The Sweetest Sounds

Bruce Pomahac bears the title ""Director of Music"" for the Organization. Anyone who has encountered this jovial optimist knows that underneath the good cheer is an extraordinarily passionate, knowledgable and forceful musician. Without him, we would never have been able to accomplish the restorations of the scores of the shows in our Theatre Library.

Through his career as a Broadway conductor, orchestrator and composer of incidental music, Bruce has seen our business from every angle. He even has a photograph of Richard Rodgers signed to him, which was sent in response to a letter from a teenage fan in Milwaukee. There are few people around today more knowledgable about theatre music than Bruce. Here, he reflects on the orchestras role in musical performance.

Ted Chapin Is there any moment in the rehearsal process of a musical more exciting than the first time the orchestra joins the cast for a run-through of the score? Whether this involves thirty players in an orchestra pit for SOUTH PACIFIC, or a mere handful tucked in a backstage corner for A GRAND NIGHT FOR SINGING, there is something about the addition of instrumental music that creates genuine magic in the theatre. Admittedly, it is a reward that comes with a price: the engagement of musicians, the rental of the music, the additional rehearsals, where to put those musicians, how to attach their stand lights so that the lighting designer wont go crazy, and finally how to mike the on-stage performers so that the audience can hear them over the instrumentalists. Providing a live orchestra is a challenge to any musical production, but the challenge is always worth it.

The musical classics we license here at R&H were originally created to be performed with an orchestra. Just as the sets, the costumes, hair and make-up require a pallet of colors to be realized fully, so does the score of a musical require orchestral color to realize a composers intentions. The dust bowl sunsets of OKLAHOMA!, the jungle hilltops of SOUTH PACIFIC, the royal palace of THE KING AND I, the leathers of ANNIE GET YOUR GUN and the crinolines of SHOW BOAT -- these all suggest colors that are carefully, and subtlety, reflected in the strings, the brass, the woodwinds and the percussion of our greatest theater orchestrations. Sound reinforces the effect of each color just as surely as it places us in a specific locale and time. Listen to the woodwinds play the whole-tone chords that open ""The Carousel Waltz"" and you can sense at once the fog that envelopes a New England harbor at twilight time. Move a little further into that same waltz and let the dancing violin obligatos carry you away to a carnival in full tilt. The tuba will point out the dancing bear and the harp will send a breeze across the stage to catch the ballerinas parasol. Of course its all there to begin with in Rodgers piano score, but add the instrumental colors and the stage comes alive in swirls of sound and magic that you could not experience were the orchestra not there to be your guide.

The individual instrumentalists work together to create a unique character in each musical in which they are participants. As an orchestra they take us to far away places and allow us to feel immediately comfortable there. They point us in particular directions, tease us, surprise us, and sometimes astonish us in breathtaking moments that range from the mystical (the harp and woodwinds that usher in Bloody Marys description of ""Bali Hai"" in SOUTH PACIFIC), to the exalted (the organ-like sonorities of ""The Wedding March"" in THE SOUND OF MUSIC) and from the sublime (the imperial and imperious tutti chords that open and close the Overture to THE KING AND I) to the not-so-sublime (the out-of-tune clarinets that mimic Ado Annie in her verse to ""I Caint Say No"" in OKLAHOMA!)

There was once a time when having a full orchestra as participant in a musical was taken for granted. Not only were thirty musicians engaged (forty for the original production of CAROUSEL!), but there was a place to put them. It was (and still is when you can find one) called the orchestra pit. It has in recent years been covered over by additional seats and an excess of scenery. The orchestra has been forced to shrink itself or to look for other lodgings (backstage, off stage, upstairs, downstairs, someplace not in the way). This is probably not a good idea. But where there is a will there is a way, and contemporary pressures of space, time and money are forcing us to look for alternatives. Some of these alternatives involve the use of synthesizers and even pre-recording the music. As the technology continues to improve, these alternatives will begin to look ever more promising. However, live theatre is live theatre, and nothing can compare to a compliment of musicians breathing and bowing and caressing the music as it is being sung on stage. Here at R&H, weve been listening to music directors, conductors and producers, seeking the best ways to serve the orchestral component of the shows we license. For instance, we are creating full scores, recopying and redesigning instrumental parts on computer, reformatting our piano-conductor scores to communicate more information and, in general, making sure that our new musician-friendly products are meeting the challenges of modern technology, all the while enhancing and preserving the brilliance of the musical classics we offer."

Leave a comment
You must log in before you can post comments. You can login here.