I am extremely excited to be sharing this interview with you that I had with the Associate Conductor and pianist for the show “Wicked” on Broadway. David Evans is a composer and pianist with three Masters degrees in Music. He has played for numerous shows on and off Broadway.
INTERVIEW WITH DAVID EVANS
Debbie: Do you still practice?
David Evans: Very rarely. I am a composer as well as a keyboard player, and a conductor as well. My job, right now at Wicked, the Broadway show, is that I am the Associate Conductor. That means that I play keyboard in the pit most nights but once or twice a week, I conduct the show. I also end up playing rehearsals quite often because we have a lot of replacements because it’s a long running show. The rehearsals are a more playing responsibility than the show. I am playing a synthesizer which is mostly what you play on Broadway these days.
Debbie: How many instrumentalists are in the show?
David: 24 which is relatively big orchestra. What you have to do these days on Broadway is to become an expert on electronics. I play a keyboard that has 3 pedals and about 200 different sounds.
Debbie: And they don’t teach that in graduate music school I bet.
David: No, they don’t! You have to kind of learn that along the way. It involves another skill. You learn about articulation.
Debbie: You need to learn about orchestration?
David: Yes, it helps. You have to be a bit of an impressionist to sound like other instruments.
Debbie: What tips do you have about effective practicing?
David: Well, I have a 13 year old son who takes piano lessons. People generally don’t learn the whole concept of going over a whole section that they are having problems with. You need to know how to break it down if you are having trouble. People just want to play the whole thing over. My son does this. He starts from the beginning, gets to the problem measure, slows down, screws it up and goes on. And the next time it is exactly the same. And I say to him, let’s isolate the problem, work on it, solve it so it isn’t a problem anymore.
Debbie: How much embellishment do you do?
David: In the show, I am reading a very specific part. In playing rehearsals, I am playing a reduction of the orchestra which is almost impossible to play, so I have to remember what it sounds like and play the gist of it.. I learned how to embellish by playing at a place in Boston called “The Proposition” which was an improvisational Second City like place – improvisation comedy revue. I learned how to improvise in various styles – different pop styles. I got pretty fluent at that.
Debbie: Was that difficult?
David: At the beginning it was. I would have to listen to recordings and figure out what the essential thing is and imitate things.
Debbie: What do you mean about the essential thing?
David: Well, the essential style, what the beat was and how to translate that on the piano. Basicly just listening and imitating mostly.
Debbie: How do you play differently when you are accompanying a singer versus playing with an orchestra?
David: When you are playing with a singer, you are able to bend more rhythmically. It depends on what kind of song it is. But sometimes your job is to lay the rhythmic groundwork. When playing a ballad, your job is to be as flexible as possible. When you are accompanying a singer solo, just piano, it’s a real collaboration.
Debbie: Do you like to accompany singers?
David: Yes, I do!
Debbie: Do you get kind of bored sometimes? I was completely shocked to hear this, Broadway and all!
David: Well, it is a about a 3 hour long show. There is quite a bit of down time with nothing to do. People have books and magazines to read.
Debbie: Is it still fun?
David: It is fun. The actual playing itself is a little bit mechanical. It’s been long enough so there is no challenge anymore. The trick is to stay focused. Your job is to try to do it the same every night. Conducting is different but you have to stay really engaged with the show. You have to be on your toes.
Debbie: How long have you been playing the show?
David: 3 years.
Debbie: How often do you conduct?
David: About once a week. Sometime more.
Debbie: And is that a kick?
David: Yeah, that’s a lot of fun. The playing part is more of a job. I mean it’s fun to be there. It probably beats working in a factory where people do the same thing everyday too, but they don’t get applause.
Debbie: Yeah, if you’re going to do something mechanical everyday, it might as well be on Broadway!!
David: Yeah, that’s true. But it’s work. It’s a fun group of people. Also, we, as musicians, get to take some time off. There is quite a liberal policy in our union for getting substitutes if we have other gigs or just to keep us sane.
Debbie: How many nights a week?
David: I do most of the shows. 8 shows a week.
Debbie: That’s a lot! No signs of slowing down?
David: No, that show has taken off. It pretty much is sold out every night. It’s somewhat of a phenomenon. It’s unusual. I’ve done a lot of shows in the past but nothing like this.
Debbie: Thank you so much, David for talking with me. It’s been a real pleasure. I’m sure the students will love reading this.
David: Oh, it’s my pleasure.
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