Rarely do theatre fans get to hear from an insider on the inner-workings of a Broadway orchestra. In the piece below, GHOST's assistant conductor Deborah Abramson does just that- explaining what it's like to experience the show from her point of view.
As musical director and associate musical director, Deborah has worked on the Broadway productions of Spring Awakening and James Joyce's The Dead, the off-Broadway productions of The Glorious Ones, Bernarda Alba (Michael John LaChiusa), Dessa Rose, and My Life With Albertine, and many developmental workshops, including Sheik and Sater's Nero at New York Stage And Film.
Abramson's full piece is as follows:
Have you ever watched somebody I mean really really watched somebody play a musical instrument? A couple weeks ago, I happened to be looking in the direction of our bass player who was just messing with fingering some passage, and those digits of his were flying, a blur, a dazzling dance nobody could ever think to choreograph. And this guy is a monster of a bass player, you know. A person of great heart whose imagination lays down a fascinating floor to walk on every night, full of miniature joy-rides that early on drove me to start throwing actual cash money at his feet every twenty minutes or so.
And then I became aware of a screaming guitar solo at the end of act one, and I started to watch the guitarist playing that. You would never know it was a screaming solo. What emits this scream is teeny. It's a guy looking intimately at his own continuous tender negotiation of millimeters, little movements, careful gestures of derring-do, not unlike the teenagers in London hurling their bodies at a four-inch-wide beam while billions watch. And I mean I'm no stranger to the tender millimeter-negotiation, for myself. I've got to do it all the time, calibrate a sequence of knuckle foldings just right or else something terribly ugly and public could happen. Over and over with the knuckles. But I hadn't thought much about the love the others have to put into their own hundreds upon hundreds of gestures.
And they do it for a living, we do it for a living— it's eventually a pretty casual thing to come in and do it eight times a week. Except it isn't. It's sort of as easy as falling off a log and it's sort of impossible, an eternal pursuit of trying to do it better each time, or trying to do it perfectly just once. But when I really think about it, really watch those flying fingers, it becomes odd to think that these are people with whom I casually hang, to whom I get the honor of saying hello quite often for now. They are the cream of the crop. It's a wonder that I even dare speak in front of them. I started to really notice it all, all of the formidable knuckles around me.
And that's when I began my tour of the orchestration. I get to control my own headphone mix. So I took one show for each instrument, spending a whole performance with one particular channel raised above the others, listening to the whole track of each player, one by one.
I tell you what, I could not stop with the spontaneous smiling. I have much respect for our orchestrator/supervisor/arranger, and I know the man knows what he's doing, but I had never fully analyzed just what he had done. Well, now I have. Tonight, I completed my tour of the orchestration with a woodwind-focused evening. And a thousand times in these weeks I've wanted to stand up and yell to everyone, "Are you hearing that? Do you hear what's happening over in that corner? Do you hear that writing? Do you hear that playing? Do you hear that love?"
And yes, it is true that after we received our notice of termination, sometimes what I wanted to yell was, "Why couldn't you even at least acknowledge all the babies in what you declared to be bathwater??? Look what you missed, look what you missed, look what you miss when it is so important to you to be able to call things simply 'good' or 'bad'! Look what you miss!"
I've never been a person who could see the forest for the trees. But by golly, how many endorphin shots I would miss if I were a person who couldn't see the trees for the forest. So black to you, perhaps. So red to me.
A couple weeks ago, a high-schooler sat and observed us in the pit. He aspires to do what we do. Often such people are placed next to me, and I get to be their tour guide, pointing out the exquisite or funny things to listen for and look for, pointing out what I love the most, sharing our secrets and our games. And this kid was SO EXCITED. He was a real good kid, soaking up every tree. At the end, the conductor said, "So what do you think?" And the kid's heart was positively bursting from his chest as he said so passionately, "I WANT TO DO THIS!!!"