Is there any such thing as a typical day for a Musical Supervisor or Director?

A typical day in the life of a Musical Director

In Awards, Features, Musical direction, Musicals, Native, Opinion by Mike DixonLeave a Comment

Continuing our feature series educating audiences on the importance of musical directors and supervisors, Mike Dixon takes us a look through his diary to explain what takes up his time at different stages of a musical’s life.


During preparation

The Musical Supervisor will work with the key creative team on the structure of the show, casting and will frequently write the first draft vocal score for the first day of rehearsals. This score will be refined during rehearsals and become the basis of the orchestrations that follow.

If the Musical Supervisor and the Musical Director are two separate people, as on bigger West End shows, the MD will also be at many of the above meetings and will endeavour to assist the MS as much as possible. Sometimes the MD will be required to prepare final callback auditionees as the process becomes refined.

During rehearsal

During this period, the MD and MS jobs are very interchangeable and they change daily. But they will be along these lines:

  • Vocally warm up the company;
  • Teach and after initial teaching, refine and polish, vocal performances;
  • Work with Choreographer and assistants playing and refining dance arrangements;
  • Work with Director on key parts of the show, creating underscores and musical inserts to cover dramatic moments;
  • Give understudies initial vocal rehearsals;
  • Work with orchestra, which happens towards the end of rehearsals;
  • Play for run-throughs of the show;
  • Breathe and stay calm.

A good MS/MD needs to be prepared for many changes during rehearsal. Whole swathes of a show can be cut and replaced during this time so it’s important not to get too attached to any single moment.

“Whole swathes of a show can be cut and replaced during this time so it’s important not to get too attached to any single moment.”

I always say: go with the flow and remember that you are the composer’s eyes and ears on the ground, helping to realise his or her vision for the piece musically. And, most importantly of all, you are PART OF A TEAM.

During the run of a show

Once a show is up and running, the interplay between the MS and the MD becomes really key.

The MS will make monthly (to begin with) visits to check in on and give notes to the cast and MD, who remains with the show day in, day out. If there is a great trust from the MS to the MD, then those visits may well reduce in time.

The MD will vocally warm up the company each day, conduct most of the shows, and keep the orchestra playing the show as well as possible. They will also be responsible for understudies. The Assistant MD will probably rehearse the understudies, but the MD will have to be there for understudy run-throughs.

At each performance, the MD:

  • Makes sure that any pre arranged cues with stage management for set and lighting are very clearly given;
  • Keeps the cast singing what they are supposed to be singing – time has a great corrosive effect on musical memory, sometimes a better term is ‘erosion’!;
  • Recognises that every show is the ‘first time’ for Dame Audience, even though it may be the umpteenth for the company;
  • Remembers that smiling from the pit can make ALL the difference.

During a cast recording

Here’s where a musical achieves its legacy, living on in recording rather than just in the memory.

The MS usually co-produces at the sound desk in the control room with the engineer(s). They sometimes conduct the album too. Along with the composer and the show producers, the MS may decide to make the orchestra a little larger for a fuller, recorded sound – e.g. more strings, extra brass. Then, of course, the orchestrations have to be created.

The MD sometimes conducts the cast album, or sometimes takes a back seat in the control room, noting any errors. Their biggest responsibility is making sure that the cast is as prepared as possible to record their best performances, with all harmonies polished and so on.

Which show had the Best Musical Direction in 2014?

The Also Recognised Awards are the first UK theatre awards to give a prize for Musical Direction. The shortlists have been drawn up by the Mates, with Mike Dixon and Andrew Keates. Who will will? You're the judge. Voting closes 12 April 2015.

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Continuing our feature series educating audiences on the importance of musical directors and supervisors, Mike Dixon takes us a look through his diary to explain what takes up his time at different stages of a musical’s life.

Mike Dixon
Mike Dixon graduated from Trinity College of Music in 1979. Over the course of his varied and multi-faceted career, Mike has established himself as one of the leading figures in the West End, Television and Radio as Musical Supervisor, Musical Director, Conductor, Arranger and Composer.

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Mike Dixon
Mike Dixon graduated from Trinity College of Music in 1979. Over the course of his varied and multi-faceted career, Mike has established himself as one of the leading figures in the West End, Television and Radio as Musical Supervisor, Musical Director, Conductor, Arranger and Composer.