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Inga Davis-Rutter: 5 tips for beginner musical directors

Inga Davis-Rutter Inga Davis-Rutter
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Inga Davis-Rutter trained at Arts Educational Schools London before reading music at York University and studying piano with Royal Academy of Music’s Christopher Elton. After retraining and spending several years as an RAF pilot, including serving as captain on C130 transport aircraft in Iraq and Afghanistan, she returned to music by completing a Master of Music at Trinity College. She has been a freelance musical director/pianist/arranger/accompanist since 2009, She was the musical director for the acclaimed Children of Eden at Union Theatre, which completed its run last month. Here are her tips for beginner musical directors…

1. Hone your skills

Whatever your first instrument is, you need top-notch keyboard abilities. So work on them. You also need to be able to programme your own keyboard. I use MainStage which means I can do the rearranging, orchestration and so on at home and then just plug my laptop in when I get to the venue. Keeping such skills makes you employable.

2. Study all genres of musical theatre

Familiarise yourself with as much musical theatre as you can. See and listen to Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein, Stephen Sondheim, any of the composers of contemporary rock and pop shows and anything else you can find. Irrespective of your personal taste, you need to be steeped in all of it.

3. Respect the score

You may not like the piece you’re working on, but you must respect it and not jazz it up or play variations on something just because you can. If Sondheim writes something in a particular way, that is how it is meant to be and the score (and the genre it belongs to) deserve to be respected.

4. Understand the show’s directorial balance

As MD, you have to understand what the director and choreographer need and are trying to do. On the other hand, there may be times when you really do want cast members to face front for a few bars rather than leaping about. Some young MDs are very cocky and arrogant. Others always defer because they’re nervous. You must find a balance. Be assertive without being confrontational.

5. Know what you want musically and say so

As MD, you must first know and second be able to communicate exactly what you want from your band and singers. Develop a clear a vision for the sound of the show. If you want a number to be reminiscent of, say, Messiah, The Lion King or a big Hollywood backing track, then you have to be outgoing enough to explain that in whichever way gets your idea over. It’s no good keeping it in your own head, as some shy, young MDs do.

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