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Musical of the Month: A Word from a Music Director

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A Guest Blog by Adam Roberts, Music Director

Adam Roberts, Music DirectorAdam Roberts, Music DirectorGreetings! My name is Adam Roberts, and I serve as Music Director of the Music Theatre Online archive. If you're a theater professional, you're probably already aware of the responsibilities traditionally assumed by a music director (MD). But perhaps you're new to the musical theater world and are unfamiliar with the term. This entry will focus on my general approach to the musical direction of this specific initiative, both for readers who already have a solid handle on what we musical directors do as well as those who may be exploring the topic from an "outsider's" perspective.

The first step I take with a new set of recordings is to identify a few songs from each score that I believe to be particularly representative of its overall style. Stylistic consideration is not the only factor in this decision making process, however. I also try to think about the contexts in which these recordings are most likely to be applied: in the undergraduate course on musical theater history, as a resource for scholars, and for the enjoyment of those aficionados of musical theater days gone by. I ask myself, "Which of these pieces is most likely to represent a score's overarching style, provide context, and offer entertainment value all in one?" Sometimes I choose an excerpt because I feel that a particular performer will really do it justice, especially if I find that the piece is a remarkably good fit for him or her, and vice-versa.

Speaking of performers, this brings me to the second step of my process: farming out the excerpts I've chosen to talented musical theater performers in Austin, TX, where I'm primarily based. The Central Texas area is extremely fortunate to boast a solid roster of musical theater talent, and our performers are always ready to contribute their impressive abilities to initiatives such as this archive. If while paging through the score a certain song happens to have one of these performers' names written all over it, I'll ask him or her to work it up prior to coming by to record it. Occasionally these performers hail from outside the Austin area, in which case we usually do one or two preliminary rehearsals via the Internet before starting to record. During this time, we'll generally decide on the best key in which to place the song(s) for the particular performer. I can't overemphasize the crucial nature of this wonderfully talented pool of individuals to which I have access as the archive's musical director. Their commitment and ability to bring each piece to life in a fresh new way are truly what make this aspect of Music Theatre Online possible.

Next on the docket is my favorite step, namely that of working with each performer on matters of interpretation. We address technical considerations, such as placement, resonance, and varying degrees of enunciation, in addition to stylistic concerns, like storytelling, motivation and tactics, and tone quality, to name a few. Though these decisions are tailored to each individual performer, they're also governed by a set of parameters that I've chosen to unify the archive's recordings aesthetically. For example, one significant decision that I've made as an aesthetic guideline is that these recordings not represent "historically informed performances." This term is often used in musicological circles to denote interpretive practice that aims to recreate as authentically as possible the sound of a score as it would have been heard in its time. Instead, my desire is that these manifestations of the written score be infused with contemporary interpretations both vocally and in terms of acting. I believe that the lens of contemporary performance practice in musical theater provides the opportunity for a vibrant prism through which to experience scores often thought to be too antiquated for revival. When one hears these old songs interpreted in new ways, a feeling of surprising familiarity can begin to emerge.

Finally, we record. But the journey into the song doesn't end there. As the Music Theatre Online archive of recordings continues to grow and expand, we want to hear from you. Which songs are not represented in recorded format that you'd like to find added here? In what contexts do you make use of this resource? What topics concerning the ins-and-outs of interpreting these scores in performance would you like to read about in future blog entries? Your input will assist us in creating a virtual community of curiosity and interest around these wonderfully expressive artifacts from the annals of musical theater history.

The following recordings were made by Adam and his team (performer bios below). They are released under a Creative Commons BY-NC-SA license. More recordings (from The Black Crook, Florodora, and The Charlatan) were posted in previous blog entry.

Song Performer Show
"Somebody" Audrey Johnson and Eric Ferguson Florodora (Score at the Internet Archive scanned from Harvard University)
"Didn't Know Exactly What To Do" Andrew Cannata Prince of Pilsen (Score at the Internet Archive scanned from the University of Illinois)
"The Scarecrow" Eric Ferguson The Wizard of Oz (Sheet music at Indiana University)
"Niccolo's Piccolo" Libby Dees The Wizard of Oz (Sheet music at David Maxine's Hungry Tiger Press)
"Guardian at the Gate" Andrew Cannata The Wizard of Oz (Sheet music at Johns Hopkins University)
"The Traveler and the Pie" Eric Ferguson The Wizard of Oz (Sheet music at Johns Hopkins University)
Andrew CannataAndrew Cannata

Andrew Cannata is excited to record for Music Theatre Online. An award-winning musical theater performer from the Austin, Texas area, his credits include Footloose (Ren), Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (Freddie), I Love You Because (Austin), Rent (Mark), The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Chip), The Pajama Game (Sid), and The Last Five Years (Jamie), among others. Cannata graduated from St. Edward's University in 2009 with a degree in Computer Science. His love for theater runs deep and he cherishes every project in which he is blessed to take part.

Libby DeesLibby Dees

Libby Dees is very excited to record for Music Theatre Online. She has lived and performed in Austin, Texas for the past seven years, where she graduated from St. Edwards University with a BA in Theatre Arts. Past credits include Company (Susan), Parade (Lucille), On the Town (Hildy), and Footloose (Betty), in addition to benefit performances for Zilker Productions and The Human Rights Campaign.

Eric FergusonEric Ferguson
Eric Ferguson has established himself as a singer/actor in Central Texas with a wide array of performances spanning various genres. Recent regional productions include Hairspray (Link), High School Musical (Troy), The Music Man (Harold Hill), Assassins (Baladeer), Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (Joseph), and I'll Be Seeing You. Other credits include gala performances for the Make-A-Wish Foundation and the Human Rights Campaign, in addition to numerous appearances at professional sporting events. He has served as a musical director for The Ransom Notes, an Austin-based a cappella group, and as an associate musical director, pianist, and vocal coach for several local productions. Ferguson's active commitment to the church lead him to serve as an assistant director for two youth choirs and as a worship leader for numerous traditional and contemporary services. He is a graduate of the University of Texas.
Audrey Johnson is thrilled to take part in this joint endeavor of the NYPL and University of Maryland. She holds a BFA in Musical Theatre from Webster University in St. Louis, and is currently a busy member of the Austin theater community. Select credits include The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Leaf), The Wedding Singer (Julia), The Winter's Tale (Perdita), Stepping Out (Lynne), and Footloose (Urleen), among others.

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Spelling

I believe that the correct spelling is Johns for The Johns Hopkins University.

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