Wicked's Special Sounds
By Carol de Giere
Knowing that Stephen Schwartz wanted the "we're not in Kansas anymore" sound, Wicked's music director Stephen Oremus recommended film composer Andy Barrett to do the synthesizer programming. Oremus and Barrett had worked together previously on Lippa's The Wild Party.
Barrett developed the sound samples and took charge of the equipment. Musically, Barrett was responsible for reinforcing the orchestral instruments, such as adding synthesizer strings to amplify the output from a modest-sized orchestra, as well as for providing orchestral and electronic sounds that would have been otherwise unavailable.
William Brohn, the orchestrator, wanted church organ music for one segment. Schwartz wanted an owl sound for Dr. Dillamond's song. Barrett himself suggested a hammered dulcimer would be perfect for some high notes in "Defying Gravity." Through electronic wizardry and a combination of sound samples, the synthesizers could extend to any number of instruments in an acoustic orchestra and even provide creature sounds.
Three Kurzweil K2600's are used in the orchestra pit, into which sounds created in Barrett's studio were added. To complete the arrangement, Barrett included a Yamaha Disklavier, which is an acoustic piano equipped with electro-optical sensors enabling it to control one of the K2600's via midi.
The creation of these desired sounds required the same kind of creativity and artistry as any other aspect of the process. I asked if he knew which specific sounds went into the samples. He assured me it was an amalgam of sounds.
"You know there are just a million sounds available," Barrett said in my phone interview. "And you just grab whatever your instincts tell you is going to work and you work with that as raw material. It's like if I were a painter and I told you well I used red and blue on that and I mixed it kind of like this, it wouldn't make that much sense for you. It's just really creating from raw material. I mean where are you going to get a church organ? You couldn't get one in the theatre if you wanted it."
Like others I interviewed, Barrett was pleased to work with someone whose artistic choices were well articulated. "It was really a great experience working with Stephen Schwartz because he knew what he wanted and he was able to communicate that to me to a pretty good degree and he gave me the latitude to really satisfy those requests. And I was just very happy with the artistic collaboration . . . and the entire team." END
Barrett's site http://www.andrewbarrett.com/ (opens in new browser window)
The following is an an interview with Wicked's orchestrator William David Brohn that was originally published on Decca Broadway's site. Here's the story behind Broadway orchestrations. If you are looking for sheet music, go to Wicked score page | send questions to the webmaster, firstname.lastname@example.org
That Sounds Wicked! A Conversation with Bill Brohn (William David Brohn)
The smash hit of the Broadway season is Wicked, a magical look at the Wicked Witch of the West during her cavity-prone years. The Decca Broadway CD of Wicked is the fastest selling Original Cast Recording in years...With music and lyrics by composer Stephen Schwartz, how could it miss? Part of the magic is the work of Bill Brohn, orchestrator extraordinaire, who graciously spoke to iClassics about the project.
How did you become involved in this Wicked little enterprise?
Stephen Schwartz approached me about the project. I had never met him though I knew his music of course and I was very flattered when he called. So we set up an appointment down where he was having auditions. Kristen Chenoweth happened to be there for a callback. I had worked with her on another project a couple of years ago. We saw each other in the lobby and she said, “Are you doing this?” I told her I thought I would and I asked her whether she was in it and she replied, “Honey, I’m the star!!” — which is right in character.
How did you set about orchestrating the show? What's the process?
Stephen and I had a good working chemistry together. We started going through the score with Stephen Oremus and Alex Lacamoire (Music Director and Arrangers). Stephen is very articulate and spells out exactly what he wants – of course, with my input!
First we had to find out how many musicians we could have from the producers. We ended up with 23, which is big nowadays. We gradually decided on what the instrumentation should be — kind of circled the field. That was kind of a mutual decision; I put out ideas and Stephen did too. Stephen very much wanted players he worked with before, because he knew they would be sensitive to his work.
How do you choose which instruments to use? The colors change from piece to piece — what are you aiming for?
We chose the instrumentations by the dictates of the show — especially the atmosphere, which is always the way I like to go. You have to make those decisions before rehearsals. Once you have an aural concept you’re on your way. Of course, things change as you get farther into production.
What kind of orchestra did you end up with?
Our orchestra consists of three keyboards, one of which is an acoustic piano – very rare in a Broadway pit. Usually it’s sampled electronically. In our orchestra, two are synthesizers. We have both percussion and drums — two players — plus harp and bass, both acoustic and electric. Stephen is very partial to guitars; he loves that rhythm section sound, which is sort of his hallmark..
Then we have brass for theatrical majesty and power — two trumpets, two trombones and two French horns. There’s a string quartet, although for the album we expanded that into a string section. Obviously, when you’re doing an album the audio becomes even more important. You make the album as rich as you can for a real listening experience. Our orchestra is completed with four woodwind players who double on other instruments.
What are some of the other elements that come into play when you're creating a sound-world?
