Terry’s Fav Pit Band Experiences and Shows

[From Terry Stibal, Sounds of the South Dance Orchestra] Well, I could go ahead and post the list, but that might reek of bragging (I’ve done about twenty or twenty five different shows over the years, with multiple performances of each plus some repeated up to five times). While not up to the numbers our New York Local 802 brethren have accumulated, it’s still a pretty respectable total for someone who has spent most of his life out “in the sticks”.

So, I’ll limit myself to the “top favorites”:

Threepenny Opera:

Very exposed parts in the “bandstration” version (Reed 1 (clarinet and alto) and Reed 2 (clarinet and tenor). Interesting harmonies from the dawn of “modern music”. Lots to watch on the stage. Not likely to be encountered at the high school level, and a little dated for commercial runs, but still popular with colleges everywhere. It’s the source of the “Deathsinger’s Song”, which you probably know as “Mac The Knife”.

A Funny Thing Happened On The Way To The Forum:

An old, many times repeated, favorite (at last count, I’ve done this for no less than eighty performances, including two runs where I was called in as a sub at the last minute). Bass clarinet, clarinet and (very little) baritone. There are parts that I can motor along on the bass clarinet once I get the pitch and the rhythm going right. I’d love to do the “new” version (with the much expanded “House of Marcus Lycus” stuff), but I’ve not seen it out in the sticks yet.

(One time, I had to sight read the hair raising solo at the beginning of “Free”, this when the Reed 2 player didn’t show up until the second act. Written in Mostel’s key (which translated to seven flats on the Bb clarinet), it can be done, but it’s not something you’d like to sight read, I assure you…)

Guys And Dolls:

Along the lines of Forum, only not quite as often. I’ve done perhaps forty shows of this, almost always on the bass clarinet/clarinet/baritone book. Good sax parts, lots of great bass clarinet playing (particularly in “Marry The Man Today”, only marred by too many iterations of “Follow The Fold” and the never-ending “Crap Shooter’s Ballet”.

Hello, Dolly!:

This is another old favorite, more for the music than for the show itself. Excellent bass clarinet parts, demanding clarinet parts (on the “Waiter’s Gallop” in particular; keeping all three clarinets in synchronization is difficult) plus the ever popular “train music” played on the baritone

The Music Man:

I’m not a fan of Meredith Wilson by any stretch of the imagination, but this one holds a special place in my heart solely for the lead soprano clarinet part on “Eccentric Couple Dance” (the extension of “Shipopi!”) that is stuffed into the Reed IV book. Did the copyist pick up the wrong sheet of music when he scored this one? I don’t know, but whatever happened I’m glad that it did.

(This show is also notorious for having the bassoon part shifted over to the bass clarinet in the extended sections of the “Marian The Librarian” dance number. (It’s a repetitive figure on the bottom of that instrument, and I’ve known a number of otherwise excellent bassoon players who have trouble pulling it off for the two or three minutes that it is played.))

Company:

Here included for the three great dance numbers (“You Could Drive A Person Crazy”, “What Would We Do Without You” and the one under the sex scene with the stewardess towards the end, titled “Tick Tock”). A wide variety of musical styles in all three, with “What Would…” having an exhausting clarinet, bass clarinet and soprano sax part, and the sex scene one having two baritone saxes chugging along in a brassy, jazz-based motif under the modern dance taking place on stage.

Also fun for the exposed Eb soprano clarinet part under “Poor Baby”, which I’ve ended up playing on every production save one, since those alto guys and gals don’t seem to own their own.

Superman! The New Musical:

Seldom done, although for the life of me I can’t understand why. Lots of “hits” (“You’ve Got Possibilities”, “You’ve Got What I Need, Baby” both came from this show), a campy plot line, and fantastic, jazzy music. Particularly interesting is the clarinet lead during the “Entracte”; how anyone can play that part is beyond my ken. It reminds me a lot of Bye, Bye Birdie, only with less of a bass clarinet part.

Fiddler On The Roof:

Fun in the versions that I’ve played, since the Clarinet I book contains the bass clarinet part, which means that I got to do the extended “Bottle Dance” solo. Other than that, bo-ring!

And, of course

West Side Story:

Mostly clarinet (even though you get the “all sax” impression from listening to it, it’s still mostly clarinet and bass clarinet), but with some neat sax parts. I’ve always played the book with clarinet, bass clarinet, tenor and baritone (there are, I believe, three books with bass clarinet overall). Excellent jazz idiom stuff for the baritone, very little tenor playing (and all of that in the first act), and the usual difficult Bernstein clarinet writing (or was it Sondheim who scored it out?). A very moving bass clarinet obbligato at the end when everyone is getting killed off.

For musical value, I’d rate the Bernstein shows that I’ve done the highest of all. (I finally got Wonderful Town under my belt last spring, and I’ve also done Candide and West Side Story (two productions of the former, four of the latter).

Those are just the high points in a sea of mostly forgettable shows, the playing of many of which was just as much work as carrying a hod. I may have done a good job of playing the music, but I did not have a good time doing it.

Even there, some experiences stand out above the others. How about two productions of Once Upon A Mattress, all on bass clarinet, in less than five months? Gag me with a spoon. The only good thing there (other than the paycheck, of course) was that I only had to carry one case to the job.

I once had to do Carousel twice during six month’s time, in the process playing through enough dream sequences and poorly scored ballet stuff to put one in one’s grave. (I had to pull out (by hand) half of a cracked tooth during the intermission of one performance, adding to the misery; however, just playing through the ballet sequence caused me more pain than the remaining half of the tooth.)

Stuff like that those, or like Sound Of Music, will be encountered by all who do these meldings of music, art and theater, but they are nowhere near as fun as the ones from the golden age of the musical (say 1955 through 1980).

One other thing: I’ve been initialing the books that I’ve played for over thirty years now. (I do it in very small lettering, inside the rear cover right up at the spine, noting the month/year and my initials (a superimposed capital T over a capital S.) In all of that time, with all of the repeat productions done during that time, I’ve only once seen the same book twice (in a production of Mame, and it was not one of the “frequent fliers” either.

leader of Houston’s Sounds Of The South Dance Orchestra
info@sotsdo.com

Post from Clarinet BBoard (2006-08-17 16:04)

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About Gandalfe

Just an itinerant saxophonist trying to find life between the changes. I have retired from the Corps of Engineers and Microsoft. I am an admin on the Woodwind Forum, run the Microsoft Jumpin' Jive Orchestra, and enjoy time with family and friends.
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