Sunday, 3 November 2013

So, the show is over

And the body hurts.


Protea Stage Production's production of Aladdin and his magic lantern had a very successful run of total 11 shows. After the last show we had the traditional after show party. I got home at three O'clock in the morning and got up again at seven to be back at the hall for the strike. For those who don't know, 'strike' in theatre has nothing to do with no-work-no-pay. It means hard work for no pay. It is when the set is broken down and taken back to the warehouse for storage.

I love offering my skills for theatre. Hard labor is not one of my skills. Unfortunately, it is something that must be done. It does not matter how many hours of sleep we had.

Enough about my pain. We had a great review in the local paper. The reviews from the judges are in. I have a copy of only one of the reviews, and will therefore only talk about this one. I will only comment about the parts where I had a role to play. For the rest, it is sufficient to say that the judge review was great. He loved the show. Now we will wait for Februarry '14 to see if we get any nominations for the annual SANCTA awards. Hold thumbs please!!

Even though I was involved with a lot of areas, let me start to talk about the parts of the review that talks about the music. That is where I played the greatest part (pun intended). Although many of the songs get mentions, it is more in the context of the acting and choreography. Not often that the music get any mention at all, so I will saviour the mentions we did get.

In short, he loved the music, especially, the African songs that opened act 1 and act 2. Woot!

He commented about Storm's performance as Aladdin and offer the opinion that she got the role more for her beautifull singing voice than her acting ability. I agree with him that Storm has a beautifull voice and sings really well in this show. She had some opera training and it paid off. I do not think that her acting abilities lacked at all. I see absolutely no problem with giving some importance to singing abilities when casting roles. I have suffered through many musicals where actors who can not sing two notes got a role because of their superior acting ability (Les Mis, the movie being a good example). Me, being a musician / songwriter myself might be a bit biased.

Shannon's vocal skills in the role of the pink genie also got a deserved mention. In this case her acting ability matched.

Ok, here is the most important part in the whole review. "The band was superb. The musical directors and musicians need a huge pat on the back. Any play with live music is better than a recording and I felt that this particular musical ensemble was definitely an asset." Thank you Mr Judge. I accept and agree with every word.

Later on: "The songs were brilliant choices and ones that the audience enjoyed singing along to." Thank you! The songs were Cameron's choice, and the sing-a-long was co-written by Cam and myself. It had every single audience member on their feet clapping and singing in every single show.

Ok. It is not much out of 5 pages of review, but I am happy with getting any mentions at all!

Once again, congratulations to Cameron for writing and directing this masterpiece.

Next time I will look at the other aspect where I was involved, including the social media marketing campaign.


Friday, 25 October 2013

Making the magic of theatre happen

I am really blessed to have the opportunity to be involved with theatre. The greatest thing about theatre is the people that make theatre happen.
Our current production is very special. I have never before met so many people who are so special. Sometimes I feel like I just do not belong in the precence of these exceptional people. The least I can hope for is that I will be able to learn a little bit from them and just a tiny bit of the genius would rub off.
The show was written and directed by Cameron Lawry. I am honored to be able to say that I worked with Cameron. When he approached Protea with the proposal to stage his show, not everybody believed he could pull it off, but Protea was willing to giving him the chance. Hooray to Protea for being so brave to give such a young man the chance. Cameron not only pulled it off. He pulled it off big time. He did not only show Protea he can do it. He showed the world that he can do it. I am sure that we will see him go on and reach great hights.
It was so great to witness the support that Cam got from his parents. Debby and Neville had to make many sacrifices to support their son over the six months period. I am so glad that it all paid off in the end. The team of Cam, Debby and Neville can really be proud of what they achieved.
Musical theatre is by far the most collaborative form of art that I know of. It is impossible to make the magic happen on your own. You need to be able to make many work together and you need many more to support you to make it happen. When it all comes together the magic of theatre happens.

Saturday, 19 October 2013

What is rock opera?

Wikipedia defines a rock opera as a work of rock music that presents a storyline told over multiple parts, songs or sections in the manner of opera.
The LA rock opera company virtually copies that definition: a work of rock music that presents a dramatic story told over multiple songs in the traditional manner of opera.
The free dictionary defines it as albums of rock music that aspired to the status of art; first appeared in the 1960s. Are we not blessed that we do not have to rely on dictionaries any more!
Here are just some of my observations.
Looking at videos of rock operas online, it becomes clear that the format of rock opera is fairly open ended. Some rock operas have impressive backdrops and sets. Others have none at all. Some rock operas have impressive choreography. Others have none. While many rock operas are close to musical theatre with actors acting and the band hidden in the pit (e.g. Jesus Christ Superstar), in some rock operas, the band forms an intergral part of the show (e.g. Tommy, The wall).
The one common aspect of rock opera is that all the songs together makes up a central theme or story, and usually must be performed in a specific order. There are some rock operas out there where the songs are more closely related to the directors favorites playlist, but I would place those rather in the category of juke box musicals. Most successful rock operas consist of songs written specifically for the show.

Friday, 11 October 2013

The exile, the musical

The Exile is a musical in 2 acts, with book by Edward Swardt and music and lyrics by Eric Swardt. The story starts on freedom day celebrations, ten years after the first democratic election in South Africa, when Tyler, a young man who grew up without a father, learns from his mother that his father went into exile and dedicated his life to the liberation of the country. When Tyler observes how his mother's is friend misbehaves, Tyler decides to search for his father and bring him back.

