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"Show tunes" or Musical's


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#1
MillerMav

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Good morning all,

 

I apologize if this is not the right forum but I was wondering if anyone in here has done a few or more musicals/pit gigs?  As a drummer who has always been a fan of great Broadway musicals I was wondering what I should be studying to start putting myself out there for local pit work.  Are there drum books with the tablature for drum/percussion parts?  I always thought this would be a cool way to spend retirement (which is still a long way off) doing local performance or maybe some regional performances.

 

Any help on where to start, what to study, etc. would be appreciated.


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#2
jaymandude

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I don't like to list credits, but I have done a fair amount of this on a very professional level.

 

For you to get into it , I would recommend a few things.

 

Start going to local theatres and shows where people in your town, with local conductors and drummers/percussionists are performing.   Introduce yourself and tell them you you'd love to be a part of something, or would be available to sub.   Ask to look at the book to see what you'd be getting into.     If you are thinking about subbing you should and will need to sit in the pit to WATCH THE CONDUCTOR  !!!!   Learn what he is doing, how he counts off, how he starts and stops, how he cues.    This skill cannot be stressed highly enough, and if you are going to sub it is essential.  Part of your deal is to make people comfortable and secure, like you know what you are doing.  Ha ha 

 

On a local level you will likely be a multi percussionist, including drum set and mallets and timpani and accessories.   Bigger productions have multiple guys.

 

Do an honest assessment of your level to know what you are capable of.   You don't have to nail the sight reading, but if you **** it up more than two or three times people will definitely notice and may not ask you back.

 

Have good but flexible time.  It's not about a "groove", the conductor has actors and singers to deal with and if they are dragging, he needs to speed the song up.  don't take it personally, it's not you.  Strong but flexible.  You need a good knowledge of grooves and be comfortable playing them at the drop of a dime.    Motown, two beat, 50's, 12/8, some brushes, basic rock.   You absolutely cannot waste time learning and being comfortable with these beats..

 

You can play along with soundtracks, but without reading the music I don't think that would help.  Practice the basics..  touch, time, dynamics, reading.     You will need that eventually :icon_smile:

 

If you see the book for a local show and you don't think you can handle it,  don't say yes.   Just keep practicing, and asking the guys out for lunch to talk.   Or have them show you what the are doing.  It might take time, but chances are it will pay off.  

 

I think there's another few guys on the forum who do this stuff as well.

 

Hope this helps


Edited by jaymandude, 15 December 2016 - 12:21 PM.

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#3
MillerMav

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I don't like to list credits, but I have done a fair amount of this on a very professional level.

 

For you to get into it , I would recommend a few things.

 

Start going to local theatres and shows where people in your town, with local conductors and drummers/percussionists are performing.   Introduce yourself and tell them you you'd love to be a part of something, or would be available to sub.   Ask to look at the book to see what you'd be getting into.     On a local level you will likely be a multi percussionist, including drum set and mallets and timpani and accessories.   Bigger productions have multiple guys.

 

Do an honest assessment of your level to know what you are capable of.   You don't have to nail the sight reading, but if you **** it up more than two or three times people will definitely notice and may not ask you back.

 

Have good but flexible time.  It's not about a "groove", the conductor has actors and singers to deal with and if they are dragging, he needs to speed the song up.  don't take it personally, it's not you.  Strong but flexible.  You need a good knowledge of grooves and be comfortable playing them at the drop of a dime.    Motown, two beat, 50's, 12/8, some brushes, basic rock.   You absolutely cannot waste time learning and being comfortable with these beats..

 

You can play along with soundtracks, but without reading the music I don't think that would help.  Practice the basics..  touch, time, dynamics, reading.     You will need that eventually :icon_smile:

 

If you see the book for a local show and you don't think you can handle it,  don't say yes.   Just keep practicing, and asking the guys out for lunch to talk.   Or have them show you what the are doing.  It might take time, but chances are it will pay off. 

 

I think there's another few guys on the forum who do this stuff as well.

 

Hope this helps

 

It helps a lot, thank you!  I will start looking around and see what's going on.  I do not live in a big metropolis or anything so it may take a while.  Also, should I slowly "gear up" for these things (i.e. tympany, mallet instruments, random sound fx type stuff, etc.)?


