Saturday, June 6, 2009

Stop, look and listen!!!

Have you ever had to sight-read a broadway show at the performance?
Last night I played the bass with the Sinclair College Show choir and sight-reading the pieces for their quarterly vocal choral performance.

The music wasn't extremely difficult, but the musical director loves to alter the form of the pieces to fit with certain skits, vamps, and written in dialogue that the choir adds in the middle of the songs.

The choir was to perform four broadway medleys. They were "Lion King", "Hairspray", "Grease", and "Guys and dolls".

The medleys segue immediately from one to the other, and the pianist had no time whatsoever to inform me about all the cuts and repeated sections that the music director had written in. 

To give you an example, we were to start one medley on page 41 which then was to repeat to page three!  None of these changes to the original score were penciled in to my music. 

(This was going to make for an interesting evening.)

When the pianist first saw me walk in, he was aghast. "Are you actually going to sight read this  entire concert????", he quipped while a look of stark panic shot across his face. "There's no way anyone could do this".

Let me interject to say that the accompanist has his masters in piano performance and is the keyboard professor for the College. He plays wonderfully and we have done other venues in the past with good results. His reaction wasn't that he doubted my ability to play the bass, or ever sight read well. He just knew that there was no way I would "mind-read" all the changes that the director interjected.

So what was I to do?

Don't panic. 

(This isn't the first time for me that it's been fourth and ten with no time left on the clock)

I positioned my music stand directly behind the pianist. So I could see his music as well as mine. I elected to stand to give me a bird's-eye view of his measures as well as mine. This also gave me a good vantage point if I needed to see his hands on the keys.

The pianist was so busy that he couldn't even give me a second to point to where on the music he was playing. 

Here's where those three little words that I learned in kindergarten about crossing the street comes in. "Stop, look and listen".

I would be playing  along with the combo. The very instant I could tell that the Show Choir had repeated or skipped to another section, I stopped playing. The piano was playing the bass clef notes in the piano part anyway, so the music didn't suffer at all. In fact, the music suddenly took on a lighter quality to keep the audience's attention.

Then I would look at his piano score to figure out where he was playing. When I felt that a bass entrance was appropriate, I would start playing again. This way the overall harmonic structure of the band didn't suffer with the root note being wrong. 

This also made the band sound more interesting as playing the bass on every beat gets a little monotonous, whereas cutting out and in occasionally keeps the listeners interest.

When I would see the word "freely" over a section, I would stop as it is very hard to play exactly when the piano plays the underlying chords. You can get very close, but not exact.

When the show was over, the pianist just sat on the piano bench shaking his head.

I asked what was wrong. He just whispered, "That was amazing". 

Then, he apologized for looking so shocked when he first saw me. He said that he just felt bad for me because of what I was up against musically.

"All in a night's work" I replied.

It's easy when you....

stop, look and listen.


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