A few nights ago I was about to close up for the night and relax, when my friend Lisa called. A few years ago we worked together on several musicals at a high school in Elk Grove, including “Frankenstein,” which I wrote the music for. Lisa is now doing “In the Heights” in Woodland, about a half hour outside of where I live in Sacramento. She explained that their keyboardist had taken sick, opening night is two days away, and is there ANY possibility I could maybe… drive over right then and play for that night’s rehearsal?
“I will call you back,” I said, needing to collect my thoughts. I had been planning on laying low for the rest of the evening. Also, I did not know the show at all (minor detail!). It seemed sorta crazy to drive thirty minutes away for a rehearsal when it was already after 7pm. But I do love “saving the day” and was excited for the adventure, so ten minutes later I called Lisa back: “I’m on my way!” I arrived at the theater just before 8pm, got myself situated at a keyboard on a platform behind the stage with ten other musicians, and within twenty minutes, we started a run through… of the entire play!
So there I was playing a four-hundred page piano score I had never seen before. The conductor was quite competent and helpful, and fortunately I was right next to her, so she could easily give me cues. I had seen “In the Heights” a couple of times, so this helped a bit. There were some fast Latin salsa rhythms that were completely unfathomable to me without any advance preparation. Otherwise I think I held my own fairly well, including coming through for several songs where delicate piano playing was called for. The conductor even asked me to improvise some music once or twice, and several members of the orchestra cheered me after I did so.
In addition to the fun challenge of reading sheet music, I enjoyed reading through the rap notation. I have experience with rap scoring, having written a theater piece long ago called “Rapera” (ie “rap” and “opera”!) which was fully staged for a high school opera program in the Bay Area. It was quite joyful to get a close look at the score by “Hamilton”-writer Lin Manuel Miranda, who I quite admire and admittedly have always envied.
Before I knew it, the play was over. The conductor congratulated me, and the cast applauded and thanked me, their gratitude genuine, as without me the rehearsal had evidently been in jeopardy. Lisa thanked me and introduced me to a very appreciative director of the non-profit theater program.
The following day, not knowing whether I would be needed again, I practiced the score, which I had borrowed. I tried getting a better grasp of the salsa and merengue piano parts. At about 5:30pm, Lisa notified me that the other keyboardist was better, so I would not be needed.
And that was that.
I admit, I was a bit disappointed, yet I appreciated the short-but-sweet adventure!