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Topic: With respect to the possibility of a musical

  1. #1

    With respect to the possibility of a musical

    I am entertaining the possibility of writing a musical.

    I have an overall concept that I really like a lot, sketches of various situations, ideas for a few characters, and bits and pieces of a few songs so it is started but there is a long way to go. Still I figure that if nothing else I will learn something and develop some new music. And who knows where this might lead if the stars are in the right alignment and I keep putting one foot in front of the other.

    Now I expect that--between GPO, the much anticpated GBB/J (Big Band/Jazz), and various other things in my toolbox (Overture, Scriptware, misc. sample sets, etc.)--I will have a sufficient set of tools and instruments for composing and mocking up. But if we engage in a little willing suspension of disbelief and assume that the musical is actually completed, interesting, and going to be staged there are still a few loose ends.

    One basic loose end among many: I have only the vaguest ideas about the size and composition of the standard orchestra. I know that this will vary (a high school production vs an amateur theatre group vs a little theatre vs a university theatre department vs regional threatre vs Broadway or London). I seem to recall reading somewhere that there was a union requirement for a minimum of 12 musicians for a Broadway production and I suppose that listenning to recordings will give a hint. But in any case, are there any guidelines for this? I want to arrange/orchestrated for flexibility with respect to venue. Is this at all practical? And are there any good books on writing musicals that go into the pragamtic details? Or websites that focus on the subject? I have a thousand questions but this will get me started.

    Advice of any kind is welcome.

  2. #2

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical

    I started writing a musical as well, although just for fun; I have no dreams of big productions, that would be having stupidly high hopes (and a waste of time since it takes forever to get a finished product).

    Anyway, I think some musicals work entirely from recordings. Somebody on this forum wrote a musical called "Spellbound" I think, and used GPO extensively. If you listen to some productions of Phantom of the Opera and Les Miserables, they sound so synthy its almost funny, but they were made in the 80's.

    When I began writing my musical (which should be finished in 2015 ) I also looked into books and websites. Here are some interesting websites:


    There are also some books out there, however, I personally think it's kind of a waste of time to spend too much effort reading about musicals. Just start writing! Do what comes naturally, what feels right. You can research sonata form and famous symphonies, but that itself won't promise you the ability to create one. You've just got to start, and learn with experience.

    So . . . I read through the websites enough to be sure that there are many out there writing musicals and trying to make lots of money, just like novelists. It's very competitive. But I wouldn't be too concerned about the actual form of the musical. I think they usually tend to last 2.5 to 3 hours, usually with intermissions, but perhaps even shorter.

    Also, if your goal is to become rich and famous, keep in mind that you won't be writing for fun, or for yourself, you'll be writing for the public, and will have to please them, so familiarize yourself with what is popular right now. That's the great thing about doing it just for fun. You won't get paid, but neither will you get some fat producer telling you why he thinks your musical stinks. Broadway, unlike most orchestras, is for profit. Money, money, money!

    Okay, hope that helps.
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  3. #3
    Senior Member Styxx's Avatar
    Join Date
    Mar 2004
    West Seneca, NY

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical

    I think you should concentrate on just writing the score and not so much the size of a perspective orchestra. There are so many variables to musicals that will dictate ultimately the size of an orchestra. Budget, ticket sales, venue size, availability of musicians. Write your score for full orchestra yet somewhere down the line make available a condensed score (piano and vocal).
    I once put Jesus Christ Superstar on with just piano bass and drums. Another musical was Annie with the same configuration plus guitar. Most of the time I used Saxes, piano, bass, drums, 1st & 2nd trumpet, trombone, clarinet, flute and a small string section. The largest orchestra configuration was for The Sound of Music where I used a 22 piece orchestra (mostly strings).
    Point is, concentrate on the music then the size usually is converted to suit the production needs. Then there is always using a prerecording of your music.
    I hope I have made some sense and helped a bit. At any rate, I wish you all the best with your musical!

  4. #4
    Senior Member
    Join Date
    Jun 2004
    Brooklyn, NY

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical

    My rule of thumb is to concentrate on the music itself. If it is solid composition it will stand up regardless of how many players you have or what kind of ensemble is performing it. A couple of years ago I saw a local theater group's production of Sondheim's "Into the Woods" and the orchestra was a couple of keyboards and some woodwinds - it was great! I had also seen it on Broadway with the full-on pit orchestra and the bottom line was that it worked both ways because the writing was solid. You will inevitably find that depending on wherever your musical is performed you will probably have to take into account how many people can fit into the pit, or lack thereof. The long and the short of it is that you should compose with an ensemble you feel you can comfortably handle writing for and that the music is the priority -the orchestrations can always be made smaller or larger later on as performance opportunities manifest themselves.

  5. #5

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical


    Thanks for the good links and sharing your thoughts. Just the sort of thing I was looking for.

    From your comments I thought of two books that you might find useful. They are:

    Creating a Life Worth Living: a practical course in career design for artists, innovators and others aspiring to a creative life by Carol LLoyd and Growing Your Own Business by Paul Hawkin.



    Thanks again for the links and the thoughts.

  6. #6

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical


    Thanks for taking the time to give me some good advice on this bittersweet day (I had posted before reading your openning night post). Music is such a strange enterprise. Anyway thanks for the good wishes it means a lot. My best to you as well. Your knowledge and good humor is much appreciated.


  7. #7

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical


    Sounds good. I'm much encouraged. A musical will be a bit of a stretch but I think it will be a great catalyst that brings together many of my interests and helps me take my music to a higher level.

    Thanks for the commonsense and the encouragement.


  8. #8

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical

    chet reinhardt,

    Thank you for the book recommendations, my university's library actually has one of them, so I will look into it (and I could probably get them to order the other one as well! Libraries are great!)

    Good luck with your work, and I hope you will share some of it on the demo page when the time comes!
    Sean Patrick Hannifin
    My MP3s | My Melody Generator | my album
    "serious music" ... as if the rest of us are just kidding

  9. #9

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical

    Chet, I recommend hooking up with the MusicalMakers Yahoo discussion group. There are a lot of experienced, produced musical writers that are involved there and will respond with experience about all aspects of musical writing and production.

    As far as how to orchestrate, keep in mind that orchestration is typically one of the last steps done in a new show's production life. Make sure the songs all work and are solid in the most basic sense, perhaps with just piano backing, and then worry about how to best arrange from there. Some shows need a bigger orchestral sound, but many would suffer from that, being too busy around what should be the main focus - the songs as they are emanating from the characters.

    I've written two musicals and have had the first successfully produced. It was a ton of work over a few years' time, and can be quite stressful, but it's a very cool experience to see a show come to life. Best of luck!
    - Cool Tunes for Kids -

  10. #10

    Re: With respect to the possibility of a musical


    You're very welcome. Your posts show that you are talented, willing to work, and enjoy what you do. That's a nice combination. Some of the ideas in Lloyd and Hawkin have made a big difference in my life and I hope that they are useful to you.


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