April 24, 2011

Marking up Musicals

Filed under: 20-minute,music,skills — Mark Dalrymple @ 8:35 pm
Tags: , ,

The sound of music

I like to play musicals. There’s just something fun about learning a show, performing it a bunch of times in quick succession, and then being done with it. I usually play high school musicals, sometimes in a pit with students, or sometimes just a bunch of Old Folks. The shows chosen in high school are usually popular and fun, and frequently challenging. West Side Story kicked my butt the first time I played it, and Singing in the Rain has brutal brass parts. “You mean I only have two beats to yank the mute out of my horn?” Plus you get to meet and bond with a wide spectrum of other musicians. Nothing like 20 minutes of scene-change music to give you a topic of conversation later.

I’ve played 29 shows over the last 25 years or so. In that time, I’ve developed a method for marking my book that makes end-of-show time easier. Ideally you erase your book when you’re done. Take out any cuts, markings, cheats, or changed vocal cues so that the next user of your book doesn’t have to wade through a lot of junk. Supposedly the publisher will fine you if you leave your book marked up, but that never seems to happen given the number of pre-scribbled books I’ve encountered. Still, I don’t like leaving a mess for others to clean up, whether it’s the next dude with the Reed 4 book or a high schooler who’s being forced to erase my book by their band director.

Every show is going to have cuts, that is, sections of songs or dances that are removed. Maybe the song is too long. Maybe the music is too hard. Maybe it’s in the wrong key for the singer. You can always spot a first timer when they make huge pencil markings on the music to indicate a cut. “CUT TO 87” with a huge arrow scribbling over the intervening measures.

There are two problems with this technique: you have to erase a whole hell of a lot more. Also, cuts change. If the cut is made to measure 45 instead of 87, you have to erase 43 bars of scribbles. If the cut is removed (perhaps Little Johnny finally learned to mambo), you’re faced with a lot of erasing.

I use Post-It® notes, in particular the skinny brightly-colored flag-like “page marker” ones. They’re the perfect size for covering up part of a staff of music, say to change the count of a rest, or to block out a part that’s covered elsewhere in the group but is confusing you for a solo entrance. The bright colors make it easy to spot during performance.

The big thing is that they can be picked up and moved easily. Cut’s been changed to bar 43? Just pick up the flag that has the destination arrow on it and put it onto bar 43. The vamp is going to be repeated 8 times? Put a little “8x” on a note. The vamp is out? Just take off the note. The repeat is no good? Tear two skinny notes and hide the repeat bars.

You can make the flags stick out of your book too, making “flip back three pages for the reprise” situations easy. Just put a couple of flags on the page you need to flip back to and have them peek out the side. Easy to grab and turn. I also use the full-sized notes to write “SUCKS”, and put it in my part with “SUCKS” sticking out the top. I can see exactly where I clobbered an entrance or a solo the night before, and can look at it before the next show.

You can also get rolls of Post-It tape. I use that if I re-write a chunk of music and want to attach it to the book. Regular scotch tape will ruin the paper, but Post-It tape lets me easily take it off once the show’s done.

I used to use a fancy system with different colors for different actions – green for cuts, purple for vamps, red for repeats, but that was too complicated. If I see “Cut to 45”, I know what that means. So the colors are just a nice visual side effect.

Next time you play a show, give the Post-It flags a try. I’m all for less erasing and having a flexible system to adapt during changes in the show, which you know will happen.


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