22. February 2018 · Comments Off on Yes, This is How it Works · Categories: Musical Theatre

I am playing The King & I this week. It’s a short run, which these days is somewhat typical in our area. It is NOT typical that we actually have five strings, a harp, four woodwinds, four brass (if I counted correctly!), percussion and only one keyboard player. I’m loving the larger group!

But here is how this works, and why one has to be on her toes:
We have our first rehearsal Tuesday morning, from 10:00 until 2:00 (although we actually were released 20 minutes early).

Oh … and we have our last rehearsal Tuesday morning, from 10:00 until 2:00.

Yep. One rehearsal.

Then a sound check happens from 5:30 to 6:30.

Opening that same day at 7:30.

We are able to get our music ahead of time, as they send out practice parts. We can watch a video of the conductor doing a show if we have the time (that isn’t usually the case since many of us are doing something else prior to moving to this. I had opera and lots of students).

So one has to be quite attentive at that first performance. Sometimes I can’t quite remember how we begin … does he give 1-2 first? Does he just give a prep upbeat? Fortunately this conductor is quite clear, and much of the time a player has written in the part about the prep, although a few times that pencilled in bit isn’t what the conductor does.

We also have to deal with new parts when we arrived Tuesday morning and boy was mine a mess! The parts are loose … no books, but separate parts for each number. There is so much music that our stands then to start to fall down so we have to use gaffer’s tape to keep that from happening. (I always have a few extra pieces on the bottom of my tray that attaches to the stand, in case I can’t get to the tape quickly enough.) I suspect the reason they don’t put books together is that changes take place as the run begins, and there are times a number has several versions for key changes (different singers, different keys).

But oh my part! Names of notes written above notes. Fingerings that I question. Circled items that are difficult to see because the circling is so dark. (And in the musical theater world “circling” sometimes means don’t play … something I learned once when a conductor kept saying to someone “circle it!” and the player insisted she did … which to her meant pay attention and play that correctly!) I bring a good eraser for the things I know might throw me. I do appreciate many of the marks, but I wonder why several people feel the need to rewrite the same instructions!

In any case, opening night went fine. Wednesday night was fine although I did a few things I didn’t like and water in the keys was an issue.

But pacing, pacing, pacing. Yesterday I only had three students and one show, so it was an easier day and I spent it cleaning and relaxing. (And yes, I find cleaning to BE relaxing!) Today is another three student day, and I’m not even sure I’ll do much cleaning. At my age much of survival is about that pacing! To think that I used to do shows in San Francisco: eight shows per week, six miserable drives per week. I don’t know how I stayed sane!)

And now … time to listen to some beautiful music to get ear worms out of my head. I love the musical, and I think it’s still so relevant, but ear worms are not my friends. I will NOT be whistling a happy tune at all today.

Oops, start up that ear worm, shall I?

And so it is over. For the most part I was okay with my playing, but it was just the most surreal time ever. After packing up all my stuff the flute player (hi MH!) gave me a hug and I finally lost it. For two weeks I had held it together, aside from tears between the sound check and the first performance. But the minute I was done the tears came. As I told my friend, “Now I have to face the reality of my mom’s death.” And so I do.

But, that being written, I did say I would write a bit about some of the things I found in my book. So here goes. Do you know why my students would be handed an eraser if I saw this?:

How about this one?:

Any thoughts?

If you don’t know why these are no-nos with my kids, you haven’t had lessons with me! I don’t allow “naming” or “renaming” of notes. Period. I argue that having the name above means your brain has to go through more steps that it should. We see a note, we play it, but if you write the name above you have to see the note, see the name, and then play it. We don’t have that sort of time, nor should we need to do this! At the same time, I confess that low notes still cause my silly little brain to do a “huh?” moment. Really, even after all these years. How silly is that?! A low B# bugs me, but I force myself to deal.

I was surprised (no photos of these) by the “BB” marks I saw, too. That stands for “Big Breath”. There was no point in this musical where I needed to take any sort of big breath. Not even once. Hmm.

Finally, there was this chromatic passage that had names of notes above. I erased them, but you can see them there still, I think. Really? It’s just a chromatic!