The exile can be performed by 8 actors. The lead roles are

  • Tyler, a young man looking for his father
  • Melissa, Tyler's friend
  • Pamela, Tyler's mother
  • Hugo, Tyler's father who went into exile

The supporting roles are

  • Anthony, Pamela's friend
  • Cathy, Hugo's friend
  • Neil, Hugo's friend
  • Manual, Hugo's friend

The cast of The exile can further be extended to include extra roles for a young Hugo and a young Pamela. The actors can double roles to perform in the chorus line, or a seperate chorus can include anything from 4 to 10 characters. All roles are for adult actors.

The exile includes a variety of musical styles, with some rock, blues and Broadway influences, as well as love songs. You can listen to the songs recorded for the concept album.

The music can ideally be performed by a 6 piece band with drums, bass, 2 guitars, piano and keyboards, but depending on the available budget, the keyboard parts can be performed by a larger orchestra, including up to 24+ String (Violins, Violas, Celi), 3 winds (Oboe, flute, clarinets) and 4 brass (Trumpets, trombones)


Sunday, 6 October 2013

Is the number of social media managers declining?

I do not usually comment on other blogs on this blog. I know shooting at others give them good reason to shoot back. A recent blog post, Why the decline in social media managers is a good thing got me thinking however. The article actually states that the number of social media managers grew by 50%. Thing is just that previously, the growth percentage was much higher (it does not say). Well, a 50% growth is not a decline.

I do not want to debate the issue of declining social media managers. I want to debate the trend of people trying to attract traffic to their blogs or web sites with catchy headlines - but with false information. It is clear to me that the author of abovementioned blog article either a) do not understand basic mathematics, or b) tried to use a catchy (but false) heading to attract attention. I will give the author the benefit of doubt and assume the latter.

I do not want to make this personal. Point is.

A heading in twitter grabbed my attention. I clicked on the link. First job of social media is to attract traffic to your web site or blog or whatever. The second job of social media is to convert the traffic to sales. This heading succeeded in the first job very effectivly.

Question is - did it convert my feet to a sale?

I think not. After I realised that the heading was false, I felt a bit cheated. I felt like I was tricked into following a false link. The author offer his social media services on his site. Will I make use of his services.. Most likely not. I do not feel that I can trust him. In my view this was like any spam advertising. This kind of advertising creates traffic, but the convertion ratio to sales is very low.

On the other hand, it works. If spam did not work, people would have stopped doing it. Even though convertion rates to sales is very low, clearly, people are spamming more and more every day. Here is the reason why.

One percent (1%) of a million is still more than ten percent (10%) of a thousand. Want to see it mathematically?

1% X 1,000,000 > 10% X 1,000

Proof: 1% X 1,000,000 = 10,000 and 10% X 1,000 = 100.

If you are honest you get very few clicks. Say, only a thousand. Because you are honest one in every ten people who clicked on your link will buy. You sell 100. But, by lying to people you create lots of traffic. Say you get a million clicks. Because you lied, fewer peoply fall for your trick, and only one out of every hundred who clicked on your link will buy. That is still a whopping ten thousand. That is good business.

Many do not care. In fact, people became used to it. The few of us who do care are dying out. In some country they have a law for schemes like this. It is called a "419 scheme". Soon that law will be regarded as archaic. The 419'ers will take over the world. We will all follow them, give them our money and bleed like good zombie sheep.


Friday, 27 September 2013

What did I ever do wrong (feat. Gabrielle)


New song recording!


You can download the track here What did I ever do wrong.

Or stream it from my web site at Dog-on-blues, or from Soundcloud.

Every song has a story. This song has a bit of a winded story behind it. It started off when I wrote the songs for my musical in progress, Wake not the dead. This is a horror / love story musical with some twists. The story goes that Walter, a rich baron from some weird place just south of Transilvania revived his childhood lover from the grave. He then sat with the little problem of his newly-revived-from-the-grave-ex-lover-and-now-new-girl-friend was in no mood to share him and his house with his wife. So, Walter had to tell his wife to get out.

Swanhilda, Walter's wife, answered him with this lament.

The story of the song does not end there. Originally it was written as a rather showtunes song. And waited on the rack for further attention. I started writing songs for Annemie since the start of this year and record her songs in my studio. Up,to now, I wrote about ten songs for her. One of the songs she wanted was a sad blues, with a piano triplets track, similar to what can be heard in the Guns and roses song, Since you've been gone.

After about the third attempt of writing lyrics, I dug the lyrics of this song out from the grave and showed it to her. Happy with what she read, but not happy with the music, we decided to change the song to a blues song. She then came up with a beautifull tune from Zaz as a reference.

With these four things in mind I reworked the song. The Zaz song for the beginning, Guns and roses in the background, the blues tune and the lyrics from Wake not the dead all came together in this song.

Not long, and well, Annemie decided to drop this song from her repertoir, leaving me with what I considdered to be a very beautiful tune. Not wantng to let it die on the rack, I sent the song in to Studio Pros to see what I can do and asked Gabrielle to do the vocals.

The results are now ready for your enjoyment!

I want to add lead guitars, but decided that I will have to leave some space for future surprise! What do you think? Does it need a lead guitar?

Those who followed my blog from the start will recognize Gabrielle's lovely voice in the role of Cathy in the musical, The exile, where she is featured on the songs, I have never and Prisoner of your spell.


Saturday, 14 September 2013

St Albans college Copacabana

Last night I saw St Albans college's production of Copacabana. I go watch their productions every year. Maybe, the fact that I am great friends with the events director and musical director has a lot to do with it, but I'd like to think that the fact that their productions are always of top quality also plays a big role here.

