A Music Director's Epic Tale: Les Miserables

Chapter 4 : Musical Gear

4.6 - MIDI Controller

In order to send messages to MIDI Maestro in real-time, I had the option of using either a computer keyboard or a MIDI controller keyboard. I chose the latter because I found it very intuitive to be able to "play" certain keys on the controller which corresponded to actions in MIDI Maestro. Additionally, having the pitch bender on the keyboard to use as a fine-grained tempo adjuster was critical for this show.

I initially started out with my old favorite Yamaha SY35. I used it as a synth back in the 90s in cover bands. More recently I have religated it to MIDI controller duties (it is very lightweight, and 61 keys is plenty). During the last night of tech rehearsals, during the Epilogue ("Valjean's Death" and the Finale), the pitch bender decided to go haywire. It started sending out erroneous MIDI data, which resulted in the song tempo being pegged down at 50%. It was a struggle to get through the songs (the kids couldn't figure out why the music was suddenly slowing down!). I ended up going out the next day and getting an Alesis Q49. Yes, even with only a 49-key keyboard, there was plenty to work with. The pitch bender was solid, and I was able to use the old key mapping from the SY35 in MIDI Maestro (just plugged in the Alesis and I was good to go). I was very happy (and fortunate!) that this occurred during a rehearsal and not live! If it had happened during the show, I would have removed the SY35 from the MIDI interface and used the computer mouse to control the tempo (not as easy to do, but still a backup plan) and the computer keyboard for the other actions (next song, vamp, cut, etc.).