Last month, the discerning New York Times music critic Anthony Tommasini reviewed this summer's Glimmerglass Festival production of "Annie Get your Gun." As part of that glowing report, Tommasini said, "The conductor Kristen Blodgette, who has extensive experience in musical theater, led a stylish performance." He also advised New York City show producers to come see the Glimmerglass production in Cooperstown to learn how the show should be performed.
Since I am a member of the Glimmerglass Festival Orchestra, I worked under Blodgette's direction all summer, and this offered a welcome opportunity to learn about her career as a music supervisor and conductor. She has been the music supervisor for the Broadway show "Cats" and she has served as the music supervisor and conductor for "Phantom of the Opera" since its opening night. I wanted to learn how she had achieved her success, and to ask her advice about how young musicians in our area could prepare themselves for the type of professional life she has built for herself as a music supervisor.
What does a music supervisor do?
A music supervisor for musical theatre is responsible for the overall quality control of the music in a production. The supervisor has to understand the needs of the producer and director, and must be able to choose effective conductors, or, as in Blodgette's case, conduct the orchestras herself, when necessary. A music supervisor needs to be comfortable as the person who is "in charge" of all the musical aspects of a show, but must also find ways to help singers and musicians respond to her encouragement, rather than bow to her authority.
Blodgette said, "I am a negotiator. I work with many people to achieve good artistic results."
Preparation to be a music supervisor
If you love music and theater, and if you think you're well-organized and can work with many different types of people, you may wish to consider a career as a music supervisor. There is no "standard" education for this career, but strong musical skills and a good working knowledge of vocal technique are certainly among the items on the list of necessary qualifications.
Blodgette had an excellent musical education at the Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music. She studied piano, voice and French horn, and worked as a vocal accompanist and coach as she learned how to help singers give their best performances.
After Blodgette completed her formal education, she went to New York to earn a living as a vocal coach and accompanist. She had very little money and very few professional connections, but she was willing to work in any musical job, and she began to build a reputation as a talented and dependable musician. She accepted jobs as musical supervisor for dinner theater, as accompanist and vocal coach for many types of productions and as a rehearsal pianist.
The high quality of her work brought her to the attention of famous producers and composers such as songwriter Cy Coleman, Andrew Lloyd Webber and David Caddick, who learned to trust her dedication and ability to "get the job done."
I asked Blodgette how she feels about her job, and what advice she would give to musicians in our area who would like to work as music supervisors.
She said, "I love my job. I like supporting myself by making music, and I like to encourage singers and actors to do their best. That's important. At the beginning of my career, I worked with lots of conductors, and that's when I learned that I really want to be in charge. Any career in music requires an extraordinary amount of discipline, but the rewards of helping to make a successful show are enormous.
"As a conductor, you need ego, but don't let it get in your way. Don't undercut yourself by allowing your ego to lead the way. To be an effective leader, your personality has to come through. You must help vocalists learn a role and make it part of themselves."
Blodgette is a strong leader, but she is also a quiet and kind person whose talent and willingness to consider the needs of others were greatly admired by everyone who worked with her at the Glimmerglass Festival.
If you would like a career in music, her example would be a very good one to follow.
Dr. Janet Nepkie is a member of the music industry faculty in the music department of the State University College at Oneonta. Her columns can be found at www.thedailystar.com/musicbeat.