A Music Director's Epic Tale: Les Miserables

Chapter 2 : Project Planning

2.3 - Space Considerations

Take-One rents space from a church for their productions. The auditorium holds about 130-140 audience members (removable chairs), but it is a multipurpose room, used by the church, the preschool at the church, and other civic groups, such as the Boy Scouts. Additionally, the room was not designed with superior acoustics in mind! In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find a more difficult place to put on a musical so that it sounds good. The room consists of large, hard reflective surfaces (cinder block walls and linoleum tiling, with no acoustic baffling, draperies, or carpeting). The space for the pit band is along the wall, opposite the aisle to the right of the audience sitting stage left. Fitting more than five musicians in this space is extremely difficult. Using live drums is a challenge. In fact, isolating any instrument is near impossible, so getting the music levels to the point of not overwhelming the audience and drowning out the singers is tricky.

As the musical director, part of my job is to assemble the right musicians; for a show like this, it's desirable to have a beautiful sound. The orchestrations are awesome, and the combination of strings, horns, brass, rhythm section and cool synthesizer patches makes for a great presentation. As mentioned, our space (acoustically and physically) limits us to what we can do. One early decision I made was to use musical tracks for many of the instruments. This certainly solves the space issue (need less live musicians) and the acoustic issue (sound is put through the PA so it can be controlled by the sound board operator). Unfortunately, there's just nothing like live strings, brass, etc. So a compromise had to be struck. I felt the best use of live musicians would be in the rhythm section. With a live drummer and bass player, we'd get a good feel in those songs where the drums and bass play. The hard part is getting the right synthesized string/horn/reed sounds and blending them to sound realistic. Obviously, we're not fooling anyone into thinking there really is a live orchestra of a dozen people hidden somewhere. This is addressed much more later.