Braille Monitor                                                           May 2007

(back) (contents) (next)

 

Music and Community Theater

by Stan Greenberg

 

From the Editor: In the December 2006 issue we published an article by Gail Snider titled “It’s a Long Way from School Plays to Community Theater, So How Did I Get from There to Here?” As a result I recently received an article by Dr. Stan Greenberg, who has directed community music theater for a number of years. Dr. Greenberg earned his doctorate from the Eastman School of Music in music theory, and has taught at all levels and worked in the music industry as well as being active in Independent Living circles. His story should inspire anyone interested in musical theater. This is what he says:

Music and I began dating when at the age of five I began taking piano lessons. We started going steady when, while listening to the radio, I sang along with all of the popular songs of the day. Our relationship became cast in stone when my parents gave me an LP of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto. I was hopelessly in love!

Life as a conductor started when I stood in our living room and waved my arms to the music coming from records and the radio. In high school the music teacher gave me a chance to conduct our chorus. I must have looked pretty strange, never having seen a conductor but loving to move with the sounds. He graciously gave me private conducting lessons, moving my arms in the patterns which are used to convey time signatures and the length of bars and phrases. When I had that technique learned, he told me that, if I wanted to get the singers to understand what I was trying to communicate, I had to look the way I wanted the music to sound. He then had me conduct and would sing in precisely the way I conducted.

My skills were refined in college and graduate school, where conducting was one of the major subjects I studied. For the past fifty years I have conducted orchestras, choruses, chamber music ensembles, and theatrical productions. I have been told that, had I not been blind, I almost certainly would have become a successful professional conductor.

Shortly after moving to Vermont in 1981, I was invited to a party at the home of people who were active in Lyric Theatre Company, a very high-level local community theater group in the area. The conversation revealed that they had not as yet identified a music director for the fall 1982 production of South Pacific. I told the folks of my background; was asked if I was interested; and, before I could catch my breath, was asked to interview for the position.

The questions I was asked related to my musical background and my thoughts about the show. Toward the end of the conversation I was asked how a blind person learned the music and conveyed it visually as a conductor and whether I needed any modifications in the process. I said that I memorized the score by listening to it, conducted in the same manner as one who is not blind, and worked with the accompanist to answer any questions that arose. I said that the only accommodation I would require was the addition of some kind of auditory cue in the event that music was needed to accompany something solely visual on stage.

The rest is history. South Pacific was the first of eleven shows that I have directed, most recently Fiddler on the Roof last October. I am scheduled to direct West Side Story this coming fall and A Chorus Line in the fall of 2008.

The sound cues we’ve added have been unobtrusive and sometimes have actually benefited the production. In the 1983 production of West Side Story, music is supposed to accompany Maria’s exit after crying over the fallen body of her lover, Tony. We simply had one of her friends on stage say in a choked voice, “Come, Maria.” In the 1985 production of Oliver, the cast of boys living in the orphanage file on stage and set up tables for the coming meal. The music is supposed to start when most boys are seen. We simply had a cast member drop a bench that he was moving into place. It worked. Most recently, in Fiddler on the Roof, the residents of Anatefka are leaving the stage after having been told that they have to move. The last person to exit uttered an audible sob, and the final music began.
Our shows have received the usual variety of criticism, ranging from ecstasy to the other kind. I cannot recall a single occurrence in the twenty-four years of my involvement with Lyric Theatre Company when my being blind has been even a minor issue. I cannot imagine a life which does not include listening to and conducting music and wish the joy that I experience to be felt by everyone.

(back) (contents) (next)