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#4
jaymandude

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Don't you need money to fix the Porsche ?  ( or Porsches ?)

 

I'd wait on that.   I do think on a more local level guys would bring their own timps and mallets but it was always provided in my case..   That's one of the questions to ask ..


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#5
MillerMav

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Don't you need money to fix the Porsche ?  ( or Porsches ?)

 

I'd wait on that.   I do think on a more local level guys would bring their own timps and mallets but it was always provided in my case..   That's one of the questions to ask ..

 

Sadly only one Porsche and it's an 86 911 so it's pretty bullet proof.  I don't spend as much as you would think on it.  I'm not jumping right into this, I just figured I would start the conversation with someone so I can spend a good amount of time getting comfortable before I put myself out there.


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#6
jmpd_utoronto

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Given what timpani etc cost, I would hold up purchasing them until you are sure that you're going to be using them a lot.  I don't know how things are in Michigan but a lot of the gigs that I do, depending on the size of the theatre (and the size of the band/budget of the theatre company) timpani are often one of the first things to go and be replaced on a pad, often because of space issues. 

 

Jaymandude gave some excellent advice, all of which I would agree with.  I can't overstate the importance of being able to follow a conductor (or somebody playing keyboard and doing some conducting through occasional hand cues and head nods, etc).  "Solid but flexible" is a great way to describe the time feel that you need. 

 

Being able to read is key - if you can't read charts, you're sunk in a gig like that.  So is being able to multi-task - often you might have to be doing a few different things at once, especially if you are playing a combined drum/percussion book.  Knowing a bunch of basic styles/feels is really important too - nothing worse than hearing a guy who is very clearly a heavy rock drummer try to play a "jazz" show. 

 

Most of all, if you do get hired:  show up on time (as my wife likes to say, "If you're early, you're on time.  If you're on time, you're late.  If you're like you're fired").  Be friendly and polite with everyone, without being too pushy.  Make sure you have the right gear for the gig, and that you've thought about the layout of your setup ahead of time (again, more applicable to combined drum/percussion books then a simple kit book).  Finally, and maybe most importantly:  if the music director gives you a note, say "thank you" and take it.  Don't argue, talk back, or give excuses.  Speaking as someone who is friends with quite a few theatre musical directors (in addition to being married to one), nothing takes a musician off their list for future gigs like someone who talks back while they're trying to get work done.


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#7
CSR

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Very few show drummers in local productions are expected to own timpani. Even if you have 2 - 4, do you have a large van or truck to transport them? A place to store them? A wide enough doorway to get them through? (I speak from experience)

+1 on listening, following, knowing styles, strong reading, taking penciled notes, checking out the cd score ahead of rehearsals, promptness, etc.

I've done a fair number of high school musicals.
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#8
jmpd_utoronto

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+1 on listening, following, knowing styles, strong reading, taking penciled notes, checking out the cd score ahead of rehearsals, promptness, etc.

Another excellent point that I had forgotten about:

If/when you play a show and you get the book/music, please PLEASE only use pencil.  Please mark as little as possible, so that it's legible if someone has to sub for you and/or it won't take 6 days to erase all your markings for the next person.  People who use coloured pencil/pen/marker or who scribble things out like they are trying to tear through the paper make it way harder for the next person who has to use that music.


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#9
CSR

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+1 on listening, following, knowing styles, strong reading, taking penciled notes, checking out the cd score ahead of rehearsals, promptness, etc.

Another excellent point that I had forgotten about:
If/when you play a show and you get the book/music, please PLEASE only use pencil. Please mark as little as possible, so that it's legible if someone has to sub for you and/or it won't take 6 days to erase all your markings for the next person. People who use coloured pencil/pen/marker or who scribble things out like they are trying to tear through the paper make it way harder for the next person who has to use that music.


And directors change their minds, which means your notes will change.

I also pencil in lyric cues as well as other musical entrances/cues.

By the way, colored pencil notes fade out under stand lights at times. Use black SOFT pencil, not hard pencil that indents/tears the paper.

Usually scores are rented and must be returned to the publisher. Inked or torn scores are charged to the musician.

Edited by CSR, 15 December 2016 - 11:05 PM.

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#10
Neal Pert

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I've done thousands of show dates, mostly professional regional theater though I had a couple national tours offered.  

 

Good advice so far, for sure.  A couple things I'd emphasize.

 

1.  Realize that shows come from different historical eras.  This means that the starting point in both sonics and approach should be era-specific.  One of the reasons I got a lot of work quickly in this area was that I'd change heads and cymbals, etc. so that I sounded "correct"-- I didn't bring recording customs with pinstripes to a 40s musical or whatever.  The charts have changed, too.  Old charts are typically road maps like old big band charts, while modern charts can be extremely specific with near note-for-note reading desired at times.  So, it's not just "reading," exactly-- it's knowing what the chart wants you to do.  

 

2.  Know your limitations.  I'm a drum set player who can play a little timpani and mallets.  If I'd get a heavy orchestral gig offered to me, I'd tell them that my honest assessment was that they should hire person X.  

 

3.  You have to get the idea that you're there to express yourself out of your head.  You are there to fulfill a very specific function, and that function is to support the musical director and thereby support the whole show.  Consistency is really job 1. Happiness, kindness, an unwillingness to gossip, etc. are also important.  

 

4.  On the flip side of that, you owe it to the cast, the MD, and the audience to bring great energy to the whole thing.  Doesn't matter if you hate the show-- when you are playing, you are committed to every note you play for the sake of everyone.  One of the nicest compliments I ever received was from an MD after I played a month-long run of La Cage.  Deep down, I hated every note of that show.  I hate almost every note Jerry Herman has ever written.  But afterward, he said to me, "Man, it was so great to work with you because you loved it so much you made me enjoy it."  I knew I'd done my job.  

 

5.  Spend some time with the charts in advance, and know the hard tunes.  Listen to the recordings.  If you get called to play Evita, you want to be able to play "The Money Kept Rolling In" at the first rehearsal.  

 

6.  Singer/Dancer/Actress types are seriously among the most needy people on the planet.  They are often extremely pretty and very talented.  If you are straight, you may be one of the only romantic options they have.  Stay away.  Do not.  

 

OK, I'll stop.  


Edited by Neal Pert, 16 December 2016 - 10:18 PM.

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#11
MillerMav

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......

5. Singer/Dancer/Actress types are seriously among the most needy people on the planet. They are often extremely pretty and very talented. If you are straight, you may be one of the only romantic options they have. Stay away. Do not.

OK, I'll stop.


This was hilarious! I literally laughed out loud. Great advice everyone, thank you.
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#12
Zickosdrummer

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I've played a few shows in my time over the last 45 years.  I agree with everything said above.  I  happen to own a set of timpani but  rarely use them anymore mainly for space conditions in the pit.  The only thing I would add here is that if you don't have a lot of the "toys" that shows cal for, make friends with local band directors and college percussion instructors in your area.  You might be able to borrow from them if the run is not too long. Over a period of time you might be able to add them slowly to your collection if you are going to be playing shows.


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#13
Neal Pert

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Adding to the "toys" comment above:  When you buy, buy quality stuff.  Don't buy a crappy triangle with a crappy beater.  

 

The guys at Steve Weiss were SUPER helpful for me as I was building my collection of stuff.  I'd call and say, "Hey, I'm playing Chicago and I need a ratchet.  Which one would you use?" and sometimes the guy I was talking to had actually played the show and could say, "get this ratchet and mount it over your floor tom so you can get it with your right hand during the third tune."  That sort of passed-down info was a godsend to me.  

 

Also, get in the habit of photographing your setups for shows.  One of the biggest parts of prepping for a show is figuring out where to put everything so that you can play it all when you need it.  I got crazy requests-- "Can you play that bell riff while you're playing a press roll?"-- and I'd do everything I could to accommodate.  A big part of that was working out where to put stuff.  Sometimes the bells replace the mounted toms.  I once had two floor toms set up on front of me during Three Penny Opera because the director wanted to emphasize that we were playing it lowbrow and not using timpani.  

 

One rule of thumb that I think is actually true:  There is ALWAYS a school within a 50 mile radius that is looking to get rid of an old set of timpani.  I literally got my timps when I saw a local band director dragging them out to the dumpster.  They worked fine but she'd gotten a grant for nice new ones.  There's actually a set of timpani in the building where I work that no one uses and that you could buy for 500 bucks if you were in the middle of NY State.  