I didn’t erase much from the books, even while I didn’t agree with all the marks and it was sure full of marks. Choice of fingering for F is something we can be pretty opinionated about, and how to mark varies. Some people put the letter F above a forked F. That drives me nuts, as it looks like one is just naming the note. I put a little symbol that looks like a down bow with a shorter slash through the middle, while some use a pitchfork like symbol. I use an L for left F, while someone who played the book uses an S. Sometimes I changed that, but for the most part it just wasn’t necessary. I like to note what instrument(s) are necessary for each number so, for instance, you might see ob/EH/ob by the name of the tune which means start on oboe, go to English horn and then back to oboe. This allows me to know which reeds to have ready. If I have a long bit of resting where I need to count the measures of rest I sometimes give myself “markers”. If you see a circle with a number in it it means something happens in that measure that I easily will hear. Sometimes I add the instrument … cl for clarinet, fl for flute, for instance. It’s just a handy way to make sure I know I’m counting correctly. Of course after a few performances counting isn’t really necessary, but I’m an obsessive counter so I count no matter what! Heck, I’m just obsessive about everything, I suppose!

And a side note: I really enjoyed the conductors for this job. Both Daniel Bowling and D. Scott Ferguson were wonderful, never cringed if something went wrong, and were incredibly clear. This isn’t always the way it goes with tour shows, and it was just a joy to work with them. I’d gladly work for them any day. (But I think for now I’ll enjoy some time off!) I hadn’t told them about my mom — it’s not something you bother conductors with — so their kindness had nothing to do with my situation. They were just great guys!

This final photo, though, is the BEST ever … because here are the players that have signed the book. I love it when oboists do that! The flute book had signatures as well. Funny that not one clarinetist put his or her name in. Hmm. What does that mean?

So now I get things back together in the house before the next big job begins.

When I saw this in my Mary Poppins book I first thought it read “harm” rather than “warm”. It took me a while to figure it out, actually.

Yeah, I’m practically perfect … but there was that one mistake. Go figure.

I have more to post from the book, and my thoughts on some of the marks people have put in it. I’ll save those for later, but let’s just say some people didn’t have me for a teacher! (Lucky them?) I make my students erase certain things they put in. They would take one look at this book and know just what I was annoyed with!

I’ve now done two rehearsals, a sound check, and four shows. I have twelve shows to go, so this feels like a third of the way through. I normally love playing musicals and I’m frustrated that I’m not able to enjoy this as I usually do, but that’s what a death in the family will do to a person, I suppose. I’m just missing my mother. But work continues, and this is the musician’s life, so I’m in the pit and I’m doing my job and I am doing it to the best of my ability. One thing both of my parents taught me was that I should always do my best. Not someone else’s best, but my best. So that is what I’m attempting to do.

Stay tuned for more photos. Maybe I’ll get to them on my “day off” (meaning: I have two students but no performances). Right now I have to go fly a kite … or something ….

I’m so thankful to have positions in both Opera San José and Symphony Silicon Valley. Should my playing falter, there are ways they can go about getting rid of me, but they can’t, on a whim, require me to re-apply for my positions.

It is a confrontation as passionate as anything seen between Javert and Jean Valjean, pitting Cameron Mackintosh against the orchestra of Les Misérables, one of the theatre impresario’s biggest successes.

Mackintosh confirmed yesterday that the members of the show’s current orchestra – some of whom have played with Les Misérables since it opened 25 years ago – were being forced to reapply for their jobs. The move follows plans for an expanded orchestra with three additional members to accommodate new arrangements for the musical’s score.

“This does require us to look again at the make-up of the orchestra to ensure we do credit to the score,” said Mackintosh. “I hope that as many of them as possible will be able to remain with us for the next stage of the show’s life. However, should personnel changes be required I must continue, as always, to put the show and audience first.”

Mackintosh’s assurance that he wanted to keep the Les Misérables’ London show “the world’s premiere production” have done little to appease its musicians. “I don’t think what they’ve done is the right thing to do,” said the oboist Adrian Rowlands, when contacted by The Independent. A flautist who has played on a Les Misérables national tour also confirmed the news, but declined to go on the record as he intended to apply for one of the jobs.


We did “Send in the Clowns” yesterday with Lisa Vroman.

