kind--or anything to be "played on the fly" it is the pianist who is expected to know how to do it.

ok so now that I've scared you...lol    don't just double the melody...there are no strange keys..

start listening to recordings of this show---sleep with it if you can... learn to read chord charts..

Is this community theater?  High School?--are you getting paid?   

pretty brave of you to take this on


most important:   Act like you know what you are doing... :)  Keep your cool at all times... man those rehearsals can get long--tempers tend to wear thin at times...lol

Offline accompanist

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #6 on: June 30, 2015, 03:16:41 AM »
Wow! A big thank you to everybody! Your advice was really really helpful as I prepared for and ultimately played at the auditions. I thought it would be fitting for me to now answer some questions, ask some questions, and update everyone on how the auditions went...

They went well! I certainly wasn't perfect, especially since I had to play a couple of pieces I had never gotten the chance to look at before. But all things considered, I did a good job and the director seemed pleased! There were two main issues, one of which was admittedly my own fault, which would be tempo. I think my biggest challenge is keeping the tempo steady, because I tend to speed up or slow down due to nerves. This is definitely not a good habit to have--and it's one I'm going to be trying to stop ASAP. I'm not sure how much this affected my playing during the auditions as I tend not to notice my own tempo issues (which is a problem in and of itself). I would really appreciate tips regarding this.

The second main issue is not something I can change, as it is the quality of the piano I will be playing on. Throughout the rehearsals I will be using a pretty terrible keyboard that does not have weighted keys. I also think that the size (width) of the keys is different from a usual piano.... is this even possible or am I imagining things? Some notes come out incredibly louder than others for no apparent reason and my playing becomes a lot sloppier while using it. Any advice/anecdotes about playing on terrible instruments?

To answer a couple of questions, this is community theater and I am getting paid to accompany.

Yet again, thanks everybody! I'm overwhelmed by the response and the support!

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #7 on: June 30, 2015, 03:00:24 PM »
yes the keys are thinner... sounds like you are playing on a 76-key casio or yamaha.  The touch-sensitivity has worn out on some keys which is why they sound so much louder.  Turn off the touch sensitivity function and that will stop--but you will have no dynamic range whatsoever.  Usually the electric piano sound on those old keyboards is much more palatable than the piano sound...it's usually sound #4 or 5 in the memory bank.  Does it have a sustain pedal?  for about 10$ you can buy one and that will make a huge difference.  I have been there my friend--in a musical theater production with substandard equipment. Have a great time...lol :'(

So, what show are you doing?   

Offline michael_c

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #8 on: June 30, 2015, 07:18:06 PM »
I think my biggest challenge is keeping the tempo steady, because I tend to speed up or slow down due to nerves. This is definitely not a good habit to have--and it's one I'm going to be trying to stop ASAP. I'm not sure how much this affected my playing during the auditions as I tend not to notice my own tempo issues (which is a problem in and of itself). I would really appreciate tips regarding this.

Practice with a metronome. Also, record your playing without a metronome, then listen and check where you rush or drag. A steady tempo is essential in musical theatre.

In some productions you may have to play certain numbers with a click track: metronome practice is perfect preparation for this.

Any advice/anecdotes about playing on terrible instruments?

Don't!

You shouldn't have to play rehearsals on a sub-standard instrument. It's not just about your pleasure: it affects the whole production. A community theatre should be able to borrow a serviceable D-piano from somewhere: something with weighted keys in good playing order. Whoever is responsible needs to be convinced of the importance of this: it's not a question of being a diva, you're not asking for a Steinway, just an instrument that will be a help, not a hindrance in rehearsals.

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #9 on: June 30, 2015, 07:37:45 PM »



You shouldn't have to play rehearsals on a sub-standard instrument. It's not just about your pleasure: it affects the whole production. A community theatre should be able to borrow a serviceable D-piano from somewhere: something with weighted keys in good playing order. Whoever is responsible needs to be convinced of the importance of this: it's not a question of being a diva, you're not asking for a Steinway, just an instrument that will be a help, not a hindrance in rehearsals.

wow..no offense micheal c but--you have never done a community theater production as a pianist have you?   still that's a very valid argument that I have gone blue in the face trying to explain to community theater directors over the years.... Try telling the bean counters that...lol    

OP:  yes in a perfect world you should have a viable instrument... but in reality--you are going to have to play whatever they give you--or bring your own--or don't play the gig.   That's your choice.  Don't freakin complain or whine about it ever!  IT's the quickest way to never get a call back.  This is community theater and after you play this gig you are going to be known in your community as a professional...yes...you will.  IF you are known as a whiner and complainer you aren't going to get work...period.

I have booked weddings, church gigs, club gigs---all kinds of stuff after doing community theater...it's great exposure...  Make sure they print your business card in the program so folks know how to find you...

make the best of it--I promise you it won't be the last substandard instrument you will be asked to play in your career--and don't apologize for your playing EVER EVER EVER--no matter how bad that thing sounds...just keep playing...keep playing...keep playing...lol

Be on time and don't noodle on the keyboard...  Pay attention and don't goof off.   Really all you have in this business is your reputation--75% of it is showing up when you are supposed to. 

Are you going to have to play the performances on that or are you the rehearsal pianist only?  You can always borrow a keyboard yourself and solve this issue on your own.


