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Jun 25

Music Direction for the Stage, A View from the Podium


Edited: Sep 2

Music Direction for the Stage, A View from the Podium by Joseph Church ’74. Joe Church, who directed the music of such Broadway shows as The Lion King and The Who’s Tommy, lays out everything music directors might need to know, whether they are putting on entertainment at a banquet, with one singer and one piano, or managing a full orchestra for a Broadway show. I’m sure that many an aspiring music director has a well-worn copy within arm’s reach at all times. I cannot imagine a more valuable handbook. The newly minted music director can avoid such pitfalls as hiring clueless drummer subs or misestimating how long a break for the band might take. (oops and double oops)

The book also engages the casual theater goer, one who enjoys the beguiling product with no idea of what work, skill, social finesse, and collaboration have gone into its production. Everyone likes to look behind the curtain, and here we find the complex interplay of director, choreographer, composer, music director, singers, actors, instrumentalists, unions, money, and all the techies that work on amplification and sound clarity.

Sometimes Joe’s explanations are hilarious. To conduct, a director might use a baton, his arm, or his hand, but if he’s at the keyboard and his hands aren’t free, he will have to use his head. You know what that is? “It is a slightly elongated sphere, not a long object coming to a point.” (I laughed my elongated sphere off).

I was happy to see among the reoccurring examples, the final chorus of Bernstein’s Candide, Make our Garden Grow, a gorgeous homage to the original Candide’s realization that all you can do is “cultivez votre jardin.” I wonder if Joe was in the class that read Voltaire’s Candide and then attended the Broadway version – must have been in 1974, when he was a senior.

In some ways, this is a professional memoir. It was interesting to see how Joe made his way in the competitive and talent-saturated world of music where clearly, the most important attribute is resilience. This is a world where you have to bounce back over and over and where you cannot get complacent. The world keeps shifting. Synthetic music encroaches. Joe has put one foot in performance and the other in academics. More than anything else, his ability to adapt to the new makes him a role model to the next generation. He’s had quite a career!


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