What I'm Listening To... Jason Robert Brown

Many times I’m listening to pieces of music that I’m working on or learning for different gigs or performances.  Right now I’m preparing for a job as a Musical Director for a show entitled “The Last 5 Years” by Jason Robert Brown which will be staged in February/March 2015.

I’m a huge fan of this show (beautiful but sad) - love the music, love the score, think the composer is brilliant, and I jumped at the opportunity to musically direct this show.  The show is very unique - only two actors, a male and female who are in a romantic relationship.  The woman tells the story in reverse order, from the end of their relationship to the beginning of it, while the man tells the story from their first meeting to their ultimate break-up.  In the middle they sing one duet, the only duet of the show, which takes place on their wedding day.

One of the things that struck me when I started investigating the music was how pop/rock-oriented the music is and yet there are no drums in the score.  The instrumentation calls for two cellos, violin, guitar, bass, and piano, somewhat unorthodox for a modern-day musical theater ensemble.  When learning new music, one thing that has worked for me is having the music memorized before I start learning it.  By that I mean listening to the music critically and internalizing it, listening for my particular role and that of the other instruments (where are the places that I’m playing solo?), seeing if I can figure out the chord changes by ear (usually me in the car trying to sing roots and map the harmony in my head), making notes of any funky things that are going on that will require special attention (such as places where the time signature changes and making sure I can count through such passages smoothly), and just being able to sing along.

Check out one of the songs, “Moving Too Fast.


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