St Albans believe in minimalistic stage setups. Their production does not have any backdrops, flats or scenery of any kind that can not be carried on by the actors. For this show they mainly used a projector showing images on a big screen. For the nightclub scenes, the cast members carry a few tables and chairs unto the stage. That is the totality of their scenery.

This approach has many obvious advantages.

  • It is cheap. Many productions spend a significant part of their budget on building extensive sets which will be destroyed and thrown into the bin after the show. St Albans believe in spending money where it matters (in their view).
  • It saves time. Building sets takes time. With many productions, the set building starts even long before cast rehearsals start.
  • It is flexible. Having extensive sets that takes a long time to build makes it impossible for the director to change his mind - or scenes - close to the opening night.
  • No setup time for scene changes. Let's face it. One way of killing the magic for an audience is to make them sit in the dark for 5 minutes while you change the sets.
  • And most important of all. The audience buys it. The show sold out. The audience do not need to see a very elaborate set that looks like a airport to know that the cast is taking a flight to Cuba. A simple image of an airport and airplane projected against the backwall convince them.


I am sure many of you will give us many reasons why elaborate set designs are important. Protea Stage (where I am involved with the production of Aladdin), prides them on their set designs. For Bottoms Up we've build a whole flat on the stage, complete with walls, doors, decor, front door, bathroom door, kitchen door, etc, etc. It looked good and we were proud of it. For Aladdin, we are going a lot further. Just come and see. Many of the people have the opinion that it will be the best we have done so far.

Point is, some production companies put a lot of effort into set designs. If you have the skills and the resources available, there is no reason not to. It adds a lot to the show. However, sometimes you can get away with a lot less.

The music, singing, acting and choreography all is top class. After the event, I had the honor to chat to Rainer von Schlichting, the musical director. I learned a few interesting things from him.

  • Even though it is an amateur production, they hire professional musicians. Rainer believes that it is money well spend. Working with amateur musicians adds considerable problems and stresses and needs significantly more time for rehearsals.
  • They make use of a professional theatre. Even though they have a school hall large enough to house the production, they stage their annual musical in the Atterbury theatre. That takes a lot of stress out of the process, including the ticket sales. The theatre provides professional sound and lighting, including headset microphones. They do not need to spend a lot of money on sound equipment and lighting, worry about finding qualified light and sound engineers, and is always assured of having the latest technology available. Off course this will only work if there are any professional theaters in town!
  • They only do one show a year. Rehearsals started in February. That is a total of ten months of rehearsal. That might be an overkill. Most amateur productions do just fine with only three months rehearsals, making two or three shows a year possible.

If you are in town (Pretoria) this weekend, go watch Copacabana at the Atterbury theatre. It will be a great experience.


Saturday, 7 September 2013

Gloomy songs

Last week I looked at the analysis of some motivational songs. We have seen that the song form for these kind of songs leans very strongly towards the verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus form.

I wrote my motivational song with verses and chorusses and added a bridge and refrain. Unfortunately for those interested, as the song was written under commission, I can only publish the song once recorded and published by the commissioner. Hopefully, that will be soon.

As a test, I looked at the opposite of the motivational songs, i.e. gloomy songs. There is no better examples of the songs of gloom as those from the fathers of gloom rock, Black Sabbath.

I have to confess to being a great fan of Sabbath, especially of the Ozzy era. So happy that they are back together and recording again.

So, I took a few of Sabbath's greatest early songs and analysed the basic song form to see if we can learn anything about gloom songs. I was surprised about what I have found.

Firstly, many of Sabbath's song do not have a chorus at all. Their songs mainly follow the AAA song form, i.e. only a number of verses where the basic chord structures and melody is repeated, but not the words.

The second striking thing about their songs is the almost absence of the song title in the song. Many of their songs will use the song title only once during the whole song (e.g. War pigs, Sabbath bloody sabbath, etc), or sometimes not at all (e.g. Black Sabbath, Paranoid, Sweat leaf, Wizzard).

A third noticable factor about Black Sabbath's songs is the use of easilly recognizable riffs. In classical music, it would be called motifs, I guess. Iommi is a master at the guitar riffs. Very important about his riffs, or themes, is that most of the songs have more than one riff. War pigs is the best example (ever?) on how to use riffs, variations on the riffs, and mix them up.

Going with the above, is Sabath's use of the breakdown in their songs. Many classic rock and heavy metal bands are to lazy to spend the same amount of time working on the song arrangements. A tip for songwriters and band all over the world to take home from Black Sabbath's teachings: everybody does not have to play all of the time. Mix it up. Change the tempo. Change the feel. Break the song down and build it up again. That is how you can keep your songs interesting to listen to - and no, just a guitar solo does not count.

Many have followed the Black Sabbath recipe for gloom to some extend, especially in the heavy metal genre (e.g. Slayer, Sepultura).


Monday, 26 August 2013

The motivational song

I was asked to write a motivational song. Easy enough. There is not much trickery to it. I just have to write something about how great things will turn out if you keep on believing in yourself.

As homework, I decided to do a bit of song analysis. Let's see what song forms other popular motivational songs take on and see if there is something in these songs that made them popular. It is not difficult to find motivational songs. There has been many of them throughout the history of pop music. To choose the songs to analyze, I googled for inspirational songs, and came up with 13 songs, many from the list at lifehacks.

You may come up with a list of your own favorite inspirational songs. Feel free to add your list and analysis in the comments below.

