Thursday, 16 January 2014

Tales from the Orchestra Pit: Guys and Dolls Part 3

The purpose of today’s rehearsal was to put together the orchestra with the singers and dancers, without any of the between-song dialogue. Compared with yesterday it was a fairly short rehearsal – only three and a half hours, although it did feel considerably longer.
The rehearsal started shortly after one o’clock in the afternoon, by which time the whole orchestra, including percussion, was completely set up. We’re having a bit of an awkward time with having to move around locations, by the way. Yesterday’s rehearsal was in one place. Today’s was in another. Saturday’s will be in yet another venue, and then on Sunday we’ll start rehearsing in the actual theatre. It’s not so bad for me, as I only have to carry two instruments, but it’s not so easy for the percussionists who have to transport colossal amounts of equipment.
I must say I particularly enjoyed listening to the vocal warm-ups that the cast went through at the beginning of the rehearsal. That’s another great thing about being in the orchestra, in that you don’t have to put yourself through anything so undignified. It sounded like some bizarre ritual. Then again, I suppose it is! It certainly made me smile.
What didn’t make me smile was the chair I had to sit in. It was a folding plastic thing, but the seat was tilted back slightly so that it had a tendency to swallow you. This would be fine if you were just sitting in it normally. In fact on the few occasions when I sat fully back in it, it was really quite comfortable. But when you play a wind instrument you need to sit slightly forwards and with a straight back, something for which these chairs clearly weren’t designed. The result is that I seem to have gained a bit of a back ache from the day. We’re using the same chairs for tomorrow’s rehearsal, so I might take a cushion to see if that eases the pain.
Overall, I suppose the rehearsal was a positive one. We managed to get through everything (only just) and when it all comes together it sounds great. The singers are brilliant, the dances (from what I could glimpse whilst playing) looked pretty slick, and the orchestra is excellent, even though I say so myself. It should be a fine show.
Notice, however, that I say it’s good ‘when it all comes together’. When it doesn’t come together it is decidedly rough. The problem lies, I think, in combining the orchestra with the cast. Normally this is not a problem, and in the previous musicals I have played for it hasn’t provided any major difficulty. The standard method is for the musical director to keep close track of the singers, the vocal coaches, the choreographers and the dancers so that they all know exactly how the music will be and the musical director in turn knows if there are any alterations or adjustments that need to be made. Then the musical director rehearses with the orchestra, telling them precisely and unambiguously about any sections that have been cut or altered. Then when it is time to bring the two elements together it should all mesh seamlessly, because the musical director has precisely coordinated everything.
Judging by today, it would appear that this relationship hasn’t quite worked as it should. Yesterday I told you how sections had to be cut from ‘Havana’, and the ‘Opening Street Scene’ completely rewritten, because the choreographers had referred to a different version to that which the musical director was planning to use. Today there was a similar problem with the Crapshooters’ Ballet, where we had to cut out eighteen bars to make it fit with the dancers. The musical director should have known about that a long time ago and informed us at yesterday’s rehearsal. There were other moments when inconsistencies appeared between the orchestra and the singers, although none were quite so great as that.
Admittedly it was much easier to follow the music today because the singers were there, so it made a lot more sense. Most of the time the rhythm of their speech is very clear and as a result it is quite simple to relate it to the orchestral parts. What concerns me slightly is that the musical director seems to be following the singers and waiting for them to cue the music. This is not a good idea. The musical director should be in control of all such timings, so that he can bring the orchestra and the singers in precisely in time. It’s asking for trouble if the singer leads, and the musical director then has to relate all that through to the orchestra. At one point I even heard him telling the singers that they wouldn’t be able to see him in the theatre because he’d be in the orchestra pit, but that is really not the way these things work. If you’re putting on a musical then the singers must be able to see the musical director, even if that means having a video camera in the pit hooked up to a television screen on the front of the balcony (which I gather is what they actually plan to do in this case).
In summary, then, I do think it will all come together alright once we’ve run it through a few more times. I don’t doubt that it’ll be an excellent show in the end. But so many of the problems we’re encountering shouldn’t exist, and that does make life a bit more difficult.
I’m going to leave you now to go and do some back exercises! Oh, and I still need to break in some saxophone reeds – I played on one of the old ones again today and it wasn’t hugely pleasant. I’ll post again tomorrow after a full day of rehearsing, but until then I will leave you with some more of my notes on the Reed 1 part…
  • In cue 8, ‘Adelaide’s Lament’, the third beat of bar 46 should be an F natural, not an F sharp as in the key signature.
  • In cue 14, ‘Havana’, the fourth beat of bar 412 should definitely not be a D sharp. I presume it is meant to be an E, because then bars 411 to 414 are a direct transposition of bars 407 to 410.
  • In cue 17, ‘Lead in to My Time of Day’, the first beat of bar 4 is an F sharp (it looks a bit like an E in the part).
  • The title of cue 21, ‘Hotspot Fanfare’, is wrong – it should be called ‘Hot Box Fanfare’. Also, I think bar 1 of this cue should have a C sharp instead of the printed D, because then it matches with cue 7 and doesn’t sound as strange.
  • In cue 21A, ‘Take Back your Mink’, I would recommend that you leave the saxophone round your neck throughout as there is little time to change instrument.
  • The title of cue 22A, ‘Lamento to Manhole – Bridge’, is wrong – it should be called ‘Lament to Manhole –Bridge’.

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