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Stephen Schwartz on Music Production and Orchestration

Questions and Answers

Question on personnel on a song "

Stephen Schwartz: In addition to the actual writer(s), a song can have an arranger (who puts together the basic chord structure or re-orders choruses and verses, etc. -- I never use an arranger on my songs for their initial presentation, but some of my songs which have been released as singles have had pop arrangements done to make them more radio-friendly); an orchestrator, who writes the specific instrumentation based on the composer's piano part and input (I always use an orchestrator on show songs, rarely on pop); a conductor, who conducts the orchestra; and a contractor, who hires the musicians to play in the orchestra. There is also the role of vocal arranger, if a song uses chorus vocals (I almost always do my own vocal arranging.) There is also, of course, the recording engineer, who is in charge of the technical aspects of recording the music. I'm leaving more out, such as musical supervisor, but I have a feeling I've more than answered your question already.

It is my understanding that most of Broadyway's composers write primarily a piano/vocal score, and do little or no arranging. I find this quite understandable, considering the immense creative load of composition. What is your relationship, then, to your arranger and/or orchestrator? How much do you participate in the arranging process?

Stephen Schwartz: I always have a very close relationship with my orchestrator.

Question: I read an interview back in the seventies or so where you stated something to the effect that you were "still waiting on the machine where you just play the piano and notes are printed out." Well, midi has arrived? I find it rather frustrating, probably because I'm a terrible pianist, but I'm interested in what you think. Also, do you write with a pencil and staff sheet, or a composition program (such as Sebelius or Encore)? Also, if you do use a computer program, what program do you use? Brief anecdote--> I had a professor once who despised people who composed without a pencil and paper and opted for a computer program instead. He called these people "Midi composers." I tend to use a computer program, mainly because I am very impatient and have horrible wiriting skills. What do you think of music composition and technology?

Stephen Schwartz: ...these days with the advent of MIDI programs, I tend to play a song into my Disklavier and then have the piano part printed out for the orchestrator (the program we tend to use is Studio Vision, though I have worked with Performer and occasionally Q-Base as well.) Then I go over the music very carefully with the orchestrator, talking about possible instrumentation, orchestral colors, style and tone, and so on. These days, I tend to insist that the orchestrator do a synth version of his arrangement so I can hear it and make changes, with the understanding that there are certain things a live players will achieve that are next to impossible on synths, though you'd be surprised how close you can come. So by the time I finally hear the orchestra in the pit or walk into the studio for the orchestral session, there are very few surprises, which is how I like it.

Question from William:

Dear Stephen: I am currently preparing to apply for the BMI Lehman Engel Musical Theatre Workshop. As I prepare my three songs and make every effort to make the sheet music as accurate and relevant to my intentions as possible I have come accross a few problems that I wondered if someone as experienced and acclaimed as yourself could shed some light on.

Basically, when you get to being asked to write a musical or are given the opportunity to put your own musical into production, how much does the music that is written down matter? Is it more normal to meet with a team and play the score through yourself or to give out "dummy" scores to represent the music as it stands? Can lead sheets or recordings suffice untill you begin to work with a musical team?

I ask this because I do not have a problem getting my music down on paper but it is just that my piano parts never truly represent what I play or what I imagine a pit band to do. I also bare in mind that the score to a musical is constantly evolving and changing...Thankyou for any help and advice. -- William


Dear William: First of all, let me reassure you that no one's piano parts truly represent what they play or how they imagine the song to sound with a pit band or orchestra. Every time I play a song, it's slightly different, so the piano part is a kind of synthesis of that. Also, with show music (like pop, and as opposed to opera or art songs), one anticipates that the performers are going to make contributions in terms of phrasing, alternate notes, etc. That being said, the written music definitely does matter. It's what everybody is going to be working from, so the more fully it can represent your intentions, the better. Yes, a lead sheet can be fine, if the song is the kind of song that will then get arranged, but you need to recognize that a lead sheet is open to more interpretation than a piano/vocal. Of course you will be around to let your music team know what you want. Sometimes I do lead sheets, for songs that are strongly pop-oriented and I know will need a rhythm section to interpret them, but more often, I do piano/vocal parts. I should add, because of the specific nature of your question, that I have no idea what the BMI workshop requires for their application in terms of the completeness of music submitted; the above observations have to do with preparing a show. I hope these rambling thoughts are of some use to you. Sincerely, Stephen Schwartz

William's Questions on Orchestration: I wondered how the orchestrator shows what he is doing while working without an orchestra? For example: Did Bill Brohn give you a midi version of his orchestrations for Wicked for your opinions? Or do you just look over the orchestral score and pick out lines you had envisioned differently and trust in the rest of the work? With today's technology it is is easy to orchestrate via software on a computer, this also makes me wonder how it worked in the days of Working and The Baker's Wife?

Stephen Schwartz's answers:

If it is possible in terms of time and the orchestrator's familiarity with technology, I would prefer to be able to hear a mock-up of the orchestration using synths and samples. This is how we worked on the orchestrations for GEPPETTO and PRINCE OF EGYPT, for example; because a huge orchestra is going to come into a studio with limited time to make changes, one wants to get things sorted out in advance as much as possible.

With a show, however, there is seldom time to do a synth version. And there is generally sufficient time to make changes during orchestra rehearsals and previews. So what I did on WiCKED (and the same therefore held true in the days before synths) was to look over the scores, but basically to wait until I heard the orchestrations played. Then I would ask for changes where I felt they were necessary. If one has a good orchestrator (as I certainly did with Bill Brohn) and if one is as thorough and articulate as possible in discussing the orchestrations before the fact, there are seldom really major changes necessary.

So I guess my answer would be that in an ideal world, of course hearing the orchestrations on synths first would be preferable, but it's not always possible.

Sincerely, Stephen Schwartz

To send suggestions, comments, or questions write to carol@musicalschwartz.com

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