Looking at the song form, one thing became very clear, i.e. each song is structured a bit different, but there is no definite thing in the song form that will make an inspirational song different than any other pop song. Most songs in my analysis has the standard verse-chorus plus bridge structure. Louis Armstrong's What a wonderful world is the only song in this list that broke away from that form with the AABA song form.

Many of the songs have an anthem section, either as the chorus, or part of the chorus, or, as in the case of Don't stop believing, an anthem added as a bridge part at the end.

The theme of the lyrics are also diverse. There are a few run-of-the-mill love songs, a few breakup songs, a few general-life inspirational songs, and even a few protest songs. The one thing common amongst them all are the positive inspirational message, usually sung as the chorus or anthem.

Here is my list of the13 popular inspirational songs:

Purple rain by Prince

It is the epic performance by Prince and the production of this song that makes it stand out. It is in essence a standard love song with a standard verse-chorus-verse-chorus-bridge-chorus (ABABCB) song form, with a fairly extended add lib section at the end. The chorus is in an anthem style.

Stronger by Kelly Clarkson

This is a great modern pop song with a ABABCB form and the first break-up song on the list. The first verse gives the backstory - rather sad and down in mood. The chorus immediately changes the mood to an inspiration song with a possitive message in an anthem style. The second verse moves the story forward into the present with a 'take that, you bastard' type message. The bridge moves the story line further forward into the future, with the last chorus and add lib to re-inforce the anthem.

Don't stop believing by Journey

This is a classc in every way. The song form is a standard verse-chorus song with a bridge (ABABC). It is different from the previous two songs in that it does not return to the chorus at the end, and the bridge forms the anthem part of the song. Typically of many 80's pop songs, this one has pretty impressive instrumental breaks in between.

Ain't no mountain high enough by Marvin Gaye

This song is from an era before bridge sections were common in songs. The song form is very standard verse-chorus form with a variation in form by starting the song with the chorus, and repeat the chorus at the end, making it a BABABABB form. The theme is a standard love song, with every verse giving the same message in different words. The chorus is in an anthem style.

Save the world tonight by Swedish house mafia

This is the first protest song on my list with a very strong message. The song is made even more memorable with a very cute music video of the doggy gang saving the world. Song form is plain ABAB (verse-chorus-verse-chorus). The anthem is mostly pointless oohs at the end of the chorus, in my view spoiling what would otherwise have been a great song.

Skyscraper by Demi Levato

Another break-up song in standard ABABCB form. The verses starts with a backstory, then moves the song into the present, with the bridge giving a conclusion to the story line. The songwriting team of Gad, Koiv and Robbins did a great job of following a very standard format. Even though the message is very possitive, Demi's performance gives the whole song a very sad mood. This is the first song on my list that lacks an anthem section.

Get up, stand up by Bob Marley

Another political protest song. The song form is identical to Gaye's song above, i.e. chorus-3x(verse-chorus)+chorus (BABABABB). It is the chant-like chorus / anthem that makes this song memorable.

It's my life by Bon Jovi

Another 80's pop song, with everything that makes Bon Jovi's songs popular. Another ABABCB song form with an almost-over-the-top anthem style chorus. The lyrical theme is a general-life inspirational theme.

Where is the love by Black eyed peas

Another protest song with a standard 3x verse-chorus form (ABABAB). The chorus consist of three parts, with a pre-chorus, anthem and chorus.

What a wonderful world by Louis Armstrong

This is another general-life inspiration feel-good song. It is unique in that it is the only AABA song form on my list, with added BA sections and a simple refrain at the end. The song does not really have an anthem section, other than the refrain.

Stand by me by Ben E. King

Another love song in the verse-chorus form (ABABB). A classic in its simplicity with the chorus as the anthem.

Lovely day by Bill Withers

Another love song in the 3x verse-chorus form (ABABAB). Beautiful song, but nothing special. Not much of an anthem.

Beautiful day by U2

Before I go on, let me make something very clear. These guys are infinitely more successfull than I could ever dream to be and this song sold infinitely more than any of my songs. I respect these guys and have no right to critisize them, but can merely state my opinion, which, in this case I will withold.


Sunday, 25 August 2013

Strength to carry on

When you go through life, you have to find inspiration from many places. Sometimes that inspiration may come from other people. Sometimes that inspiration comes from a song. Sometimes that song may even be your own song,

Sometimes it may be all of the above.

This time, I found my inspiration from a song from my musical, The exile - Strength to carry on. (Listen to the song on the link to Soundcloud)

Thank you for my wonderful family, who are always there. This all would be nothing without you and your strength to help me carry on.


Monday, 19 August 2013

So, I am an iPad musician

I own my iPad since the iPad2 was released and have found many ways to use the iPad. published an interesting survey done on how musicians use the iPad. One problem I find with most app reviews on the internet, is that the apps are almost always reviewed by people who have been using the app for a day, or maybe a week, and by people who have been given the app for the review. Reviews by people actually using the apps in real life, and have been doing so for beyond the 'novelty-week', are hard to find.

I have downloaded many apps, most of which I tried out and never used again beyond the first week. Here is my list of how I use the iPad, and the apps that I actually use.

Tuner: I hate people who refuse to use a tuner. You know the type? Yes, there are still people around who believe that they can tune a guitar by ear only, and then halfway through a practice complains that everybody else is out of tune. Tuners are cheap, and often even free if you use an app on your phone. If you don't own a tuner of some sort, please give up playing guitar, or at least don't play in front of people. I have a few free tuner apps on my phone and on my iPad, but the one that I now use is the tuner built into Amplitube.

