What the Heck Does a Music Director Do?
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This is the first installment of a series of "What the Heck Does a ________ Do?". We'll be exploring the bulk of the various jobs that need to happen fluidly during the production of a musical. We'll be interspersing these posts with a variety of other posts, so check in weekly for updates - we've got a bunch of folks who love to write and we're looking forward to a shared experience with you!
So, yeah...what the heck does a music director do?
In my opinion, the job of the MD is one of the more difficult in the industry. The general requirements are pretty cut-and-dry:
1.) teach the actors their music in collaboration with the director and choreographer.
2.) rehearse the orchestra.
3.) conduct the performances.
That said, think about how many different sensibilities that requires!
A good MD has probably acted at some point in his/her life and thus understands the actor's process. Actors also have a widely variable skill level when it comes to reading/learning music, and the MD must accommodate that. At every level of professional music theatre (up to Broadway), many actors can't read music and rely on the MD to teach them the notes - and at every level there are expert readers, so the MD needs to walk that line effectively.
Typically, the first couple days are given to the MD to teach ALL of the music in a given show, so s/he needs to show up super prepared with a game-plan that must be adhered to, and s/he must accommodate the different learning styles on the fly.
Once the music is learned, however cursorily, the remaining rehearsals are predominately for the director and choreographer, during which time the music usually suffers to a degree - so the MD may get an hour or so per day to clean things up musically, depending on the show.
As the show is being "teched" (installed into the theatre with all of the technical elements), the MD splits his/her time between continued cleaning rehearsals with the cast as available and rehearsing the orchestra.
As tech wraps up, the MD leads dress rehearsals (if a theatre is lucky enough to have time for more than one dress rehearsal!) that combine the orchestra and the singers. Thus s/he has to keep his/her eyes on both the action of the play and the action of the orchestra.
...and once everything's put together, the MD is the pulse and musically coordinating linchpin of the show throughout the run.
So essentially, a music director needs to understand how actors learn music, how instrumentalists learn music, how it all affects the story being told - and then execute all of those languages at once in front of an audience! It's a ton of coordination!
Stay tuned for more behind-the-scenes job descriptions!