Another highlight of our New York trip (It was pretty much all highlights!) was the group's Broadway Classroom experience. Members of the girls choir, parents, and chaperones all participated in an excellent crash course in Broadway performance culture presented by Brent Frederick, a very active music director-pianist-conductor, and Scott Mikita, a swing from the current Phantom cast. They led us through a portion of the number "Masquerade," ably teaching the music, the diction, the choreography, and holding a little mock audition. This was all really fun and I highly recommend it to other groups of musicians going to New York.
In case you're wondering, a swing is a performer with the capability and flexibility to perform various roles in a production depending upon who is ill on any given occasion. In Mr. Mikita's situation, this involves being prepared with music, text, choreography, and acting for the majority of the major male roles in Phantom eight times a week, and sometimes portions of multiple roles during the same performance. That's very, very impressive.
While we're considering what these gentlemen do for a living, I would encourage music students to take a look at Mr. Frederick's resume. I'm sure you'll notice the variety of musical work he has done from regional theater to a cruise ship show to Broadway. Also, notice his degree - music education! This should be enlightening to those who are concerned about what job their degree might lead to. This should also wake up some who are in a confused sleep and are dreaming that music ed people pursue their degrees because they can't make it in a more performance-based part of the music world. Lastly, be sure to read through the list of skills he shares to make himself more marketable. I've copied it below. These amount to keyboard skills, aural theory, and technology studies - the things you often wonder when you'll ever need them. I just happened to notice these this morning and thought I should point them out.
• Sight-reading, including audition accompanying for NYC casting directors and for Broadway shows.
• Transcribing by ear.
• Tech guru: Expert proficiency in Finale and Sibelius; synthesizer programming; digital audio workstations including Pro Tools, Digital Performer, Logic, and Ableton Live; orchestral mockupsNow for what I've been wanting to share.
Mr. Frederick and Mr. Mikita presented a superb session that showed how all the fundamentals of creative work - the musical disciplines you learn in school - are the exact things you apply everyday in the professional world of music performance. Personally, it was affirming to hear the same messages I heard from my teachers - messages that I try to convey to my students - being promulgated by these artists in their part of the culture.
What are those messages?
1. Arts are multi-layered and the performing arts require that performers engage with the layers.
You learn notes, technique, diction, musicality, choreography, etc., and then, keep adding more and more layers to make the end result an awesome expression, something out of the ordinary.
2. Subtext, subtext, subtext.
You need to apply all the aspects of all those layers with reason. Whether you're playing notes or moving across the stage, there has to be something going through your mind, something stirring your emotions. Otherwise, the audience gets no charge. Singers do it. Choreographers do it . . . It's how you make your motivation a part of the work.
3. The audience gets it.
The audience doesn't have time to deconstruct and evaluate each and every little move. Hopefully, you've saturated everything with ideas through years of focus and months of rehearsal. That sustained effort, that care for the work, comes through, at the very least, on the subconscious level. That might work better for the experience of art, anyway.
4. Conductors and directors want to see that you can take direction.
Hopefully your brilliance will show up and show through at your audition, but if you can't be responsive to the ones with the vision for the show, that won't matter much. The more malleable you are, and the less room has to be made for your personality, the better. So, as Mr. Mikita put it, "Be game and it'll be fun."
5. Education that is both specific and well-rounded is key.
During the question and answer time at the end of our session, Mr. Mikita was asked about what a young person with an interest in a career in theater should be doing now. His answer? Do as much theater as you can. Live life - theater isn't about theater; it's about the world outside the theater. And go to college.
Finally, I would add that these two successful genetlemen were balanced, poised, and readily able to engage with their students and fellow human beings in a normal, healthy, positive way: not the warped stereotype of artists that's often promoted but the reality of disciplined professionals, whatever their field.
Thank you, sirs, for modelling musicianship, professionalism, good teaching, humility, and humanity for my young friends and me!