Guitar effects: Amplitube makes up the mainstay of my guitar sound, with Stompbox being used mainly for the odd clean sound. To be able to use either of these apps, you will need some hardware options to go with it. My rig consist of:

-My fender stratocaster - it all starts with a good guitar, and this is my idea of a good guitar. For acoustic work, I use my Yamaha APX.

-My guitar is plugged into an iRig Stomp.

-The iRig Stomp is plugged into my iPad2, running Amplitube or Stompbox. I also have the Audiobus app, which in theory would allow me to chain Amplitube and Stompbox, but for some reason, my iPad cuts out and go into silence mode at unexpected times when it is over-burdened.

-My iPad is held in place with the Hercules Tab Grab, which is fitted to my music stand.

-From the iRig, I have a cable plugging into my Marshall 14W amp. This requires that all the presets I use in Amplitube has the amp models switched off.

Next to my music stand, I have another music stand with my laptop. On the laptop I have Notion running as my drummer, pianist and synth. Notion on the computer has been my main composition tool for many years now and have served me well for all these years. I have the iPad app as well, but only use it to make small adjustments or compose melody lines and sound effects, etc.

For lyrics and set lists, I use a nifty little app called Songsheet. There are many apps around doing lyrics tabs and set lists, but I have settled on this app. It allows my to enter my lyrics and chords and transpose the chords to a new key and move verses around as the musical director change the arrangements. The only problem here is that I use my iPad to play live and in rehearsals for guitar effects - therefore I still need to print the lyric sheets and use my flip files on the music stand.

When it comes to staying in touch, I use the usual social media apps, like Blogsy, twitter, Facebook and Youtube.

To stay organized I mainly use Goodreader for all pdf needs and Evernote to keep notes of all meetings. There are also the usual office apps like Numbers for speadsheets and Pages for writing letters. For keeping track of income and expenses, I use Bookkeeping3.

As I look at the apps on my iPad, I see plenty more, including Garageband, Symphony Pro, Band-in-a-box, Sheetmuse, Progression etc. Most of these apps have never been used beyond the initial 'novelty-week'.

So there you have the list of apps that has proven themselves as being of real value. Let me know what you use in the comments or by email.

Until next week.


Tuesday, 13 August 2013

What is the job of a musical director

Last Sunday I blogged about the job of the music coordinator. Panic ensued in some places after reading the post, mostly from people who confuse the job of a musical director (MD) with the music coordinator. Ok, so if the coordinator is not the director, to make things easier for you, I researched a bit about what is the job of the musical director, or MD.

I started my research with google. The old saying is, if it is on the internet, it must be true. I think it must have been Confucius who said it. Here are some opinions about what the job of a musical director is, and my opinions about their opinions.



  • A music director may be the director of an orchestra, the director of music for a film, the director of music at a radio station, the head of the music department in a school, the coordinator of the musical ensembles in a university, college, or institution[1] (but not usually the head of the academic music department), the head bandmaster of a military band, the head organist and choirmaster of a church, or an Organist and Master of the Choristers (a title given to a Director of Music at a cathedral, particularly in England).

Mmmm. Musical theatre is not included there. Maybe we should not relax, as we do need one - or maybe wikipedia is, well, remember what Confucius said.

  • The role of a music director is to conduct and compose music, as well as hiring and firing of musicians. He/she is in charge of the overall musical performance including ensuring that the cast knows the music thoroughly, supervising the musical interpretation of the performers and conducting the orchestra.
  • The role of a musical director is to teach the songs, coach the actors and direct or monitor the orchestra. A musical director can as well be in control of symphony orchestras, choirs and the musical content of a show or musical awards. The range of their responsibilities however differs depending on the size of the group they are working with.

This one is more to the point and relevant for musical theatre. Compose the music? More than 98.3% of all musicals are revivals and productions of existing musicals. Even those who are originals list a different composer than MD. Go check the Broadway Internet Database. As the old Chinese proverb goes, 90% of all statistics are just made up on the spot.

  • Music directors are responsible for making the creative decisions associated with a live performance.
  • Musical directors will conduct a group or orchestra. This involves having a clear idea about the performance of a piece of music and leading a group of musicians to realise this idea.
  • The director or conductor may carry out the following functions:
  • Sets the pace of a musical performance and ensure that everyone plays or sings the right notes at the correct speed
  • Interpret the musical score and whether musicians or singers should perform softly or loudly
  • Balance instruments and voices against each other in a performance
  • Lead rehearsals so that every piece is properly rehearsed in preparation for the performance.
  • Musical directing - Musical shows in the theatre have a musical director. Their job is to conduct the musical element of the show, directing both performers and the offstage musicians

This list seems more complete and very relevant for theatre. Maybe Confucius was right. You just have to continue looking.


  • The Musical Director's job is to teach the actors the music during the rehearsal period of a show. They train the actors in technique and teach notes, rhythms, and expression of songs in a musical theatre show.

This is the shortest and the simplest. I know some MDs who stuck with this definition, even though, in my opinion this is the job of the vocal coach, who is usually appointed by the MD, but very often, the MD will perform this task herself - amongst all her other duties.

Enough for the most trusted resource. Let's see if some other opinions exist in printed resources.

Staging a musical by Matthew White

The musical director (more commonly known as the MD) is, of course, responsible for all aspects of music in the show. Not only will the MD work with the actors in the rehearsal room, but he or she will be fully in charge of the orchestra, or band, and will rehearse these musicians separately until the 'sitzprobe' (i.e., the sing-through involving both actors and musicians; see Chapter 10). For this reason, there will often be an assistant musical director who can be present in the rehearsal room, while the main MD is busy working with the band. In detail, the MD is responsible for:

  • Organising (with the help of the producer) a pianist for auditions and
    rehearsals. Attending auditions and advising the director on the casting of the singers.
  • Teaching the cast their vocal parts and helping to solve any musical problems which the singers may have.
  • If required, making a rehearsal tape for the choreographer of all the dance music in the show.
  • Selecting the band or orchestra (in larger productions this may be done by a 'fixer'), and rehearsing the musicians.
  • Conducting the band or orchestra in performance.
  • Organising vocal warm-ups for the cast during the run, and ensuring that musical standards are maintained. This may involve calling the cast for extra vocal rehearsals.

This book by Matthew is a very valuable resource for anybody interested in any aspect regarding the staging of a musical. He clearly knows what he is talking about.

The Complete Idiot's Guide to Amateur Theatricals by John Kenrick

The music director’s responsibilities include …

• Taking part in the audition and casting process, helping assess the musical ability and potential of each performer.

• Recruiting and supervising all musicians, both professional and volunteer. Finding the right people can be a challenge on a tight budget, and pit musicians (whether paid or volunteer) can have egos that more than match the ones onstage.

• Recruiting and supervising any other musical staff. When a rehearsal pianist and/or vocal coach is required, they should report to the MD.

• Scheduling and running effective orchestra rehearsals. The trick is determining the number of these rehearsals based on the budget and the musicians’ level of talent.

• Coordinating the rental, purchase, and distribution of all sheet music, including orchestral and vocal scores. In most organizations, this is handled in partnership with the producer and director.

• Running effective vocal rehearsals for the leads and chorus. It is up to the MD to be sure every song in a show meets its musical and dramatic potential.

• Creating recordings of dance music to be used in dance rehearsals. This can free up the MD or rehearsal pianist for vocal rehearsals.

• Obeying all relevant copyright laws. Rehearsal recordings, photocopying of music, and any changes to the score must be handled within legal guidelines. When in doubt, consult the rights holders.

• Making sure the piano is tuned and well cared for.

• Conducting all major rehearsals and performances. When the curtain goes up, the performers must rely on the MD to set the pace and sidestep potential disasters.

• Maintaining any space reserved for musicians, including the pit and backstage. Cleanliness and safety mean as much here as anywhere, especially with the ever-increasing presence of electronic equipment. It is also the MD’s responsibility to be sure these areas are cleared and cleaned after a production ends.

• Supervising the ongoing use and final return of all rented scores, including cleanup. This tedious task can best be handled by inviting the musicians to a “cleanup” party, handing out erasers and having them clean up their scores before food and drinks are served.

I am a fan of the idiot's guide series, and often these books provide a very valuable resource.


There are many other good resources on the subject. You can have your own opinion on the subject and you can have another opinion if you are of the opinion that I am opinionated, but in final conclusion, I want to suggest that, if you are serious about being a MD, do not rely on what you read in a single paragraph on the internet. Go and buy one of these good books around. I have quoted from two very good resources, but there are many others. Books are very cheap, compared to what will happen to your reputation if you screw it up because you had no idea of what your job really is.

Finally, some advice to prospective producers and directors. Always make sure that people know from the start what you expect from them. Refer back to my article on basic management principles (principle No 2).

Happy directing!



Monday, 12 August 2013

So, what does a musical coordinator do?

If you google for a musical coordinator, you will find many pages telling you what a musical coordinator does. None of them are really in agreement, and none of them really describe what a musical coordinator really do. So, here is my take on what a musical coordinator does.

In summary, a musical coordinates all the aspects relating to the music in the production of a musical theatre show. A musical coordinator's job is to do everything that nobody else does.

The tasks listed here are usually the responsibilities of the musical director, but the musical coordinator does not report to the musical director. If he does, he would be called an 'assistant to the musical director'. He would still do all the same tasks. The only difference is, if you report to the musical director, you do what the musical director tells you to do, but if you report to the producer, then you have to take the initiative, check for everything that needs be done, and do it - or find somebody to do it.

In our show, I am performing the role of the musical coordinator. As the production developed, I invented this job myself, and are making up the job description as I go along. Your job description will be different from show to show and in many cases, some of these tasks are not relevant. Just for the sake of completeness, I will add some tasks which I do not perform in this show, but which may normally form part of your task.

1. Song writing

This will depend on the show. The director may ask you to write some songs if he can not find an appropriate song to fill a specific gap. You have to write a song 'to spec'. The director will tell you what mood and feel is needed, and sometimes what the lyrics of song is about. This is not your chance to showcase your personal favorite from your own past catalog. Write a new song according to what the director want. If you can not write your own songs, coordinate with a songwriter. If the show is for a non-profit organization, chances are that you will not get paid for it. Just make sure that you sign a songwriting agreement and retain all the rights to the songs you write. That way you might be able to use the song again in another show or demo reel.

2. Music licensing

If the director makes use of pre existing hit songs, make sure that you obtain permission to use that music from the local music rights organization (SAMRO, BMI, ASCAP, etc.). This may require you to do some research to determine who the rights holders are and fill in the forms, or at least assist the producer in these tasks.

3. Music budget

Ok, in this case, I have no responsibility regarding the budget, but in many instances, the producer may give you a maximum budget within which you have to hire musicians, musical directors and pianists, etc. At least, if the director handles the full budget himself, you may have to make sure that you are compensated for all your own expenses,

4. Hiring

This is a difficult one. It is the responsibility of the show director to hire a musical director. The musical director must be responsible to the director. If the director ask for your assistance in this regards, make sure that everybody understands that you are only acting on behalf of the director. The musical director may ask you to hire a rehearsal pianist. It would be ideal to have the show pianist and the rehearsal pianist as the same person, but it is not always possible. If you have a large orchestra, you also may need to hire a conductor.