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#14
Zickosdrummer

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Adding to the "toys" comment above:  When you buy, buy quality stuff.  Don't buy a crappy triangle with a crappy beater.  

 

The guys at Steve Weiss were SUPER helpful for me as I was building my collection of stuff.  I'd call and say, "Hey, I'm playing Chicago and I need a ratchet.  Which one would you use?" and sometimes the guy I was talking to had actually played the show and could say, "get this ratchet and mount it over your floor tom so you can get it with your right hand during the third tune."  That sort of passed-down info was a godsend to me.  

 

Also, get in the habit of photographing your setups for shows.  One of the biggest parts of prepping for a show is figuring out where to put everything so that you can play it all when you need it.  I got crazy requests-- "Can you play that bell riff while you're playing a press roll?"-- and I'd do everything I could to accommodate.  A big part of that was working out where to put stuff.  Sometimes the bells replace the mounted toms.  I once had two floor toms set up on front of me during Three Penny Opera because the director wanted to emphasize that we were playing it lowbrow and not using timpani.  

 

One rule of thumb that I think is actually true:  There is ALWAYS a school within a 50 mile radius that is looking to get rid of an old set of timpani.  I literally got my timps when I saw a local band director dragging them out to the dumpster.  They worked fine but she'd gotten a grant for nice new ones.  There's actually a set of timpani in the building where I work that no one uses and that you could buy for 500 bucks if you were in the middle of NY State.  

1+


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#15
MillerMav

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NY would be a bit of a drive but I appreciate the offer! Thanks again for the tips guys.
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#16
Jim P

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Neal Pert, you should be able to sell those timpani for $500. Some kid at Ithaca, Eastman or even OCC may be interested in timpani at that price.



Another Central New Yorker.
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#17
Olderschool

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I live in a smaller area but have been involved in some of the biggest shows(not like it's saying something.....but yeah a pit) down here.

Unless you have your sights set on the real big league then your best shot is local levels As a local guy trying to score big shows I cannot recommend enough getting involved with organizations that have enough influence, coin and people to actually put together a production. This means community bands. big churches, etc.. These organizations have people that live for this stuff and enough local influence to get these projects going. Once people start to know you, you will get calls.

Anyway, my limited experience. Take it FWIW.
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#18
Neal Pert

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Neal Pert, you should be able to sell those timpani for $500. Some kid at Ithaca, Eastman or even OCC may be interested in timpani at that price.



Another Central New Yorker.

 

They're not mine-- they belong to the music department.  Last I knew, they were thinking of asking one of their percussion istructors to try to get rid of them.  


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#19
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I did a show this past summer in a local production of Little Shop of Horrors. I had done pit band in two musicals in high school but that was 40 years ago so my reading skills were, shall we say, rusty. They were desperate for someone to fill the chair so I was somewhat given carte blanche to play what I wanted (as well as paid more than anyone else in the band...though it was still not a lot). It turned into a bit of a nightmare for the first few rehearsals and I tried to get out of it but there was no one else available so I had to soldier on. Once the vocals were added in things were much better and by the end of the show I had it down pretty well. Actually by the end I was a little sad it was over.

 

I ended up using a mix of electronic drums and real cymbals and if I ever did another show I would want to do the same (or maybe even replace the electronic kit with an octapad) even though I'm not especially a fan of electronic drums . Doing so gave me access to many other sounds (including timpani) that I could easily pull up as needed. This was also ideal for the smallish theater we were in since the volume was readily controllable. I had my own monitoring setup but that was pretty low, if the drums were too loud out front that was someone else's fault and not my concern. I can't imagine how bad it might have been if I had been using a regular kit and had to control the volume myself. In a larger theater setting that might not be an issue (especially if they put you in a plexi box). 

 

I don't know if I'll get asked to do any other shows, but if so, and if the music were rock style tunes like in LSOH. I'd probably do it again. By the end of things my reading ability had even improved although by that point I mostly just glanced at the pages to double check on beginnings and endings.


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#20
MillerMav

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This is a great conversation!  Thank you all for the tips and tricks.


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