I played piano for my first musical back in high school: “Pippen,” which I performed for my former grade school’s production (my brother played the lead part). By that point, I was chest deep in classical music study and quite accomplished in that department. Yet playing for the music really showed me that I could prepare an entire score of not-so-easy music, and pull it off well.
This musical also happened to be my first paid music gig. I had never discussed money with my former teacher before agreeing to the gig. As a high school kid, nothing could be further from my my mind than money. However, after the final show, my teacher came up to me and gave me a check…. for $50.
Wow! You mean I can make money from this? I think I fell onto the floor. No, I didn’t. I probably displayed no emotion but hopefully genuine surprise and appreciation. However, it really was a great Aha moment. I had put hours and hours and hours into preparing for that show, and not only did I have fun learning the music, but their was a monetary return on my investment!
In college, I did several more musicals, and had some great experiences (though no money came my way from them). Ever since college, however, accompanying singers has been a continuous source of work. And make no mistake: I truly love playing for musicals.
One of the things I love about it, is that, as the pianist, I get to absorb the score. I get to learn how the composer thought, I get to absorb all of their musical ideas into my fingers. I tell you, doing gigs is a great way to study music!
I’m doing a musical right now, and I am appreciating all that I am learning. This musical, The Pajama Game, was written in the 1950s, and I would describe the music as vintage 1950s TV-land big band jazz style. There are many chord progressions and chord combinations that are quite new to me. I have spent a lot of time on this music simply getting used to a new musical vernacular.
That is one of the great joys of learning music: I expand my musical knowledge!