5. Musicians

The musical director may abdicate her responsibility regarding the band to you. Check with the director and musical director what kind of sound they want, and put a band together according to their needs. In the average non-profit show you may end up with a 4 or 5 piece band (drums, bass, piano, guitar, saxophone). In the average Broadway show you may have a 9 to 24 piece orchestra.

The director may have made commitments to some people or friends to include in the band. Make sure you adhere to his wishes. Where there are gaps, get somebody. It may even mean that you fill in a seat yourself - just leave your ego at home. This is not a time for you to showcase your talents as lead guitarist, but rather an opportunity to demonstrate how well you can make things happen 'behind the scenes'.

6. Band practice

You must make sure that the band know the songs. Draw up a schedule and agree the schedule with the director, musical director, choreographer, producer, and band members. It is very unlikely that you will get all those people in one place at one time, so you will be required to do a lot of walking and phoning around. The normal schedule would include:

  • Singers training and rehearsals. This is almost always the job of the musical director. Attend the sessions to understand what keys they sing in, what verses gets dropped, and what tempo songs are done in. Record the singers and play it to the band. Keep on recording the songs at each rehearsal and always keep the latest and best version.
  • Band practice. Give the band enough time to get to know the songs before they rehearse with the singers. First just practice the songs until all band members know the music, the chords, and the tempo, etc. The songs don't have to be practiced in any specific order. Spend as much time on each song as may be needed. More difficult songs may need more time.
  • Band rehearsals. When all band members know all the songs, rehearse the whole show from start to finish. At this stage each musician must be on the instrument he or she will use during the show. It is fine for the pianist to use an electronic keyboard during practice, or the guitarist using an acoustic guitar. In rehearsals the pianist must use a real piano if that is what she will use in the show, and the guitarist must switch to the electric guitar if the show needs it.
  • Rehearsals with singers and dancers. Somebody invented the name 'sitzprobe' for this. I have no idea what it means, but it sounds epic. It is your job to make sure that the band knows all the songs by heart by this time. There may be some surprises as you may need to adjust some songs in tempo or key at this stage. During rehearsals songs may be done in whatever order is convenient. Coordinate with the band, directors, and singers to draw up a schedule. You do not want singers to sit around wasting their time while waiting for their songs to be rehearsed. However, when you rehearse a song, it can be a waste of time if the right singers are not present. That includes the chorus ensemble. During this time, take special care to balance the volume between the instruments and the singers.
  • Dress rehearsals. The last week before a show is usually set aside for dress rehearsals. This time, the whole show is rehearsed from top to finish, in the order that the show runs. This is like running the show without an audience. The first dress rehearsal may be stopped and started as needed. The director would want to have at least two dress rehearsals running all the way through without interruptions, before the show opens. As musical coordinator, you must leave proceedings in the hands of the director. Do not interfere, comment, or interrupt. Make sure that no interruptions are caused by the band. If needed, make notes and discuss with the band after the rehearsal. The sound engineer must be present at dress rehearsals to make sure that sound levels are appropriate.
  • Opening night. Calculate your schedule by starting with this date. This is the date you can not miss. Determine how much time is needed for each task and work backwards from here to calculate a start and end time for each step listed above.

7. Coordinating between band, musical director and choreographer

It is your job to make sure everybody has a copy of all the music. Make up a folder for each musician in the band, choreographer, musical director and rehearsal pianist. The 'flip files' work best for this (a file book containing 30 or 50 see-through plastic pockets). Inside each musician's file, place a copy of the chord tabs of each song. Keep the songs in the order in which they will be done in the show. Do not print songs double sided. If a song spills over to a second page, place it such that the song starts on the left side and continue on the right. This will avoid musicians having to turn pages during a song.

Pianists do not like chord tabs. Print out complete scores for the pianists. Again, print on single sided paper. Pianists like to tape the score together to enable them to open it out on one long stream to place it on the piano music shelf. Brass and wind players also need a score printed, but for them you need their dynamic parts, i.e. the music notes containing only the parts they play, with no piano or vocal parts. Take heed of special tuning requirements for brass players.

Each file must also contain a CD of all the songs. This CD must be replaced every week. In the beginning each CD will have only original artist recordings. Replace these recordings with the singers and rehearsal pianist recordings.

8. Other music consumables and needs

You may need to check that all musicians have all they need. Each band member needs a music stand and music lights. Guitarists must put on fresh strings before the show. Pianos may need tuning. Everybody will however have to bring their own toilet paper.

This list is by no means complete. There may be many other tasks added here. Feel free to add anything you feel belongs here in the comments below.


Saturday, 10 August 2013

Life for convicted murderers

The newspaper reported this week that the murderers are now finally convicted for a crime I talked about in January.

It was the murder of the parents of my friend, by two men who stuck them in a freezer.

I know nothing will make the pain go away or bring your parents back, but it is some consolation at least that the justice system finally worked the way it should.

Sunday, 4 August 2013

PSP.TV @ProteaStage interview with Shannon Hancock

Our PSP.TVT host, Michael, presents the second of our interviews with cast and crew of Aladdin and his magic lantern! Earlier this week we had an interview with the show director and writer, Cameron Lawry.

Today we have the first cast member, Shannon Hancock, who plays the role of the genie in the lamp.

