BLOOD BROTHERS BLOG #5: Musical Director Julianne Merrill
"Adventurous theater in Astoria"

-- The New York Times

BLOOD BROTHERS BLOG #5: Musical Director Julianne Merrill

When Tom first asked me to Music Direct Blood Brothers, I had never heard of it. As I listened to a few different recordings, I was amazed by the simple, yet expressive and beautiful songs and themes. At our first meeting, Tom told me two specific things: 1) that there were some ensemble parts missing from the score that he would like added and 2) that he wanted to get away from the over processed synth, electric guitar, and 80’s drums that permeate the recordings. Those two requests shaped the show for me, required many tedious hours of work notating new music on my computer, and created something that is organic and visceral. Those who come to see our show with a Broadway or West End experience under their belt will be surprised and hopefully refreshed by what they hear. Those of you who do not know the music, go listen to the recording after you see the show, it’s worth it. The recording is wonderful in its own way, we just wanted something different for our intimate, raw story.

THE PROCESS:

When I first start a show, I like to have a clear snapshot of what we want the show to sound like. Parameters and guidelines for how the music is played, taught, sung, arranged, orchestrated, etc. Everything needs to fit inside that snapshot. For us, these parameters included clean, acoustic lines for the storytelling juxtaposed against full, electric rock for the  omniscient Narrator. All of the music has to have a purpose and a forward motion, a reason for being sung. I always tell my cast that the reason for music in a musical is to tell the story and to have an emotional, cathartic connection with the audience. Music is a universal language, and the characters are so moved by the story that the only option is to sing about it. This is the kind of storytelling you will hear….all with a liverpudlian accent.

When I sat down and started working on the score, the only ensemble parts written out were some skeleton harmonies at the end of the show, nothing else. I listened to five recordings on Spotify, analyzed all of the chords, and wrote out the ensemble parts. Without giving away too much away, there were several happy accidents during the creative process, two of which are in fierce competition for my favorite moments of the show. First is Eddie’s song “I’m Not Saying a Word.” Tom had asked me to do something special with Eddie, and I had gotten confused and thought he wanted it for this song. Eddie and I worked up the song with this special twist only to realize that it was not what Tom had asked for. However, once we heard it on it’s feet, it stuck and we realized how special the song was. Have I been enigmatic enough? Second, is the final chorus of the show in “Tell Me It’s Not True.” I wrote out two versions of the chorus, one was more conservative with tighter harmonies and smaller moving lines, while the other had bigger ranges and open intervals (no parallel fifths!) I presented both options to the ensemble and asked them to sing both versions so we could choose which one sounded better. The end result? We sing the conservative version on the penultimate chorus and then erupt into the final chorus with a magnificent wall of sound.

THE BAND:

According to the licensing company, Blood Brothers is scored for two Keyboards, Guitar, Bass, Drums, Auxiliary Percussion, Trumpet, and Violin/Guitar. Because of size and budget constraints as well as fitting the band into the parameters of the sound, I had to change the scoring. Again, so much was missing from the score, so it was back to the recordings and the computer to type out new music and a downright scary list of score cuts, addendums, and other edits for the musicians to mark in their music. Speaking of the musicians, I would like to introduce them to you. I am so thankful to have these talented musicians by my side as we all work together to tell this story.

Keyboard II- Kelly Thomas- a native of Texas and a recent graduate of Belmont University, Kelly works throughout NYC as an accompanist and Keyboard player. Fun fact: she was an accompanist on a reality show called The Next Big Thing: NY.

Guitar/Bass- Gordon Green- a new New Yorker from the Baltimore area, Gordon is a musician with a variety of skills including Bass, Guitar, Piano, Composition, Theory, Conducting and Music Directing.

Soprano and Alto Saxophone- Henry Hernandez- Prior to moving to New York, Henry served in the United States Navy as a woodwind performer, playing piccolo, flute, oboe, English horn, clarinet, bass clarinet, bassoon, and saxes. Fun fact:  Henry started playing the sax at age 11, flute at 17, clarinet at 20, bassoon at 22, and oboe at 25.

Flute/Auxiliary Percussion- Megan Brockway- An elementary school music teacher by day, Megan enjoys playing Flute in ensembles around the City. Fun fact: Megan recently founded the Musical Theater Club at her school where they will be performing her children’s musical, A Tail of Two Kitties.

Drums- Matthew Feick- An active drummer and private educator in the New York City area, Matthew performs with a wide range of musicians and groups within the jazz, rock, R&B, Latin, and Broadway genres. Fun fact: Matthew is also a pianist and has been playing since age 5.

This past week has been a lot of work getting all of the elements in place and ironing out the fine details. These include sound levels, finding the right keyboard patches, guitar filters and amps, drum fills, which octave to play the flute solos in, interpretive sax solos, conducting preps and subdivisions, tempos, etc. While that sounds like a lot of work, it is worth it. The payoff is electric. We have created something that is truly special and are looking forward to sharing it with the Astoria and NYC community. I don’t want to give any more of it away. See you there!

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