What’s the difference between a Composer, Musical Supervisor and Musical Director?

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The music is, of course, of the utmost importance on a musical. It requires a huge amount of work from the musical supervisor and musical director to realise the composer’s vision for his score. Who does what?

 


Composer

The Composer is key to all the other jobs and creative processes. The composer writes the tune…now that sounds very simplistic and sometimes it is, but nevertheless from the tune all else follows. The definition of ‘writes’ varies from whistling, humming or singing into a recording device to fully musically notating a finished vocal score (rehearsal piano and voice parts) or full orchestral score (where the full orchestral parts are written as well). Most composers do something in the middle of the range above.

 Musical Supervisor

In charge of the Music Department is the Musical Supervisor or Production Musical Director (which is the older term for essentially the same job). Working with the Producers and Director, the Musical Supervisor assembles a team including Orchestrator, Musical Director and sometimes Vocal and Dance arrangers to carry the work forward.

Frequently, the Musical Supervisor is also responsible for and writes either the orchestrations or the vocal arrangements and routines of how the songs and incidental music work within the piece and also the dance arrangements. They decide with Producers on the size of the orchestra – typically, the Producer goes for the smallest size possible, the Musical Supervisor goes for the biggest and we compromise somewhere in the middle!

“It’s the job of the Musical Supervisor to uphold the wishes of the composer and keep the musical ship floating on an even keel at all times”

Once the number of musicians is decided, the Musical Supervisor works with the composer and orchestrator on the best line-up. That means making the best combination of instruments to carry the ‘sound’ of the show. They also work with the Orchestral Contractor (a.k.a. the Fixer) on hiring the members of the orchestra.

On a new production, the Musical Supervisor will attend most casting sessions, workshops, structure and development meetings with the Director and Choreographer. And, of course, they teach the cast the music they sing and their harmonies in the rehearsals and tech rehearsals, and they work with the orchestra during previews through to opening night. Sometimes they conduct the show too, other times they relinquish the baton to the Musical Director to be the Director’s musical right hand.

Essentially, it is the job of the Musical Supervisor to uphold the wishes of the composer and keep the musical ship floating on an even keel at all times.

 Musical Director

On a smaller show, the Musical Supervisor and Musical Director are one and the same person, under the title of Musical Director. (Hence why there’s often confusion between the two roles.) More usually, on larger shows, including all major West End productions, the Musical Director is there with the Musical Supervisor and stays on as the ‘musical person who remains with the show when all the other creative team have left’.

The Musical Director keeps the musical standard at the highest level possible and day to day rehearses, notes and works with the cast and understudies as well as conducts the show.

 

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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The music is, of course, of the utmost importance on a musical. It requires a huge amount of work from the musical supervisor and musical director to realise the composer’s vision for his score. Who does what?

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.