Celebrating Broadway’s orchestrators

Posted on: June 2, 2009

On Thursday’s (5/28) Morning Edition on National Public Radio, Susan Stamberg reports on the orchestrators of Broadway shows. “In the world of Broadway musicals, nobody leaves the theater humming the orchestrations. But without the orchestrations, the songs would just be lonely little tunes. The Library of Congress recently convened a symposium on some of Broadway’s greatest orchestrators, many of whom remain little-known. Ever hear of Sid Ramin, Jonathan Tunick, Don Walker, [Robert] Russell Bennett or Ralph Burns? Exactly. But those are the men who orchestrated West Side Story, Gypsy, A Chorus Line, Sweeney Todd, Hello, Dolly! and South Pacific. The men who decided which song should start with trumpets, and which one needs some violas. And they wrote the overtures, weaving together the various tunes the shows present. ‘People think the composer did it,’ says Steven Suskin, author of The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations. ‘But usually, the composers are so busy with other things that they just don’t.’ … So masses of notes must be written quickly. Different orchestrators might work on different songs—even parts of songs—for a single show.”

Posted June 2, 2009