To play music for a stage production, even if only for two weekends of performances, is a commitment to a month or more of absolute commitment to the score for that show. When you’re first learning to play it, you listen to it as well as working on playing your own part in order to figure out where things fit. When you’ve got it down (more or less), you listen to all of the pieces of it in order to catch cues and to be prepared to adjust; counting only gets you so far when you’re accompanying a lot of actors and singers who may or may not consistently hit their entrances or hold all of their notes exactly the same way every time. You learn the spoken lines as well as the sung ones, and you memorize little pieces of lyrics or dialogue or on-stage action, because those things are your landmarks for finding your place during those bits of rest you get. Even with the conductor in one eye and the score in another, you must listen or you will always be lost.

This means that by the time your month or more of rehearsals, individual practice, and actual shows is done, you’ve heard all of the music for that show thousands of times. You hum it while you walk the dogs. You sing the parts in the shower, and on long car rides, and on short car rides. You whistle bits of it at the grocery store. It keeps you awake at night, constantly playing in your head as you try to fall asleep.

To play a musical (or an opera, for that matter) is to commit deliberately to an especially persistent and inescapable earworm. It can take a month or more to recover (less time if you replace it with another earworm).

I have spent the last couple of weeks trying to clear my head to make room for other music, post-show. The show I played was terrific (community theatre can amaze!), but I was sort of over the show even before I started playing it (the legacy of a nearly forgotten complete late-teenage obsession with it — I used to be able to sing the entire score myself, badly and far too often for the happiness of the people around me, and I would still know it well regardless). It was a fun experience, and I was happy to play it, but I want my brain back, please, Les Mis! Problem: every time I think I’ve replaced the show’s score with something else (obsessive listening to Neko Case, or to Katzenjammer, or to AC/DC, or to the scratch tracks from the EP I’m slowly trying to record), something else in the world contrives to throw me straight back to Paris. ARGH! All it takes is one blog post on an entirely unrelated subject.

It’s like freakin’ Javert, man. This show will not let me be!


About L. M. Bernhardt

For a good long while (15 years or so), I taught philosophy at a little private university in northwest IA, and occasionally branched out into playing music, dabbling in photography, experimenting with food, and writing nonsense on my blog. The philosophy teaching part ended in 2017 (program elimination via prioritization), but never fear! I've just finished my MLIS at San Jose State University, and I'm currently on the market looking for new adventures in either philosophy or LIS. For now, I labor at a fairly interesting administrative job in order to support my dogs in the lavish manner to which they've become accustomed.
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