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Writing Music for the Stage

Writing Music for the Stage

Michael Bruce

Nick Hern Books

“This fascinating book – like its author (with whom I've had the good fortune to work on three productions) – is bursting with practical advice, good sense and invention. A must-read for all those with an interest in how music works on stage.” —Mark Gatiss

“A good score makes a world of difference to an actor. Read Michael Bruce's book and you'll understand why. He is a genius.” —Judi Dench

“Michael's music is wonderful: inclusive, original, respectful and – in its rightness – sheer joy.” —Josie Rourke, from her Foreword

The definitive guide to writing music for the stage, by the Composer-in-Residence at the Donmar Warehouse.

Music has played a vital part in drama since the earliest days of theatre. For composers, writing music for the stage is an opportunity to exercise their utmost creativity and versatility: a good musical score will both support and enhance the play it serves, and can lift a prosaic moment into something quite extraordinary.

In this book, Michael Bruce takes you through the entire process – from initial preparation, through composition, rehearsals and recording, and finally to performance. He covers everything a composer needs to know, including:

• Getting started – spotting when and how music might be used in a play, doing research, considering form and content
• Building a 'sound world' – finding and using source music, creating incidental music, choosing the best instrumentation, scoring, utilizing technology, writing music to accompany song lyrics
• Working on the production – understanding the composer's role in rehearsals, collaborating with key creatives, employing actor-musicians, getting the show on
• Recording – knowing when to record, booking and working with musicians – and the studio engineer, running a recording session

Throughout the book, the author draws on his own experience of creating music for a wide variety of plays at the Donmar Warehouse, the National Theatre, in the West End and on Broadway, including detailed case studies of his work on The Recruiting OfficerCoriolanusPrivacyThe Winslow BoyNoises Off and Strange Interlude. The book is accompanied by online excerpts from his scores.

An essential companion for all composers – amateur, student or professional – Writing Music for the Stage is also invaluable reading for other theatre professionals, including directors, playwrights, producers, actors, designers and sound designers – in fact, for anyone seeking to understand how music helps to create worlds and tell stories on stage.

Michael Bruce is a composer and lyricist who has written scores and songs for many theatre productions around the UK, in London and New York. After training at the Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts (LIPA) he worked as a musical director and musician. In 2007 he won the Notes for the Stage prize for songwriting run by the Stage newspaper, which led to a concert of his musical-theatre work being staged at the Apollo Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue. Following the success of this, his album Unwritten Songs was released and debuted at number one on the iTunes vocal chart. He has held the position of Composer-in-Residence at both the Bush Theatre and the Donmar Warehouse in London. His work at the Donmar has included scores for The VotePrivacyCoriolanusTrelawny of the WellsBerenicePhiladelphia, Here I Come!The Physicists and The Recruiting Officer; at the National Theatre: Sunset at the Villa ThaliaThe Beaux StratagemMan and SupermanStrange Interlude and Men Should Weep; and at the Royal Shakespeare Company: The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Candide. He has written scores for shows at the Old Vic, Hampstead Theatre, the Finborough Theatre and the Lyric Hammersmith, and in the West End his credits include Much Ado About Nothing, Relatively SpeakingHay Fever and Noises Off. On Broadway his work has included Les Liaisons Dangereuses and The Winslow Boy. Michael has worked extensively as an arranger, orchestrator and conductor – and is also incredibly proud to have played table tennis for Scotland in his youth.

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