June 14, 2023

Tips for Directing a Musical

In the 13 years I’ve been at St Andrew’s College, I have been involved with 23 musicals and have musically directed 21 of those (with another two we’re working on this year). As any high school teacher knows, to direct a school musical is a massive undertaking, and some would consider doing two a year as madness (especially as we maintain our full music department of 30+ ensembles throughout the year as well).

However, through much trial and error I’ve developed some workflows that make my job much easier that I’d like to share with any new teachers who are embarking on their first time musically directing a show.

Here are my top tips.

Part tapes

As soon as we’ve decided what the show will be, I purchase the cast album from Apple Music and go hunting on the internet for pdf scores. Unfortunately, Reddit.com has shut down many useful forums where these were shared, but Scribd.com has proven to be super useful for this.

Yes, I am aware of the questionable legal context around what I am doing here, but I justify it knowing that we have already purchased the rights with the appropriate companies.

I have an ex-student who is a strong sight-singer and for mate’s rates she comes and sings all four parts of the ensemble numbers of the show for me while I record her singing along to the cast album. I then distribute the SATB parts for all the ensemble songs in the show to the cast.

Our year 11-13 show is on in week 2 of term 2. So, we auditioned in the previous November, and I had the part tapes out to the cast prior to the Christmas holidays so they could learn them over the summer.

Appoint section leaders

I have strong singing students lead each of the SATB sections. They need to organise their own weekly before-school sectional rehearsal where they use the part tapes to work on their parts. The students hold each other accountable if anyone is not good at showing up, but they know they can come to me if they need an adult to give a firm word to a cast member that’s not taking it seriously enough.

This results in an enormous amount of learning that happens away from my ensemble rehearsals, meaning I have to spend less time ‘note bashing’.

We have now developed a culture where everyone in the cast is also part of our senior choir which means the quality of our ensemble singing has greatly improved in recent years.

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Article by Duncan Ferguson

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