The Overture is About to Start...

I've wanted to live and work in New York City for most of my life. Growing up in the Midwest, I have rarely had the opportunity to see so many of the amazing shows that have played a Broadway stage. Because of my URG, I'll be able to fulfill this dream of mine, doing important research on the ways undergraduate students can best leverage their education to have a career in music direction for the stage. Though I am a theatre major, my main pursuit is the "music" aspect of musical theatre. I play the piano, conduct, and do lots of other music work around campus. I'll be in the city from July 25 to September 18, just before fall quarter begins at NU. I will be staying in Brooklyn for the first half of my stay, and Manhattan for the other half. I could not be more excited about this amazing opportunity! Fellow music directors: feel free to get in touch if you are also in the city or have an interest in my project!

A Final Reflection

I am not sure how to adequately sum up the experience of the last eight weeks. My paper will attempt to do that, but it will be formal and rigorously constructed. It won’t capture the joy I felt getting the experience of my dream job for a little while, the excitement of living in a new city, the perfection of each orchestra I sat in or heard from the house.

I head to LaGuardia tomorrow for a 1:15pm flight. In about 15 hours I’ll be back in Evanston getting back into the rhythm of college life and preparing for senior year. I have never been more motivated to make the most out of my Northwestern experience after seeing the level I need to be at if I want to succeed in this career. I will be playing more lessons and classes, sightreading on my own for at least an hour every day, and doing freelance and show work constantly throughout the year. I’m excited to challenge myself and continue to grow so that when I move to NYC in a little less than a year, I’ll be ready to dive in head first.

Tonight, for my last show I saw The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time. Though not a musical, it was a really unique and fitting end to my time in New York. I held onto every moment onstage as it happened, and it gave me tremendous closure. What a beautiful play. I feel ready to leave this city a better person. I’m not too upset about leaving because I know I’ll be back. I am so thankful for the opportunity to conduct this research, and I look forward to refining my research paper over fall quarter!

Thanks for reading!

Casey

“In the Room Where it Happens”

Sitting in the Hamilton pit was indescribable. To be “in the room where it happens” of one of the biggest smash hits to come to Broadway in recent years was so exciting. I had a copy of the score to follow along with and a great view of the entire orchestra. Hamilton was the eighth of eight shows I will observe from the pit in New York. In total, they were Amazing GraceKinky BootsThe Book of Mormon, On the TownSomething Rotten!, Les Mis, Wicked, and finally Hamilton. It still feels like this has all been a long dream. Though I am in a way dreading leaving this dream project, I am also very excited and ready to come back to Evanston.

I have absorbed so much information for my research project, but also for how I am going to run my own orchestra in the fall. I am music directing and piano-conducting a fall show and I have learned so much about how I will lead this group of players differently than I’ve ever done before. I used last year as a way to learn from others and assist/play in pits, and now I’m looking forward to a year of leadership and big steps forward in my process. I have a major project lined up for each quarter and then many options for the summer. It’s a very exciting time in my life and I can’t wait to apply what I learned on this extraordinary experience.

I will post at least once more before I leave with a final reflection.

Wrapping Up

My friend Bex was here for a few days and I haven’t posted as much because we were so busy.

I sat in Les Mis and Wicked in the past week. Both were amazing experiences because I know both scores so well. The level of sound from Les Mis was fantastic because they do not use any headphones and listen to each other. Volume augmentation is used limitedly and the group is forced to listen and naturally adjust their levels. Wicked was just stunning- the player I sat next to has played the keyboard 3 book since opening night. Over 12 years! He is fully memorized and plays the show like clockwork.

Tomorrow, I am observing Hamilton. I head home on Friday. It’s been an unforgettable experience. I submitted my Final Report that summarizes my project, and I’ll be working on my research paper throughout fall quarter. I’m going to see a few more shows and go to the library a few more times before I leave. It will be so hard to go, but I’m ready to head back to Evanston for another fantastic year!

