Author Topic: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?  (Read 4248 times)

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njmazloom

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MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« on: May 22, 2012, 05:31 pm »
I haven't seen a thread like this yet, so I apologize in advance if this is a re-post...

When working on a musical or opera, I know that reading music is a must. But just how well-versed does an SM need to be? I know what an eighth-note is, time signature, and can follow along with sheet music for the most part, but I couldn't tell you what a C# sharp looks like on a treble clef staff. I just stage managed a production of Sweeney Todd, but called based on text or visual cues. In some instances, I listened for a trumpet or a downbeat or something similar, but I never once looked at the score. I assume my experience is uncommon and I'm curious: How much theory does one need to know to handle running a show?

Thanks!


dallas10086

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #1 on: May 22, 2012, 06:26 pm »
I find that for calling musicals it's less important; I've shadowed two touring productions where they called a series of cues by counting the beats, not following actual score. So if you can count up to eight, you're set. It is a must if you're calling opera or some orchestral.

All that said, if you're able to read music, you become that much more valuable. I have SM'd several orchestral productions and all I remember from elementary music classes (and from refreshing my aging memory) are time measures, which I found more essential than being able to identify the exact note a cue had to be called on. Again, I'm able to count up to eight so I was able to make it work consistently.
« Last Edit: May 22, 2012, 06:33 pm by dallas10086 »

iamchristuffin

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #2 on: May 22, 2012, 06:30 pm »
Obviously, I can only speak from personal experience here. I'm able to confidently follow a score (maybe after a couple of coffee's worth of practice), I know what each time signature means, I can find, for example, page 110, 3rd system, 2nd bar, 1st beat, and, given time, I can say what a note is (do US people get taught Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, FACE?).

Sorry, a lot of commas there, but my point is that I have very rarely needed to read a score, just follow one. And yes, there is a difference!

As I said, this only comes from my own experience so far! And I hope this helps.

C

dallas10086

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #3 on: May 22, 2012, 06:35 pm »
(do US people get taught Every Good Boy Deserves Fudge, FACE?)

Yes we do! That's the only way I remember the notes.

I need to get into a sight reading class soon  ;D

On_Headset

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #4 on: May 22, 2012, 08:56 pm »
Quote
I assume my experience is uncommon and I'm curious: How much theory does one need to know to handle running a show?
Exactly as much as you need to know for that specific show. :P

I would actually suggest that knowledge of music isn't too essential for musical theatre. It's useful, and if you want to work on original musicals, it becomes even more important--but if you're only going to be working on remounts of well-known and well-established shows (How many of us can hum Hello Dolly! in our sleep, even if we've never seen the score in our lives?), a gentleman's understanding of music ("This is the low part, followed by the high part, and this part goes really really quickly...") will usually be enough.

If you plan to work on opera, in dance theatre, on new musicals, or if you plan to work exclusively on musicals, it's absolutely essential to attain some degree of mastery over music itself, and you may even want to pursue conservatory theory courses for your CV. But if you mostly want to work straight plays with the occasional simple musical, you don't really need it.

missliz

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #5 on: May 22, 2012, 11:15 pm »
I find being able to keep time is much more useful. Also being able to read things like measures, repeats, etc. I had 4th-grade-music-class-level of experience, and that was fine, though I rarely do musicals.

However, on my recent downtime I started taking music lessons, partially just to do it (guess who plays the ukulele now?) but also to learn to read music. A perk, since I'll be doing nothing but new musicals for the next 6 months!
I personally would like to bring a tortoise onto the stage, turn it into a racehorse, then into a hat, a song, a dragon and a fountain of water. One can dare anything in the theatre and it is the place where one dares the least. -Ionesco

BeccaTheSM

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #6 on: May 23, 2012, 12:43 am »
I have a lot of music training - I was originally a music education major (voice, piano, and french horn) in college. The most beneficial thing I've found about my musical knowledge is being able to communicate with the music director, musicians, singers, etc in their musical language.
It's along the same line as taking an acting class - so you can understand the basics of the process actors go through.
Art, in itself, is an attempt to bring order out of chaos. - Stephen Sondheim

G.Miciak

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #7 on: May 23, 2012, 02:22 am »
The standard set for us (in university) was ability to follow various bits of operas, mostly overtures (i.e. no text to follow along with). Below is just a few examples. For most of them, a score and music should be available on line and they are approximately ranked easy to difficult.

