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The Work of the Music Director


The Work of the Music Director

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld comments, "The biggest mistake a performer can make in an audition is not to be confident. If you aren't confident in an audition, the accompanist will feel that, and the people behind the table will feel your insecurity as well."

Photo by Alon Bisk. Courtesy of Kristen Lee Rosenfeld

Angela Mitchell: If you could say anything to other cast or crew members to make your life easier in general, what would you ask?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: I would say that the number one rule in working in theatre as well as in life is to be respectful of other people. This doesn't mean subjugating your will or your desires to theirs, but it means treating them as you would want to be treated -- with respect and with honesty.

Angela Mitchell: What's your least-favorite time signature when it comes to conducting a piece? (And don't bad fake-conductor-actors in movies drive you crazy? Just me? Okay...)

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: Well, most time signatures can be divided in ways that make them a little easier to deal with, but the uneven ones are the hardest to figure out: 5/4, 7/8... stuff like that. Fortunately, we tend not to see too much of that in musical theatre.

Angela Mitchell: See, I would like to change that though. I have a thing for 5/4 time. And waltzes. Meanwhile, what do performers do that makes you absolutely love them? (Have perfect pitch? Show up early? Practice? Go off-book when promised?)

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: I love performers who are dedicated and self-motivated. If I don't have to remind them to learn things, get off book, practice, etc, I really appreciate that. I also appreciate performers who think about their work and ask intelligent questions.

Angela Mitchell: What do you think is probably the most misunderstood aspect of your job?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: I think that people who aren't in theatre don't have any idea what a music director does. Many of them have never even heard of the job.

Angela Mitchell: When working as a music director, how involved do you tend to be in the audition process?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: It depends on the show. Sometimes I have been very involved, sometimes not at all.

Angela Mitchell: What are the biggest mistakes you see in auditions, from a performance standpoint?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: I think that the biggest mistake a performer can make in an audition is not to be confident. As an accompanist, I can follow anyone who's confident. As a music director, I'm interested in what they have to say. But if you aren't confident in an audition, the accompanist will feel that and won't play confidently, and the people behind the table will feel your insecurity as well.

Angela Mitchell: That's so true. I think finding lasting success in the arts (especially nowadays) requires an extraordinary amount of confidence and chutzpah. Talent means you can do the job. Confidence means you'll go after it. What makes YOU want to cast someone?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: It's a combination of many factors: talent, ability, attitude, and also the intangible "spark" that some performers have that makes you want to watch and listen to them. I think that spark occurs when people know who they are and are honestly sharing a story with you.

Angela Mitchell: What makes someone an instant turnoff, from a casting perspective?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: If they have a bad attitude, are constantly apologizing, are constantly blaming another person or outside factors for things that happen -- these are instant turn-offs for me (for example, if something goes wrong in an audition and the singer glares at the accompanist).

Angela Mitchell: Oooh, that's a pet peeve of mine too. As a general note, what would you tell performers to work on when it comes to their training or musicality? What do they overdo or underemphasize, etc.?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: It really depends on the performer. Everyone has different strengths and weaknesses. The best advice I can give is to know what your strengths and weaknesses are and to constantly be trying to learn more and improve your work.

Angela Mitchell: I know music directors are often called upon to make subtle transpositions, key changes, etc., to make a number or performance and a performer fit together better -- in other words, arranging. Has this been something you've had to do a lot of?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: Yes, this happens frequently, especially when I am music-directing new works.

Angela Mitchell: Kristen, from composition to musical direction, what are your ultimate aspirations?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: Ultimately, I would like to make my living primarily as a composer and be able to music-direct projects that I'm really excited about.

Angela Mitchell: What kind of work would you like to create?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: I write primarily for musical theatre. I believe that art has the power to show us the best within humanity, and that is what I aim to do through my work.

Angela Mitchell: What's your favorite instrument when it comes to composition? Are you a piano person? Guitar?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: It depends on the song and what its demands are. I usually write for piano first because that is my instrument.

Angela Mitchell: Who are some of your own favorite theatrical or classical composers, and why?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: Classical -- Brahms and Copeland -- because both of them managed to combine acceptable cultural idioms with new and inventive ideas. I also love Copeland's American sensibility.

Angela Mitchell: I love Copeland too. It's interesting that you bring him up because so much of Spring Awakening has, for me, a Copelandesque feel. What else?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld:: In theatre, I'm a little old school. I love Leonard Bernstein and Richard Rodgers. Bernstein because his music is so expressive and emotional, and because he was able to write tuneful music that was also extraordinarily complex.

Angela Mitchell: Agreed. I also think that his ability to straddle two worlds -- the classical music world, and the theatre world -- really contributed to his ability to create works that helped to redefine whole genres. What's your favorite thing about Rodgers, meanwhile?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: I love Rodgers because he understood exactly what made a good melody and how melody and lyrics could work together to tell a story or describe a character. I'm also a big Sondheim fan. Aside from appreciating his masterfully clever lyrics, I think that he captures something about the contemporary, American experience that no one else has captured on the musical stage.

Angela Mitchell: I agree with that. He combines playfulness with edge in this fantastic way. There's always humor there as well as a total musical groundedness. What are you working on now?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: My mom and I have started collaborating on shows. We just finished a musical called Holly and Ivy, which we are currently submitting to theatres, competitions and festivals.

Angela Mitchell: It's been great to follow your work on Holly and Ivy and your song "Imagination" is just lovely.

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: We also just received a commission from Red Fern Theatre Company in New York to be a part of their 10-minute play festival in January. So, we are working on a 10-minute political satire for that.

Angela Mitchell: That's always great to hear. What's coming up next this year for you?

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: I am currently teaching for TADA! and Broadway Classroom in NYC. I'm doing a reading of a new musical in Chicago in November, and also working on the two projects mentioned above. I'm doing a benefit concert for the Ali Fornay Center in December, also.

Angela Mitchell: Thanks for talking with me, Kristen -- it's been terrific to have the opportunity to hear more about your work and inspirations like this. And best of luck with Holly and Ivy!

Kristen Lee Rosenfeld: Thank you so much for having me, Angela! It's been great to talk with you as well.

Kristen is currently working on a 10-minute musical satire about the political process which will premiere with the Red Fern Theatre Company in January 2012. She currently offers private vocal coaching for all ages, and also teaches for TADA! and Broadway Classroom in New York City. To learn more about Kristen Lee Rosenfeld's work, visit her website, or follow her on Twitter at @KLRosenfeld. Meanwhile, if you're looking for a charity to support, Kristen supports some great ones -- New York Cares, Sing For Your Seniors and Self-help Community Services.

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