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Communicating with your accompanist with Sheri and Alexander Rovang

February 3, 2016


Are you a good partner to your piano player?  Let's think about that relatiosnship for a second.

I sat down and interviewed Alexander Rovang, who has been playing rock auditions in all the big casting offices for YEARS- two of which recently were Bright Star and American Psycho. Xander has taken to "live posting” comments during auditions on FB about how people are showing up with popular music in the audition room. He says it all with love, but in all seriousness, i shining a light on the actors behavior at the piano with popular music, and in the audition process, and so I wanted to give him our platform, because I speak on ALL of this EVERYTIME I go to a school or teach a class, and it is imperative that you hear us!

The interview is as follows:

Xander: Well first of all, I’m not really sure what this whole riffing thing is about. There is no riffing on Broadway. 

Sheri: I know! There’s a teeny bit in Motown and Disco, and Hamilton will want a good hook with some Rap in it, but- that’s it.

Xander: It’s not showing off anything useful. I think, "what are you thinking”? But I can’t say anything- even thought I am the person to say something- because that time isn’t correct, they just finished and they don’t need any information from me right then. It’s not respectful. But everyone behind the table is saying," what the fuck? Where did you get information from that that’s what we wanted you to do here? That doesn’t feel like what were doing here at all.”  The person may be very talented, but the minute they start doing that, they are no longer a consideration. Not even a discussion, they just go into a “what the fuck” pile. This is gonna sound hard- but doing this- it’s gonna make you sound stupid…. like you have no concept of the history of music and you’ve decided that whatever YOU are listening to on the radio right now, can be layered on to ANYTHING in the last 60 years, and that its fine. The people behind the table are in their 40s, 50s and 60s and they know this music and without regarding it, you are shitting on what they love.  Sorry if that’s rough.

Sheri: It’s not. It’s like, why didn’t you care enough to ask yourself, "“what is the essence of the style of this music? Can I find something that emulates this essence in some way."

Xander: Totally. 

Sheri: “Let me take the time to care". 

Xander: Well, when someone comes in to show they don’t care to research, it’s very upsetting. 

Sheri: I talk about "the relationship between you and the piano player - being a good “lover” with the accompanist…because it’s not just about you.

Xander: NOT. JUST. YOU. That’s the biggest thing. The disconnect between the person and the piano player, it feels selfish- and why would you want to be that way?

Sheri: So: it’s the quality of your voice, or how popular  music "shows upon your voice" and how they relate to YOU, the accompanist, that makes someone marketable in the room?

Xander: BINGO.

Sheri: Back when I was a young auditoner there was a lot of care around auditioning. Do you think it’s just a lazier generation?

Xander:  Every generation has lazy people. The difference is now the MT community is SATURATED with musical theatre performers, there are so many more schools. So the laziness is much more evident. The people who do the work get work. People notice when you make the effort.

Sheri: What’s a dream auditioner for you? What would a performer do that makes you scream YES! This is what I LOVE!

1. The person comes in, they are polite with the team, but are more interested in communicating well with ME. I have 15 seconds to understand everything- if you take a way 5 of those seconds, those are your 5 seconds.  I’ve played for people who are so focused on schmoozing I see the music for one second and then they walk away. Please connect with me as efficiently and as real as you can. Come to the other side of the piano, point to everything that is happening….

Sheri:  Xander….You want them to give you the name of the song, who sang it, point to the hook, give you the feel of the hook, then give you the roadmap.

Xander. Yep. Thats exactly what I want.

2. Now, this is personal. My personal space. They get right up to the music and get in between me and the music, because they’re scared.  Let me see the music, and let me catch the feel of it from you giving it to me standing next to me. 

Sheri: so they need to really get to know this music well and practice being trusting with you. 

Xander: Precisely. I also need a perfectly organized binder.. I’ve been handed 22 single sided loose leave pages that are single sided and not in a book. And I’m expected to turn pages in a way that it doesn’t fall off the piano. It’s insane. Your book is a formula it is something you absolutely can control. It’s so easy to put [together] a book that’s not a train wreck. You make a table of contents by style not alphabet in a binder that in new.  PS this is for Pop AND Legit!

Sheri: Also there’s the flipping back and forth with the page turns and the codas. You want your accompanists fingers on the keys. Cut and paste that shit into 2, 3 pages tops!

Xander: I tell people that. I say every time I turn a page it is with ONE OF MY HANDS. Which ought to be playing your song. Make it as few times that I have to turn the pages. 

 3. My biggest thing for the perfect audition gets back to what we were talking is really knowing the music you have given me. Not what is in your head, and not what you are singing only, but what’s on MY page, most of the time they don’t know what’s on my page.

Sheri: Right- they don’t know how the baseline goes, or what the drums are doing. 

Xander: Sometimes they don’t even know what key its in!

Sheri:  And you have to learn the groove in BETWEEN THE PHRASES YOU ARE SINGING in order for me to hear the feel and your relationship to the accompaniment. So you should listen to there recording for details, but also get with a piano player BEFORE the audition to hear what is on the sheet music so you can say, “ ride this baseline” or “it feels like this.” 

Xander: People even tell me- "I’ve never sung this with a piano before". And you’re at Telsey. Auditioning for a Broadway show. Ok! Lets do it! 

Sheri: This is difficult if you don’t take the time to figure out how to do it. If you can communicate something that is difficult, then to the team you are someone who can communicate any difficult thing in any difficult situation in the show, and that’s someone we want to hire.

Xander: You want this to go well. It’s also ALWAYS wonderful when a singer matches their specific skill to the song they are singing.

Everyone’s trying to compare themselves to a particular standard - if someone comes in with a song that fits their range and their quality of sound, it always goes well.  When you are trying to be Idina, and you are not her, you panic, you forget about me, then we're screwed.

Sheri: well, they become vacant and the creative team can’t have any sense of what they’re like as people. If you sing a song that feels like you, we see you. So I hear, “I’m a legit soprano- I can’t belt”! Well. Sing Joni Mitchell! Sing Anita Ward. Sing Tori Amos. They are all legit sopranos! But you have to listen to popular music to find these people! By listening to popular music, you get to know your own voice, and the voices that are out there.

Xander: Get on Pandora. Go listen to people.

Sheri: Thank you, Xander! You are one in a million!

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