Tag Archives: Music

Is it ever enough…?

This time of year is a tough time, for a lot of people. Students are prepping for and taking exams. Teachers are prepping their report cards. Everyone is getting ready for the new semester. Award shows are gearing up to evaluate the work of some of the performing arts and if you started a New Year’s Resolution… by now you probably have had a lapse or given up completely on that resolve. At least, I would have, if I did that sort of thing. I gave up years ago.

But as I come to the close of this semester, I get to enjoy the final efforts of my students in their performances. It can be a really fulfilling time for all of us, even if they don’t quite realize their full potential. I’ve had the privilege of watching them progress through the semester, and I hope, I’ve given some good pointers along the way to stimulate improvement in their skills and creative process.

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Today, I had the joyful experience of hearing my vocal students perform their final pieces. We had an excellent artist in our accompanist Marque Smith, and the students definitely benefited from having him there to play for them. The selections they chose for their exam songs were almost exclusively from the world of Musical Theatre and they were all very high quality choices. This, by itself, was a pleasure to listen to for the course of almost 2 hours. Their support for one another was delightful and each of the students rose to the occasion and have all improved over the course of this semester.

Just to tantalize you, some of the selections were:

Memories, Steps of the Palace, You Don’t Know This Man, Nothing, Don’t Rain On My Parade, Burn and many more beautiful pieces.

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Regardless of how well they did and how beautifully they progressed this year, I can’t help feeling that it wasn’t enough, that I could have done more. I have these kinds of thoughts every semester with every class. I have these kinds of thoughts with every show and with every project. Sometimes, I even have this kind of thought when I make dinner.

I’m sure I’m not alone. The end of anything is tough – semester, year, show, job… whatever. I guess we are supposed to wonder if we did enough. Maybe that’s the point.

What makes the best…?(Part 7)

Music Director

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A good musician can play their instrument – well. They can interpret music and convey meaning to the audience to help them feel something during the listening. A good musician can even teach another musician how to do the same. A Music Director needs to have all of these skills and more. They need to be a leader and be able to guide others to their own level of excellence. A Music Director needs to know the show they are working on inside out and backwards, they need to be able to bring the music to life, while teaching those who may never have read music before how to convey what they are reading to an audience.

A Music Director is in the Director’s corner and has his/her back on the artistic decisions that affect the show. They know how to take that vision and translate it into the music and make it workable for the singers, dancers and the musicians. It’s not an easy task. It’s a lot of people with varying skills and levels of confidence. And a really great Musical Director – by the end of the show has made all of those involved feel like they’ve performed better than ever before.

Some Music Directors also assemble the band – most do, as a matter of fact. They source the parts for those musicians to play and sometimes even arrange or re-write those parts. Music Directors frequently deal with inadequate to illegible scores sent by publishing companies who seem to feel that music is less important and does not require any of their time or effort to make readable. It astonishes me the amount of times I’ve worked with a score that is rife with errors, typos, incorrect lyrics and musical “infractions”. While typos are bad, and really inexcusable from publishing companies, a typo in a music score has the potential to really derail any rehearsal – depending upon the level of confusion that the mistake can create. This can range from one note being out of place and deciphered by smart musicians in a matter of minutes, to entire songs having different lyrics and arriving in different keys for the instrumentalists who are playing or the vocalists who are singing the song! (And yet, the publishers still expect payment for these!?!). Here’s the deal, a really great Musical Director can solve all of these problems, or even head them off at the pass before the rest of the company even needs to deal with them.

It’s a big job – but somebody’s got to do it!

What makes the best…?(Part 6)

Choreographer?

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There are lots of skills necessary to be a great Choreographer. Obviously a knowledge of and experience in dance is necessary and in my book, the wider the knowledge base, the greater the scope for creation. Skill as a dancer is also useful, but exceptional skill may not be necessary. Many great Choreographers have become so after dance careers that may have been less than stellar – but their passion for the art form has kept them returning to the craft and led them to find other ways to contribute.

Here’s an interesting article on that take: http://www.danceadvantage.net/2012/09/28/great-choreographers/

For Choreographic work in Theatre the skills are specific. The dance should, whenever possible, further the story or service the plot in some fashion. While the style may still be presentational, it should fit within the world of the play or musical. While I enjoy the acrobatics and technique of a superbly performed routine, I will always appreciate movement that tells us about character and storyline to showy moves. When superb technique is available and can be crafted and utilized to further the character and plot, then exceptional choreography is taking place and can be transformative for the audience.

Knowing when to keep it simple is also a great skill. There are times when the character or performer or moment in the story needs very little movement to garner a reaction with the audience. Knowing how & when to make use of simple movements to “move” and audience is an essential skill for a choreographer.

Speaking a language that the team can understand is vital. Dancers have knowledge of specific terminology and a shorthand that may mean nothing to the Musical Director or the Stage Manager or even some of the performers. A good Choreographer will have the skills to communicate their work and their needs for support in design and vision to the entire production.  For example, the ability to read music is essential for strong communication with the team.

The next time you are in an audience, ask yourself to analyse what the choreographer has assembled. Does it speak to you? Did it help you understand or appreciate the story or the characters? Did it “move” you? If so, then you were witnessing some great Choreography.

Living Creatively with Critical Thoughts

This week I took my cat to the vet and while I was standing there waiting to pay the bill I was admiring the artwork on the wall. It’s a beautiful illustration or watercolour, and it captures my attention every time I’m there. While I was admiring this piece, that critical voice in my head started to reprimand me for not practicing my drawing last weekend or for several days before that. I started to think that I was quite the failure for letting “other things” get in the way of my creative work. Then I remembered… I didn’t draw anything last weekend because I was in Chicago making Puppets and practicing performing with them. Cut yourself a little slack, eh?

But this happens all the time, doesn’t it? Even though I try to live a life that is perpetually creative, I become more and more jealous of my time to create my work – be it theatre, art, sewing, drawing, music, podcasting – whatever the work, there’s always something mundane that’s going to get in the way.  Bills, laundry, dishes, yardwork, workouts, ordinary dayjobs, illness, … whatever.

It’s easy to understand the workaholic when you are trying to be creative. There’s never enough time to do all the shows you want, or catch all the photos, or write all the plays… so what to do when that Critical Voice starts to get you down about all you’ve not accomplished?

I don’t really know, actually. At least, today I don’t. Because that voice did manage to get me a little down yesterday. On sensible days I have a plan, I have a schedule and I just keep plugging and keep creating. It’s like living Sisyphus’ life – the Greek King condemned to pushing a boulder up a hill to see it roll down again before it reaches the top. I’m constantly rolling my stone up the hill. It’s a “punishment” of my own devising, really, and most days I don’t view it as such, but there certainly is a sense of the never-ending to living creatively. The task will never be done.

How long do you let yourself celebrate after a creative task is complete, before you begin the next? Or does that ever really happen?