Acoustics! If you played in an old-fashioned theatre without mics, you would still have a sound that would support the singers. The Gershwin Theatre has a huge, high dome ceiling and Tony Meola, our sound designer, had to push that huge volume of air with the speakers. And I think he did it expertly. A sound person has to be sensitive the acoustic style of the writing. So the collaboration between the composer, musical director, sound designer, and orchestrator is crucial. And I’m proud to be on this excellent team with such a wonderful show to play with.
Do you have any favorite places in the score?
I love the opening; right out of the box you have to hit the audience with high drama — grand, almost operatic scoring — a full orchestra giving you that theme. When I first heard the opening music, I knew we needed scope and size and depth.
Glinda's entrance is another great sound. When she comes floating down in that bubble you have to do the whole swirling, girly fantasy that she is. That’s only do-able with lots of woodwinds and harps. You know, string tremolos and bells — lots of bells: cathedral bells, chimes, you name it.
“I’m Not That Girl” is a good example of a pop number; its heart, root, and basis is the rhythm section — particularly guitars. The song is a very melancholy look at why Elpheba is not going to have the boy she loves (or so she thinks). That number is absolutely one of my favorites. It has all the yearning — which is illustrated through all those muted stings and harp and a sampled dulcimer (played by one of the keyboards) and the acoustic guitars and fretless bass that can do those slides that sound like sighing (so expressive!).
For the straight Broadway numbers, Stephen said to me, "Give me plain old Jule Styne here." Big, brassy and lots of two beat rhythms and scales in the strings and harp glissandos. Even some funny things like whistles for the comic parts too. It’s a lot of fun and it’s in that great Broadway style.
The song "Defying Gravity" is loaded with drama. It has a very active string figure that Stephen requested directly. That figure gives that swirling effect of levitation that she closes the act with.
Read about orchestrations for Stephen Schwartz's first professional musical Godspell here Godspell New Broadway Cast Album Orchestrations by Michael Holland and for the 2001 tour here Godspell 2001 orchestrations by Alex Lacamoire
The Music Team for Wicked
Music Director Stephen Oremus
See a full page with feature on Stephen Oremus and the making of Wicked's arrangements.
- Orchestrations: William David Brohn Music
- Arrangements: Alex Lacamoire & Stephen Oremus
- Dance Music Arrangements: James Lynn Abbott
- Music Copyist: Peter Miller
- Synthesizer Programming: Andy Barrett
- Music Coordinator: Michael Keller
- Orchestra Conductor: Stephen Oremus
- Associate Conductor: Alex Lacamoire
- Concertmaster: Christian Hebel
- Violin: Victor Schultz
- Viola: Kevin Roy
- Cello: Dan Miller
- Harp: Laura Sherman
- Lead Trumpet: Jon Owens
- Trumpet: Tom Hoyt
- Trombones: Dale Kirkland, Douglas Purviance
- Flute: Helen Campo
- Oboe: Tuck Lee
- Clarinet/Soprano Sax: John Moses
- Bassoon/Baritone Sax/Clarinets: John Campo
- French Horns: Theo Primis, Kelly Dent
- Drums: Gary Seligson
- Bass: Konrad Adderley
- Piano/Synthesizer: Alex Lacamoire
- Keyboards: Paul Loesel, David Evans
- Guitars: Ric Molina, Greg Skaff
- Percussion: Andrew Jones
James Lynn Abbott's work on the CD: According to Stephen Schwartz, dance arranger Jim Abbott created the music for the instrumental dance sections of "Dancing Through Life" based on Schwartz's themes. He also wrote the introduction to track 13, just before "Wonderful" begins. Schwartz was pleased to be able to include it on the album
Wicked Orchestra as of February 2010
1.) Orchestra Conductor: Dominick Amendum
2.) Concertmaster/Violin: Christian Hebel
3.) Violin: Victor Schultz
4.) Viola: Kevin Roy
5.) Cello: Dan Miller
6.) Harp: Laura Sherman
7.) Lead Trumpet/Flugelhorn: Jon Owens
8.) Trumpet/ Flugelhorn: Tom Hoyt
9-10.) Trombones: Dale Kirkland, Douglas Purviance
11.) Flute/Piccolo/Alto Flute/Recorder/Whistle: Helen Campo
12.) Oboe/English Horn/Bass Oboe: Tuck Lee
13.) Clarinet/Eb Clarinet/Bass Clarinet/Soprano Sax: John Moses
14.) Bassoon/Baritone Sax/Clarinet/Bass Clarinet/Flute: Chad Smith
15-16.) French Horns: Theo Primis, Chad Yarbrough
17.) Drums: Matt VanderEnde
18.) Bass: Konrad Adderley
19.) Keyboard/Associate Conductor: David Evans
20.) Piano/Synthesizer/Assistant Conductor: Ben Cohn
21.) Keyboard: Paul Loesel
22.) Guitars: Ric Molina, Greg Skaff
23.) Percussion: Andrew Jones