Offline michael_c

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #10 on: July 01, 2015, 08:02:52 AM »
wow..no offense micheal c but--you have never done a community theater production as a pianist have you?   still that's a very valid argument that I have gone blue in the face trying to explain to community theater directors over the years.... Try telling the bean counters that...lol

It's true that most of my theatre experience is with professional productions, but I've done a number of amateur theatre productions as both conductor and pianist. It was many years ago, before digital pianos were so common, so we were using acoustic pianos for rehearsals. I was always able to obtain an upright piano with all the notes working and reasonably near to being in tune.

If there's really no way to convince those responsible to find a better instrument, you could follow dcstudio's last suggestion of borrowing a keyboard yourself.

In the long run, if you think you might be doing more of this sort of work, you could look into the possibility of buying a portable DP. Everyone expects string players and wind players to turn up with their own instruments: it's a big plus if the keyboardist can do this as well.

Offline dcstudio

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #11 on: July 01, 2015, 07:11:56 PM »

In the long run, if you think you might be doing more of this sort of work, you could look into the possibility of buying a portable DP. Everyone expects string players and wind players to turn up with their own instruments: it's a big plus if the keyboardist can do this as well.

damn straight...!  ;D 

Offline sharris

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #12 on: December 23, 2020, 06:50:44 AM »
If you are having to lead the singers and keep a steady pulse, I would recommend getting the Soundbrenner Pulse Click track Vibration Watch that you can wear around your wrist, or any other place of your body!!! Musicians use them these days for both performance and practice. And I would suggest using it if you were to be leading a pit orchestra as the piano conductor!

I use it, and I love it!!! You can even use more than one simultaneously like between you and your drummer! Or even at least your other rhythm musicians!!!


The Soundbrenner is controlled at least by the Soundbrenner app that you would have to download on the App Store or Google Play!!! As an option you can even control the App and the pulse watch with by tapping in a new tempo or changing presets with a bluetooth footpedals! You  an assign any pedal or pedals to do either function!


Another option is to just use the click track app and use the visual click track and footpedals. You would just play along with the flash on your smartphone, android, or ios devices!
And for any tunes in which the tempo stays completely the same all through out, you can just use the click track app without the foot switch nor the pulse watch!!!


Best of Luck!!!











Offline sharris

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #13 on: December 23, 2020, 07:18:22 AM »
Although, when you are sightreading, it's just not expected to keep a steady tempo regardless if you are playing to any kind of click track. Except to fake by just playing downbeat in the left hand even if there is written syncopation! In which nothing is written to be played on a down beat, and play as much as you can in the right hand. And I would suggest reading the chord charts if you have them!

Offline sharris

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #14 on: December 23, 2020, 07:34:47 AM »
Actually, you would discover that most most of the time when you sightread by faking the left hand by just playing downbeat, that is actually the way it is heard by the pit orchestra or band which ever is being used  when you listen to the CD's of the broadway casts!!! Most most, typically, if you are reading from vocal selections!!! And a lot of the times even in the Vocal Scores. You see, even when the first CD of any Broadway Show gets released unless the show closes prior to having a chance to make a CD, it has already been several years since the auditions and rehearsals prior to opening night! And in the mean time, things change!  And that can even include orchestrations!!!

Best of luck!!!

Offline sharris

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #15 on: December 26, 2020, 10:52:37 AM »
Practice with a metronome. Also, record your playing without a metronome, then listen and check where you rush or drag. A steady tempo is essential in musical theatre.

In some productions you may have to play certain numbers with a click track: metronome practice is perfect preparation for this.

Don't!

You shouldn't have to play rehearsals on a sub-standard instrument. It's not just about your pleasure: it affects the whole production. A community theatre should be able to borrow a serviceable D-piano from somewhere: something with weighted keys in good playing order. Whoever is responsible needs to be convinced of the importance of this: it's not a question of being a diva, you're not asking for a Steinway, just an instrument that will be a help, not a hindrance in rehearsals.



Michael C., I want to quote about the thing you said about steady tempo! Well, because the pianist is to be following the singers, as oppose to the other way around, in order for the pianist to keep a steady beat, the singers need to! I am a professional pianist and piano conductor who has done lots of musical theatre at the professional, collegiate, and amature community theatre and including children's theatre levels! and that is the way it has always been in my world!!!

Now, there had been some times in Children's musical theatre where I had to play along to a visual click track which had realtime cruise control that I could control with a foot pedal, like to tap a new tempo measured by the pulse of my foot, to help myself keep a steady tempo for them to help them out! Such as helping the kids have an easier time tackling all the words!!! And I would use it if I was accompanying by myself, and if I'm leading a pit band or a pit orchestra in both performances, and rehearsals! And of course, really helping them out on dance breaks!!!


Have you yet read my quote at the bottom about the Soundbrenner Vibrating Pulse Click Track Watch that I am using nowadays? You should read what I have to say about it!!! And I encourage you to Google it!!!


Offline sharris

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Re: Musical Theater accompanying
«Reply #16 on: December 26, 2020, 11:08:42 AM »
Actually, the quote I wrote about the Soundbrenner now written above this quote! You will find it!!! It's under sharris!!!

Good luck!!!