For years there weren’t many available resources for music directors, but there is now more and more information about what it is that we do. A lot of that information is scattered all over the internet, and my goal has been to making it easy for everyone to find them in one place, which is why our “MD links” series exist.

One of those wonderful and hard to find materials is a round table that the New York Public Library held in 2009. With Paul Gemignani, Donald Pippin, Bruce Pomahac, Larry Blank and David Krane on the panel, the conversations center around the relationship between music directors and composers, the Broadway sound, orchestration, and many more topics along with great stories. Below you will find some quotes from the discussion, but they are far from being a summary of all the interesting points made, so make sure to watch the video.

“This is not a one-person opportunity. It’s a collaborative art form. (…) The more minds you have around something, the better that’s gonna be eventually. (…) I have yet to run into a composer that is not open to this idea. The toughest people are open to it. They’ve been in a room by themselves, locked into their own space, so anything you bring to them, they’re usually open to. Yes, you have to be respectful of the work they’ve done, but the fact of the matter is that theatre is a collaborative art form.”

“In most cases the composer will be sensitive (to having the key be decided depending on who sings the song). There are few people who write in the key that they want it sung in, and that’s really a negative thing to happen. Most composers I’ve worked with the key is not what’s discussed. What’s discussed are key changes within the song. So with somebody, like Sondheim, who works out every harmonic movement, you can’t just say: “ok, the first eight bars are too high, let’s just do them in E, and then go back to the key he wrote it in,” because you’re destroying the whole harmonic structure that he wrote. So it’s more complicated with him. Some composers, the way they write, it doesn’t matter if you go up a half step and come back to it. The musical director chooses the key for the singer.”

“Once upon a time, Broadway was driven by what the composers were doing. That was the reason for the musical, that we were going to have seven to eight new hit songs that were gonna be sung, not just on Broadway, but all over the country. (…) There are situations on Broadway now, it happens more and more, especially with the composers dead, that that person isn’t running things, the director in fact is calling shots and the music department wonders “why would we have to listen to this man?” but you do, it’s trickier than it used to be.”

“It’s also interesting to consider that historically Broadway orchestras were run by the management of the theatre. There was a time on Broadway when all the theaters had a house orchestra. (…) In the 1930s when music was starting to change to become jazzier on Broadway, the orchestrators were sometimes stuck with the house musicians, and the only way they could get around it was to write orchestration doubles that were so impossible that the house players couldn’t play it, so it was obvious other people were gonna be brought in. (…)”

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  • Steve Sensenig

    This was awesome!! Thank you so much for linking to this. Are there more discussions like this available to view? I learned so much, and also felt so affirmed in my own work. It is amazing to me to find out how similar the issues are that we all face in our work. :)

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