BYU-Idaho Broadway Revue Fall 2018
During the Fall semester of 2018, I was fortunate enough to be included in the Broadway Revue concert at Brigham Young University Idaho. I accompanied the wonderfully talented Maryn Tueller, Curtis Casperson, and Chris Sykes on the piano. We performed an arrangement originally written by Benjamin Rauhala of “In My Own Little Corner” from Cinderella mashed up with “Agony” from Into the Woods.
Here’s our creative process and what I learned from the experience.
There was no sheet music for this arrangement, which wasn’t too big of a deal, since I can’t read music anyway. I play through chords, which also weren’t available for this arrangement. I was able to find chords for “In My Own Little Corner”, but none were accessible for “Agony”- even in the official Into the Woods song books.
I originally tried to pick out what the piano was doing in the original performance video, but the piano was so incredibly quiet in the recording (I’ll revisit this point later). Instead of trying to mimic what Benjamin had played, I realized I’d need to come up with the piano arrangement myself.
It took me quite a while to put something together, and certain pieces were left to be written until I was working with the vocalists so I could come up with something to compliment exactly what they were singing. It was a lot of fun to collaborate with them, and to change certain parts of the original arrangement to better fit our musical strengths.
We auditioned with the piece, which was a new experience for me. Being on the technical and design side of theatre, I’m not adept or familiar with the audition process. I’ve been in the room many times for the callback portion of an audition, but it was really interesting to see the more intimate side of it. Although intimidating and nerve-wracking, it was really great. And I’m always interested in learning more about the creative process from every angle.
If anything, it made me feel more for actors and actresses. I’ve always said we have it easy on the technical side of theatre. We can either do the job or we can’t. We won’t get turned down for our height, hair color, figure, etc. To all of my acting friends, kudos to you. The ability you have to put yourself out there with so much vulnerability is incredibly admirable to me. I hope the process never stops you from doing what you love.
Performance day was exciting. I’d accompanied people before, mostly for church gatherings and more intimate and private settings, but never for an actual concert- never where this was the sole purpose for the audience's attendance. We were last on the list, and set to close the show.
They only announced Maryn’s name before we took the stage. I was excited that they let us keep the two princes a surprise. They gave them a shoutout after the song, but the element of surprise with them really helped the audience engage. The number went really well, and the audience truly enjoyed it. I felt quite exhilarated being on stage with them!
Now what did I learn from this?
Most importantly, I learned how a piano’s place in an arrangement changes based on the story you’re trying to tell, and the audience you are presenting that story to. I’ve arranged music before, but hadn’t consciously recognized this principle until now. It’s very safe to say that a vast majority of our audience that night came to see people singing Broadway tunes, not to hear someone playing them on a piano. Now while the audience, and performers, still need to be able to hear the piano, an experienced sound engineer will know a piano’s place in the mix.
I usually play very full chords, especially when casually jamming with friends. In this arrangement I realized I needed to back off a lot more and recognize the places where sparse piano accompaniment would complement the story and performers better than my traditional chord placements.
We had a hiccup during the first part of our song, and I’m glad I’m more of an improviser than an actual pianist so I could cover it up. Like the constant theme you’ll hear me talk about on every page of my website, it all comes back to story.
If you’ve heard the arrangement we performed yet, recall the moment we transitioned from “In My Own Little Corner” to “Agony”. Maryn had a line we’d prepared which was something along the lines of, “I’m sorry, is this what we rehearsed?” This part of the story should show the audience that this isn’t supposed to happen, and that something is wrong. What a wonderful place to mess up, right?
I had my lyric sheet on my iPad with the chords displayed in Google Docs. When I tried to scroll down, I accidentally clicked and the keyboard came up for me to edit the text. It completely covered the last few lines of Maryn’s solo. Knowing that the story called for something to be a little off-kilter at this point, I knew I’d be able to get away with something.
I quickly made the decision to play a chord that didn’t quite resolve the verse (an A7), and let her sing the last line acapella, instead of playing the accompaniment that I normally would’ve. As soon as that line was over, and I had fixed my technical conundrum, I started playing the more upbeat vamp that would cue Maryn’s line.
I don’t think a single person noticed. *phew*
One last thing I learned from the whole process is that a love for musical theatre comes from everywhere- not just the theatre department. Of the 15+ performers, there was only a handful I recognized from my classes. The rest were business majors, child development, biology- you name it. But we all came together for a night of storytelling through music. That’s a beautiful thing.
I constantly welcome opportunities to learn, reflect, perform, and create with the people around me. I’m incredibly grateful to have been included in this concert that was put on completely by students, and even more grateful for the better understanding I gained of the auditioning process, and the respect it gave me for every actor and actress in this field. It’s a hard life we lead with our constant need to tell stories, and it’s a wonderful thing when we’re presented with any possibility to do so. No matter the size of the venue, audience, or talent, the chance to tell a story should never be taken lightly.
I cannot wait for my next opportunity to do so.
For a look at other musical projects I've arranged, visit the following links: