“There’s a lot I am not certain of.”

I spent the day today subbing in on lead keyboard for a local production of A Chorus Line.  Being a sub is an interesting predicament.  Most of your energy is spent on staying alert, giving cues, being cognizant of tempo, and praying that you play all (or most) of the right notes.  The predicament lies in the fact that, as I see it, the job of the Music Director or First Keyboard (which are often one in the same), is to support the actors. 

What is support?

In singing, we spend a lot of time talking about the ever-ambiguous concept of support.  When I teach voice lessons, I do my best to demystify the term.  Support, in terms of the voice, is the use of breath and musculature to literally support the production of sound.  Breathe in.  Engage the abdominals, intercostals, and back.  Slowly release your breath as your simultaneously create sound.  Use the muscles to be in control of this release.  It is an expansive, beautiful process.

I approach music directing in much the same way.  Technique, tempo, and cues are all a part of providing the singers and musicians with support.  Moreover, though, comes musicality.  The best musical directors will breathe into every phrase that they play.  There is so much that is contained in a single breath.  That one breath equals infinite possibility. 

“Inspiration” has many meanings.  Most commonly, it is used to refer to influence.  It also, however, can mean that act of breathing.  A moment of breath is a moment of inspiration. 

I’m afraid that my playing today was not very inspired.  I played most of the right notes, did my best to uphold the music director’s tempos, volume, and cues, and I did not run into any major train wrecks.  But I wasn’t breathing.  I was holding my breath for the entire two hours of the show.  Nerves ousted musicality.  I let small disappointments and flubs unravel me.  Most alarmingly, I wasn’t listening.  I’m sure I will write a later post on the value of listening in regards to both music and life.  Today I forgot to listen.  Listening to the singers and the other musicians will always right your ship and point you home.  Closing them out, holding your breath, and only focusing on your own piece of the puzzle will only leave you with a few edges.  Even on stressful, “I’m subbing in on a show I’ve never played before” situations, heart and integrity must guide the way. 

The good news is that I’m playing the show two more times next week.  Hopefully, next time, we’ll all breathe together.


Published by rachelrobinsonmusic

Rachel Robinson is a teaching artist, director, music director and performer based in San Francisco. She is a graduate of New York University’s Steinhardt School, and holds a degree in Vocal Performance. In addition to her work as a singer/actress, Rachel maintains a very busy schedule directing, music directing, and teaching. Rachel grew up in the Washington, D.C. area where she became an active performer at a very early age. She appeared many times with The Washington Opera, and she also played roles at the Adventure Theatre and with the Washington Savoyards. In 2003, Rachel moved to New York City to begin her degree at New York University. During the next four years Rachel appeared in many cabarets and productions, both at NYU and in the city. After graduating in May 2007, Rachel became the resident Music Director at Stage Left Children’s Theater in Tappan, NY. She was in residence there for three seasons. At the same time, she founded a private voice and piano studio. In September 2010, Rachel relocated to San Francisco. She began working as a music instructor at ViBO Music, Village Music School, and the San Francisco Friends School. She also was brought on as a music director at the Willows Theatre Company. In 2011-2012, Rachel spent a year as the Conservatory Director at the Willows, where she worked on developing opportunities for youth and up-and-coming theatre artists. No matter what level of student she is working with, Rachel believes in finding the student's "natural voice." Playing any instrument is a process, not an event, and her goal is to make that process as fun, productive, and insightful as possible.

One thought on ““There’s a lot I am not certain of.”

  1. When I’m teaching students about stress, I’m often reminded of the movie, “Follow that Bird” when Big Bird goes off to find his family. Everyone is giving him advice as he leaves, and one the last things is “Don’t forget to breathe!”

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