Well, okay … really we are doing it today, but by the time you read this it will be tomorrow, since I only post Sunday music clips on Sunday. So I can’t tell you how Lisa Vroman did it, nor can I tell you what I think will be the case … but several have indicated it’ll be great fun for me to play the English horn solo.


First off, I have been told by management that I am playing second oboe rather than English horn. And I’ve been told that the English horn only plays one number: Sleeping Beauty Waltz. So even IF Send in the Clowns used EH I wouldn’t be playing.

But …

The solo in Send in the Clowns was not originally written for English horn!

How crazy is that? It became popular via the Judy Collins rendition, which switched the solo from clarinet to EH, but I’ll bet you a good amount of money that it will be on clarinet today (yesterday to you!). That’s the way Stephen Sondheim’s arranger wrote it. Trust me; I’ve played the show.

Here’s the version I’m guessing many of you know:

Barbra must have decided it should be on English horn too:

And here is the way it was originally written:

Here’s Mr. Sondheim (no clarinet OR English horn) coaching a student on the song:

And then … this is wonderful! … you get a variety of interpretations, all done by one singer (actress/impersonator Carly Sakolove)!:

Last week I attended a production of a very wacky musical called “Very Warm for May”. It’s not done often. Heck, it’s not done at all. But a company called 42nd Street Moon puts on rarely performed, usually older musicals. And our son’s girlfriend, Megan Hopp, was in this production as the lead character, May. (Go here and check out the fabulous poster! That’s Megan. You can see more photos here.) Now we all know how preposterous opera plots are. Musicals can be that way too. (Besides, how many people burst into song every time the mood hits them?) But I’m a sucker for a musical, and as crazy as this one was, I still cried. Really. The song “All the Things You Are” is in the musical, and it just causes me to cry. I can’t help it. Something at the beginning of that song … the interval up, interval down … lack of resolution …. Then, at the end, when Megan came out to take her bow, I teared up again. This time it was just because I love seeing friends and family doing something they love and succeeding so well.

The funny thing is, I rarely cry in “real life”.

Isn’t that odd? I mean … horrible things might be happening and I hold it together. But i read a poem, hear a piece of music, or go to a show, and doggone it, tears start flowing.

The company that does these productions uses minimal props and, at least in this musical (but I’m guessing in all), a pianist rather than a full pit orchestra (there’s no pit in the lovely, intimate hall). I was impressed with it all … just great fun. But yeah, I laughed about the plot. I think I’m allowed that, yes? Especially since I cried too? So I truly can say, “I laughed … I cried …!”

I was really impressed with the singing voices in this production. Robbie Cowan has a super voice, to be sure, as do some of those women! And the guy who plays the crazy director, Bill Fahrner, is pretty darn hysterical. Megan, of course, was my fave! 🙂

31. August 2009 · Comments Off on Cats · Categories: Links, Musical Theatre, Other People's Words

I played for my son’s high school’s production of Cats some years ago. It’s a musical I’ve never cared for. Playing it didn’t help. But I just read a blogger’s comments about her experience and I’m thinking, “Hey, this just might work!”:

I feel that Cats is best understood as a ballet on a poem by T.S. Eliot. After all, all sorts of nonsense goes on in ballets. If swans are OK, why not cats?

Gee … that might do it! Think of it as ballet. Yes. I like that idea. (Of course I still might not like it; there’s a lot of ballet I don’t like either, due to the lame music.)

She ended the blog with a choice comment, too:

There were a couple of older performers, at least I presume they are older, who sang virtually without reference to any particular pitch. I pretended they were cats.


Sorry … gotta put this up. Doesn’t mean you gotta listen, though:

13. August 2009 · Comments Off on Yes, Sometimes It’s This Exciting · Categories: Musical Theatre, Videos

Someone has posted the reed 2 book (which is oboe & English horn) to the musical Wicked’s “Defying Gravity”.

Imagine playing a run of this and playing that oboe part over and over, day in, day out.

(And that is why you want to hear a good blend of the band and not single out one exciting part like the oboe, yes?)

Lego Les Miserables 😉

11. June 2009 · Comments Off on Bono, The Edge, and Spiderman, The Musical? · Categories: Musical Theatre, Videos

Um. Okay, then.