I sought out a most valuable musician in TriArts Sound of Music orchestra to give me an idea of how it is to play in this musical. Rich Conley, a member of the TriArts family for 22 years, plays the oboe, the English horn and the clarinet in our orchestra (but not all at once). He will be playing for West Side Story later this year and he’ll be playing piccolo, flute, clarinet, bass clarinet, oboe, English horn, tenor sax and baritone sax (definitely not all at once). Rich has hired musicians for most of TriArts large productions since its inception when they did Annie Get Your Gun in a tent in Pine Plains, NY.
TriArts has done many of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s musicals and, as Rich says, “You can’t do them small.” These grand musicals need lots of instruments and lots of musicians. Anyone who has seen the current production is amazed that there are only 11 musicians playing. It sounds much larger. And the musicians do play 17 instruments (but not all at once). I visited the orchestra area backstage – it’s to the right as you are facing the stage. It’s a very small area because so much space is needed for the set. The Sharon Playhouse has a very small orchestra pit underneath the stage, but it is uncomfortable and seldom used.
The orchestra is conducted by Michael Berkeley, who is TriArts Artistic Director and Music Director. One might wonder how the singers see the conductor if he is way backstage. There is a television monitor at the back of the theater, they can look to for their cues. And the orchestra hears the dialog and music on stage through a speaker backstage. Rich, who has played for Sound of Music five or six times, says the orchestra knows every line from the show, so they don’t have to see the show to know what is going on. Even in an orchestra pit, the musicians rarely see what the actors are doing.
We often talk of the TriArts family, and Rich gives truth to that term. He is married to Sarah Combs, who was Annie in TriArts first Annie Get Your Gun, was Maria in TriArts first Sound of Music, and was the director of last season’s production of Hairspray.