1. Mozart: Don Giovanni Overture
2. Handel: Judas Maccabaeus Overture
3. Rossini: Barber of Saville Overture
4. Wagner: Die Walkure, Act III, Scene 1
5. Gounod: Romeo and Juliet, Juliet`s Waltz Song
6. Wagner: Tristan and Isolda, Act I Prelude
7. Strauss: Salome, Dance of the 7 Veils

Full disclosure: I have never worked on an opera (I have my first coming in October), so I am no expert. I think this is a fairly representative list though. Any of you Opera SMs have input on this list?




kiwitechgirl

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #8 on: May 23, 2012, 04:16 am »
I have a lot of music training - I was originally a music education major (voice, piano, and french horn) in college. The most beneficial thing I've found about my musical knowledge is being able to communicate with the music director, musicians, singers, etc in their musical language.
It's along the same line as taking an acting class - so you can understand the basics of the process actors go through.

I'd thoroughly agree with this - having been a musician all my life (my mum is a music teacher!) it's incredibly useful to be able to talk to the MD in their language.  I'd also add, if you are calling from score, the most important thing is that you can read well enough to find your place if you do get lost.  Whether that is marking things like "big trumpet entry here" in your score as marker points, or reading fluently enough to be able to jump pages and find your place - it doesn't matter, whatever works for you.

Quote
1. Mozart: Don Giovanni Overture
2. Handel: Judas Maccabaeus Overture
3. Rossini: Barber of Saville Overture
4. Wagner: Die Walkure, Act III, Scene 1
5. Gounod: Romeo and Juliet, Juliet`s Waltz Song
6. Wagner: Tristan and Isolda, Act I Prelude
7. Strauss: Salome, Dance of the 7 Veils

I'd say that's a pretty good list.  The Strauss is difficult (it's difficult for everyone involved!) and that's one you probably would have to be more fluent in music reading to follow - but it's way more difficult than anything you're likely to encounter in musical theatre.  Sondheim is complex, but more for singers than SMs, I'd say, so if you can cope with Salome not much will throw you.

MatthewShiner

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #9 on: May 23, 2012, 07:44 am »
What I think is important is that you are able to visually look at the sheet music and know what's going on.

Relying only on counts for a piece can be difficult.  Say, you are in the middle of counting, and something goes wrong on the fly rail . . . you loose count for 7/8, or was is 6/8 . . . where are you in the counts.

Be able to glance on the sheet music and go, on, we are "here" helps a lot.

But there are a lot of tricks that you pick up along the way.

The real goal is to know just as much music as the lighting designer knows. 
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Anything posted here as in my own personal opinion, and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of my employer - whomever they be at a given moment in time.

lawvd

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #10 on: May 23, 2012, 08:59 am »
I have a lot of music training - I was originally a music education major (voice, piano, and french horn) in college. The most beneficial thing I've found about my musical knowledge is being able to communicate with the music director, musicians, singers, etc in their musical language.
It's along the same line as taking an acting class - so you can understand the basics of the process actors go through.
This is the really big point. Communication! We keep thinking that stage management is all about calling the show, when there is really so much more coordination and facilitation in the job. That said, however, learn to read music. It's not that difficult. It makes you much more employable. And while you may be able to call Dolly with only a base knowledge, I'd hate to think of calling the West Side Story ballet that way. And which is the more satisfying gig?

joannamblack

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #11 on: May 25, 2012, 03:14 am »
In school we are lucky enough to have an Opera Stage Management course where we are taught a bit of music theory, but mostly, we are taught what to look for in a score -- knowing when the time signature or key signature changes, and knowing your instruments can be very helpful. I can by no means read music, but I sure can follow it. Part of the exam for this course was listening to a piece of music without looking at the score, and being able to quickly find where in the music you are (when the teaching said 'go'). We learnt that marking scores (in your own unique way) really really made this easy. Thing like knowing that this is when the trumpets come in etc. really helped the blind test. Being able to follow a beat and follow the shape of the music are essential, but not that difficult to pick up. I used to be rather intimidated by the thought of working an opera but I have the chance to work on a couple this coming season and have no reason to doubt myself, you just need to get a score and a copy of the music in advance and listen - eventually you will know the score inside out just like you eventually leanr everyone's lines just from hearing it .