Writing, Something Rotten!, and Les Mis

I have made a pact with myself to write at least a page of my paper every day until the end of my project. Right now it’s about 6 pages. It looks like this will be a very long final product that results from my project because I have so many different relevant things to say after 8 weeks of observation. It is officially my 7th of 8 weeks and I am mentally preparing for the end of the road. I’m looking forward to coming back to Evanston, but I will miss the weird life I have led here so much.

Last night, I observed Something Rotten! I interviewed the conductor and the keyboard 1 player. They have a BLAST in this pit. It was so wonderful to see the joy in everyone who makes this production possible. It is one of my favorite shows, and it is definitely in the “well-oiled machine” phase now that it has been running for over 6 months. I also got to go up on the podium at intermission and look at the scores. Looking up at the huge curtain reading “SOMETHING ROTTEN!” right in front of me from the podium sent chills throughout my entire body. It was a surreal moment that reminded me of my career goals and gave me a sense of clarity to accomplish them.

Tonight, I am observing Les Mis! It will be helpful to sit in on a show I am already quite familiar with musically. Then I’m seeing a lot of shows this week (and a Yankees game on Tuesday!), and observing Wicked on Friday. I’m also observing a recording of Seth Rudetsky’s show on Wednesday. It’s shaping up to be a fantastic final two weeks.

On Again, Off Again

My research here is following the pattern of a career in music direction: dry spells where you have to get creative with your time, and periods that are so busy it feels there is hardly time to breathe. I have not had a direct observation of a show in a week or so, but today I received 4 updates on shows that I could sit in on. I will be sitting in on Hamilton, Les Mis, Something Rotten!, and Wicked in the next week.

Yesterday, I got to interview David Loud and Brian Usifer. Both were extremely informative and helpful for my project. David Loud was especially interesting to me as a lifelong music director and original cast member of Merrily We Roll Along back in 1981. He has music directed many Kander and Eb shows, as well as the original Ragtime. It was fascinating to talk to him about the evolution of the field and how his job has changed over time. He has worked with some of the most amazing people in theatre history and I am very lucky to have him involved in my research. Brian Usifer was very helpful too, coming from a vast musical education that encompassed classical, rock, jazz, and pop music.

“Smoke Gets In Your Eyes…”

Today, I went back to the Performing Arts Library and did some more research for my project. I am finding the many writings of composing and music directing legend Lehman Engel especially helpful. Also, since there is not a lot of literature on music directing, I have been going through books made about specific Broadway shows and going to the Music Team sections. The book on A Chorus Line had a wealth of information on music directing and the process of creating a Broadway score.

I have decided to write a research paper as the way I will present my findings, and I will hopefully be able to present in a music directing class I am taking this fall as well. I want to publish the paper as a PDF to spread on forums, Facebook groups, email, and other media to reach as many music directors as possible. I am going to start putting this paper together in my remaining weeks here in New York, and will continue working on it in Evanston.

I also went to the Museum of the Moving Image in Queens this afternoon. I went to see the Mad Men exhibit that will be there for just a few more days. I took a class on Mad Men this past spring and I’m a huge fan of the show, so it was a great way to immerse myself further in that world. It had 3 fully recreated sets with the actual pieces that were filmed, and tons of artifacts and clips from the show. It was another great way to see a part of the city I have spent very little time in so far.

Tomorrow, I am Skyping in with my family for my mom’s birthday and then observing Les Mis from the orchestra! I have assembled another huge list of music directors whom I wish to observe, so hopefully I will have many more observations before my time is through here in 3 weeks.

The clock is ticking, and I am doing my best to absorb every single minute of this life changing experience.

Wrapping Up Gumbo and More

Gumbo ended today. It was an amazing, amazing experience in which I learned so much about professionalism and musicality. The score was so difficult and I was tested constantly as a leader and a musician. This was one of the most valuable experiences I have had on this show. I truly believe Gumbo has a big future.

Tomorrow, I am going to A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. I also will be meeting with David Loud soon, MD of many Kander and Eb shows. It will be a defining moment of this project to speak to such a veteran of the craft I am studying. I have other interviews lined up for later in the week as well. It’s shaping up to be an excellent week 5.

