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When I studied conducting at the conservatory, we always had, well, scores to work with. I got very good at reading, understanding, and working with full scores for many sorts of ensembles. And when I work with a band, orchestra, or chorus, these skills still serve me quite well.

The ways that I have historically prepped a score primarily involves taking the time to go through each part, and mentally re-building them on top of each other until I can hear every part clearly, and then I make my nuanced decisions and my rough plan of attack for the rehearsals themselves. By the time I arrive at my first rehearsal, I am prepped and ready to go.

However, lately, I've been getting gigs in the realm of musical theater, and the so-called "conductor's scores" are really just piano reductions with cues indicated (ie. w.w. for "wood-winds", etc). While I can get the tune, the rhythms, and the harmonic motion from this information, I can't construct the sort of mental model that I usually depend on, and my rehearsals have involved a fair amount of nonsense like "wait, you have that written in your part? Well, then what do you have in this other measure?"

This is not a good way to run a rehearsal, but I am missing a lot of data. However, I know that there are many MDs who work with these kinds of scores for a living. Do any conductors out there have tips for how to prep for an efficient rehearsal with such a score? There are so few details, it is hard for me to know where to begin.

  • Good question, but I'm afraid you may be overthinking this. Musical theater is not expected to have the same amount of expressional depth and detail-awareness as symphonic works. Those scores seem to be tailored more towards quickly getting the general shape right, even with little rehearsal time. It's honourable that you try to take it a step further, but practically speaking it's probably futile; your preparation time may be better invested with focusing on how the music is supposed to support the actors. — This assumes of course that each player plays their part right by themselves... – leftaroundabout Dec 9 '17 at 9:56
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In Musical Theatre, the orchestra isn't really meant to be rehearsed in that kind of detail. In high-level professional situations (Broadway, and also the top tier of regional theaters), they don't even have orchestra rehearsals, they just call the musicians in at sitzprobe at the eariest. Maybe there's one orchestra-only rehearsal before that, if the music is insanely complicated. Because of this, they only hire amazing musicians who don't need much rehearsal to get up to speed.

Most shows are also piano-conducted, and that solves a lot of the problem. The MD has been accompanying all of the cast rehearsals, so adding an orchestra is just a matter of adding more people playing along, rather than a shift from rehearsal piano to live orchestra. If a woodwind player gets lost and misses his entrance, the MD can simply add the line himself, and fix the confusing cue later.

If you're baton-conducting with a piano-conductor's score, then yeah, you're going to have the issues you described, for most shows. I recommend syncing up with your rhythm section (maybe even just Keys 1, it depends on the show) and primarily conducting to them. Everyone has to follow them anyway. You really shouldn't have to worry about cueing every little entrance. Trust your musicians to be competent.

And sometimes there will be discrepancies between the score and the parts. What happened was that the score got compiled at one point, and was never updated to reflect subsequent changes to the orchestration. Another reason to not sweat small things and focus only on large structural direction with your rhythm section.

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Conduct the music, let the players tag along. And conduct it in the same tempo as you did at the piano rehearsals. And if you changed anything at this stage, make sure the changes are marked in everyone's part BEFORE the orchestra rehearsal. You don't get to be expressive, you get to do it exactly the way you trained the singers to do it!

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