I know I haven’t updated this blog in a long time. It was originally meant to be a record of my experiences as a music director in a professional theatre. But it turns out that working in theatre doesn’t allow much time to blog!
And so today, I want to take the time to share some thoughts on where I am in my career right now. Several months ago, I made the decision that I would not return to Barter Theatre next season. While the decision was not made public for a while, I informed the Artistic Director (my boss) of my decision early on in the summer. Rather than leave them high and dry during a season, I expressed my desire and intent to finish out the fall rep, music directing both “Zombie Prom” and “Tarzan: The Musical” through to the completion of their runs.
But now the time has come. Here are my thoughts and feelings, rambling as they might be.
Just two days and two performances left at Barter Theatre for me as Resident Music Director. Really hard to believe it’s happening. Each performance gets more and more emotional for me.
I don’t remember the last time I left a job on such good terms, to be honest. I’ve been fired from jobs, I’ve quit jobs because I was angry, I’ve been laid off from jobs….but this time around it is quite peaceful, a planned exit thought out months in advance, and I even was able to help “groom” the fine gentleman who will replace me. (Lee Harris, you have my utmost respect and love as a friend and a fellow musician.)
Maybe that’s why it’s so emotional for me — I’m not just storming out the door frustrated or hurt. Has this job been tough at times? Absolutely. Has it been an incredible experience? Absolutely! Would I trade anything about the last five years (an unintended musical theatre pun there…)? I don’t believe I would. I am a much better musician, a stronger man, and much more of a dreamer now that I have spent this time at Barter.
Theatre has opened my eyes to so much. I have cried, I have laughed, I have held my breath to avoid doing either. I have participated in the most heart-warming stories, and the funniest of comedies. I have participated in inside jokes with actors, and I have wept with them through illnesses that made them feel like they couldn’t get through the show.
I have performed shows where I was the only musician. And I have performed shows with a 26-piece orchestra (last year’s two-show performance of “Cabaret” with the Symphony of the Mountains will probably always remain one of the highest points of my career). I have sat at a small upright piano on a small thrust stage, accompanying and underscoring, and even sometimes providing special effect sounds (I’ll never forget having to voice the invisible “Queenie”, the dog in “Holiday Memories”). I have sat at a grand piano on a much larger stage, pulling from all of my classical training to make that piano sing like an orchestra in “Forever Plaid”.
I have experienced the shocking feeling of a G-string landing on my head during the infamous blackout at the end of “The Full Monty”. I have performed while at the very top of my game physically, and struggled to perform with a temperature of 102.9 (a number much more suited to an FM radio station than to a person’s temperature!). I have made silly faces at actors on the “Steve-cam” that they use to watch me for cutoffs when they miss a cue I give them, and I have given them thumbs up or fist pumps when they blow me away with their performance. I have raced through endings of songs to get an actor to a cutoff quicker when they aren’t feeling well, and held strong final notes long enough that the actors felt like they might pass out.
I’ve given critiques and I’ve given compliments. I’ve scolded, and I’ve encouraged. I’ve watched young actors grow into fine, mature actors. I’ve seen the look of surprise and joy in an actor’s eyes when they accomplish something they never knew they could do. I’ve had the joy of telling actors who never considered themselves to be singers that they truly have become musical theatre actors. I honestly believe I have seen lives change, both on stage and off. And I like to think that maybe, just maybe I’ve been a part of that process of change for some of them.
Do I have a favorite memory? There are too many to choose from. And some of them already start to blur together with the passage of time.
What would I like my actors to remember me for when I’m gone? Here are the things I have strived to accomplish. Whether or not I succeeded will only be known if you ask them.
1. Music matters. Music is not just filler in a play or something that interrupts the story. Music, if it is written well, and if it is performed well, takes the story forward and enhances it. It adds unspeakable dimensions of depth and emotion to a story.
2. People matter. I have tried to get to know my actors personally, and to coach and encourage each one individually based on my relationship with them. It’s about relationship.
3. Even the small things matter. The way you emphasize a particular consonant…the way a phrase gets “spoke-sung” for dramatic emphasis…whether or not you crescendo or decrescendo when you are holding a note…the way you shape that vowel…the way you approach that particular interval so that it’s in tune…it all matters, no matter how small we think it is. There have been times when I have felt incredible magic during a particular phrase of music just because of the way an actor sang one particular note in that phrase. It’s those little things.
I could probably write for hours more with all the feelings and emotions I have right now. But I will leave it at that for now. And to paraphrase some lyrics of this final show that I’m performing for now: I am trusting my heart, letting fate decide to guide this life that I’m living. I wish the very same for all the ones I am leaving.