“Come to the Fun Home…”

Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to interview Fun Home music director Chris Fenwick in the house of the Circle in the Square Theater itself. It has been interesting to me how many music directors have the luxury of choosing precisely what kind of work they want to do. Many, like Chris, have never had to do audition piano, coachings, or copy work. We had a fantastic conversation about the show, about Broadway, and about my project. Chris was interesting to me not only because of my love of Fun Home, but the extensive work he has done off-Broadway with Michael John LaChuisa, one of my favorite composers. Chris is a conservatory-trained classical pianist, another interesting and varied background to add to my list of music directors I have interviewed (now at 10!) I also received my email interview questions back fully answered from Joseph Church.

We then had another Gumbo rehearsal. We’re almost done teaching music and I still can’t believe how much rehearsal work I am doing. I am playing, teaching, and doing so much more than I’ve ever done as an assistant because this show is so demanding. I’m having the most positive experience at this show and I can’t wait for the presentations on Monday and Tuesday.

The rest of this week is just staying busy with Gumbo and starting to work on my write-up for this project.

On the Town and Music Assisting, Part 2

Things are really picking up again. Yesterday was the first Gumbo rehearsal! I taught some solos to people a lot older than me for the first time, and it was terrifying but rewarding. I’m looking forward to going back in tonight to do some more work for this production. It’s a long, difficult score with very minimal rehearsal time so it is taking a lot of effort from everyone to make everything happen.

I just observed On the Town from the orchestra. It was the largest pit I’ve observed so far, with 22 musicians (down from 28 a few weeks ago, due to cutting back costs). The show is closing in less than 3 weeks, and I think that is actually helping the energy of the show as everyone who works on the show realizes that the year-long run is coming to an end. The musical quality was, of course, excellent. I kept thinking to myself how ahead of its time these orchestrations are. This production uses all of the original music and orchestrations of the original, and it still somehow sounds fresh and exciting today. The whole team of writers were in their mid-20s when they wrote it, the beginning of long and successful careers for Leonard Bernstein, Betty Comden, and Adolph Green. I enjoyed meeting and chatting with the music director and conductor James Moore, a Chicago native himself. We realized we had similar high school experiences, playing a brass instrument in the band while studying piano and singing in choirs. I am getting a good idea of how many different educational backgrounds the music directors of Broadway have. There is no “one path” by any means, and there is also no path that disqualifies one from becoming a music director given they have the talent. It seems that school is best used for connections.

Tomorrow, I am meeting with Chris Fenwick, music director of Fun Home. Then it’s another Gumbo rehearsal!

“The People Ride in a Hole in the Ground…”

What a jam-packed weekend!

On Friday we went into Times Square and explored the stores and streets. On Saturday, we got up early to go to an event at the Nintendo Store (Why? because I’m still 10-years old, that’s why.) Then, we went to the 9/11 Memorial. The fountains where the towers stood are truly breathtaking. We went further south to Battery Park and took the Staten Island Ferry. On the island, we checked out the Yankees’ minor league stadium and hopped on the next ferry back. It was a fantastic view of all of the southern boroughs, as well as the Statue of Liberty. That night, we went to a Mets game and stayed for the entire 14 innings. We took Sunday morning/afternoon to rest, and then headed out into Little Italy for some great Italian food. After dinner, we went to Something Rotten! which was absolutely one of the funniest musical comedies I have ever seen. It was pure delight from start to finish. I am going to try and get in touch with the music director to see if I can observe that fantastic-sounding orchestra. Megan left early this morning, and now I’m back to research!

Today, I am score-preparing for Gumbo. This new workshop starts tomorrow, and I could not be more excited! This score is FANTASTIC. And the concept is mind-boggling: it is the story of Orpheus/Eurydice placed on the events of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. I could not be more excited for my second professional NYC show.

I will be at Gumbo all week, with meetings most days. I am interviewing the music director of Fun Home soon! It’s shaping up to be a wonderful fourth week.