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Jonas_A

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #12 on: Nov 25, 2012, 07:33 am »
Can't really comment on the level required to call from, given I can sight-read a lot of stuff after years of piano playing and so have never really considered it, but the tip I always got taught was to mark scores you can't understand with notes on what it actually sounds like;

As long as you can count beats, you can follow along the score without reading it all, and then if you hear something interesting you scribble a note in describing what you can hear.

You just do it in whatever wording suits you - what my ASM wrote in as "gets really loud" I wrote in as "Timpani sfz roll w/ crescendo". Both got the job done, and as long as you can describe what you're hearing, MDs are usually able to cooperate (In fact, they'll probably prefer it over "Cue 29, bar 44 beat 3" when they don't have a score handy). You get to look like you can read every note, they get to communicate with you, you don't lose your place as often... it's a pretty good outcome.

(Hope that makes sense... I'm really too tired to type coherently...)

loebtmc

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #13 on: Nov 25, 2012, 10:50 am »
Amusingly, I just did a juke-box musical where the director and choreo, both well-established with many years of credits, were astonished, I tell you, astonished to work for the first time with an SM who read music and could talk to the MD and musicians in their language, able to easily and clearly let everyone know where we were picking up from or helping as a set of ears (just as I sometimes am eyes for the dance or fight captain, letting them know when things need to be fixed because their eyes and ears are busy elsewhere). That said, of all the shows I've observed, only two have used a score rather than the libretto t call the show. And the only guaranteed scores have been the handful of operas.

juliec

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Re: MUSIC: How much should I be able to read?
« Reply #14 on: Nov 27, 2012, 05:09 am »

I work almost exclusively in opera and what I really wish I could do better is *sing*.  I can't carry a tune very well (somewhat tone deaf actually), but I've worked with Stage Managers who have sung, and it is rather awesome to see them keep the chorus on track by singing the chorus' part with them.  Especially for smaller companies, it's a very useful to be able to communicate and connect that way because you're more involved with all facets of the production.  Also, I am a rather decent sight-reader in terms of instruments.  BUT it would be much more useful if that instrument were my voice.  I can translate notes to a keyboard easily, but I can't look at a line and just know what it sounds like.  I wish I could.  THAT would be my SM super power.  To me, that's also the mark of a real musician.

Knowing the music also helps.  Often the SD, MD, or a singer (who doesn't have the score in front of them) will say something like, "let's go from [insert musical cue - e.g., "the second da da dum da da" or "the run up to the high c"]" instead of a place in the score.  And if I'm the least musical in rehearsals (usually the case in opera, where *everyone* is a musician and has done the piece a dozen times), I'm the last to find the place we're starting from.  Let me say, that is just not thrilling.

You certainly don't need to be a full-fledged musician, but don't rely on counting (although it is useful in a pinch - I have definitely counted my way through some passages before - especially fast passages or new works that usually don't have a good recording to accompany them).  Learn to read a melody, spot themes and landmarks, and musical terminology.  I've also had to "conduct" storm effects (read: rolling thunder, thunder percussions, wind, and lightning) - and for that it was important that I could follow the music and dynamic marks so that my 5-person storm didn't overpower the 8-person orchestra and so the thunder came in during the thunder section and on the right notes.  I guess it was similar to conducting a banda of storm instruments which might be unusual for an SM to do, but it was really fun.  If you know how to read music, you might be asked to do more interesting things.

The amount you need to read also depends on the piece itself.  If it's in English or a language that you read, it's going to be easy to follow if there's a lot of singing (but know that, ultimately, you *should* be following the maestro).

For me, it boils down to:  You need to put timings in your score anyway.  So you need to know enough to at least do that...

 

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