Watch out for our next interview with Ruvi Naidoo.

Activity is picking up everywhere, so also wait for some action footage as we have spent most of our Sunday painting the sets.

As it goes with many shows, things will have to change along the way.

One of the things that can change is the name of the show. Our show will from now on be known as Aladdin and his magic lantern! to keep it with the South African flavor of the show.

A number of songs will have to change and all advertising material will have to updated. Be patient and soon all will be done, so while I have lots of work to get all that on the internet, have fun and watch out video!


Don't forget to like us on Facebook, twitter and join our newsletter.


Friday, 2 August 2013

PSP.TV @ProteaStage

PSP.TV Backstage with Michael Brownhill: Interview with Cameron Lawry

Please subscribe to our youtube channel, like us on Facebook and follow us on twitter and go to our web site to subscribe to the newsletter.


Protea Stage Productions presents


Backstage with Michael Brownhill


MB. Welcome to PSP.TV . I'm your host Michael. Today we will be interviewing our very own director, Cameron. Cameron.


CL. Yeah, well, my name is Cameron. Thank you for having me on the show.


MB. Tell us a little bit about yourself. Ow old are you? What grade are you in?


CL. I'm seventeen. I go to St Dunstan's and I decided on writing a pantomime in December, somI started writing it. I talked to Protea and ja, here we are.


MB. Tell us about your role in the production.


CL. Well, I'm the director, so, make sure that everyone's here. Put everything together. Ja, stuff like that.


MB. And what kind of skills are necessary for a person in your position?


CL. Ja, patience - a lot of patience.


MB. Tell us about the kind of training you had to go through for this role.


CL. Well, I've been with Protea since 2005, so I've picked up a couple of things along the way, and I think it is a lot of trial and error.


MB. And what was your first job in theatre?


CL. Was a chorus members I said in 2005 in Oliver.


MB. D why do you thing theatre is important?


CL. Think theatre is important because a lot of focus is on the sport and stuff like that nothing gets done about the other people in the world. You know, the cultural people. And what will we do without watching TV every evening when you get home going to watch that movie at the cinemas. Ja.


MB. D what is the greatest challenge for theatre today?


CL. I think to get guys to come and act.


MB. Amen. Amen. And would you like to pursue a professional career in theatre?


CL. Yes, I would. I'd like to become a writer and director of film and theatre. Yes.


MB. And anything else you'd like to tell us about?


CL. Come and watch the show!


MB. Thank you for PSP.TV It's Michael. Over and out.

End of transcription.


Since kicking off our SMM campaign, we picked up considerably on Facebook followers, email subscribers, twitter followers and got some youtube subscribers. The youtube numbers seem to be a bit low, but with about 25 video views on the first day, and over 50 views within two weeks, I suppose most folks feel that they get notifications of new videos through twitter and Facebook. Not exactly viral yet, but it is not bad for the first two weeks!

A major part of the SMM campaign will be the interviews with cast and crew to keep interesting content flowing, so please subscribe to the links above to make sure you are the first to know.

The success of the campaign will be eventually in the attendance numbers for the show, so please book your diaries for October 18th to November 2nd.

Over and above being songwriter, musical coordinator and marketing assistant, your honourable blog host will also be featured as guitarist in the pits!


Sunday, 28 July 2013

This is why we love theatre

We love theatre because of the wonderful people who are in theatre. With all the auditions over and all the roles casted, it is time to share some of the wonderful moments we had.


Brad is a very talented actor and has been in Protea productions before, and as sure as I can be, he will be around in theaters for some time to come. It takes a lot of guts to be on stage. Some people just have more of it than others. These are the ones who will stretch the boundaries a little bit and who will be remembered.

Brad, thanks for being such a sport a making theatre such a wonderful experience for us all.

Friday, 26 July 2013

Long long time

Track: Long long time

Album: Out takes from the Exile concept album recordings

Remember the exile? Off course you remember the exile! This is a blog started about the exile. The exile is a musical and this blog is about everything musical and theatre.

The recordings of the concept album for the exile had about 16 tracks. Why do I say about. Last count, it was exactly sixteen! Anyway, those sixteen tracks was representative of the songs of the musical, but it was not everything. There are a few other songs as well - some of them were recorded, but did not make it unto the final issued album.

I am glad to present to you one more of those tracks which was recorded, but not included on the release.

Long long time.

After Hugo has been intruduced to his son, which he did not even knew he had until now, he sits down and fills his son, Tyler in on what was going on since he left South Africa and went into exile. At the end of the track he sits down and try to explain to himself why he never returned to his home country, even after he reached the goal of democracy in his homeland.

To listen to the whole album from track one to the end, go to the link at the top of this page or just click on this link.

There was nothing wrong with original vocal recording and to let the work goes to waste would do injustice. The song did not make it because there was something wrong with the songwriting part of it. The verse vs. chorus just did not work. For this remix, I try to solve part of the problems, firstly by not having a chorus. The song form is thus a AABA form pure. I've thrown in a bridge with a brass instrumental not just for variety. The purpose of that interlude is to give the stage actors a moment to do what they do, i.e. Hugo turns away from Tyler, to whom he was addressing the first part. He looks around to the other room where Cathy is talking to Melissa and then starts to sing the last verse, half to himself, but also so that Tyler can hear him.

I wanted to rewrite the song completely with new words - and still rederves the right to do so, but this week a bright idea hit me. Well, I had a day off from work to start with and decided to use the day productively. I decided to give the track a bit more epic sounding orchestration.

Let me know if you like it!