Orchestration: Who Does It And Why Does It Matter?

Some of the biggest changes to take place on Broadway in the 20th century involved orchestration, or the choices about how many and which instruments would be used in the musical theater pit orchestra. Prior to the early 1900s, composers would write down each note themselves to be reproduced by a copyist. As composers began to churn out more material at a higher speed to keep up with demand and changing technology, the role of orchestrator became essential to the production of new Broadway shows like Kiss Me, Kate!, The Sound of Music, and other “Golden Age” shows. Max Dreyfus, who later became the president of Chappell & Co, Inc. (a company that produces one of two standard editions of G&S libretti and materials), was one of the first “orchestrators.” Most Broadway shows today have an orchestrator separate from the composer who makes artistic choices about the instrumental color they would like to hear on a particular line, writes incidental music, and generally brings the score to life. 

Robert Russell Bennett, orchestrator of the 1949 production of Kiss Me, Kate!, was the hot orchestrational commodity of the time. Employed by Chappell & Co., Inc., he worked on many shows written by Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner & Loewe, etc. with other Chappell & Co. collaborators. You may be wondering why this matters. What makes Sullivan’s orchestration of his operettas different from Bennett’s orchestration of Kiss Me, Kate!? Two big things.

First, Kiss Me, Kate! and other shows of this era and style used a piano in performance. This isn’t unheard of in opera, especially for recitatives, but by and large the use of a piano as part of the orchestra pit is a musical theater phenomenon incited by shrinking pits and shrinking budgets–a piano can cover far more lines than, say, a trombone, and you only have to pay one person. 

The biggest change in Broadway orchestration was also a response to cuts in pit size and budget–reed doubling. Reed or woodwind doubling refers to the now-common practice of requiring a musician to play more than one, and sometimes up to seven or eight different instruments in the same performance. Like the use of piano, it was not a completely novel development, but was taken to the extreme. 

The impetus for woodwind doublers came from the invention of the saxophone and jazz bands that required saxophonists to double on clarinet. Before the 1920s, Broadway merely required the standard orchestral doublings (e.g., flute and piccolo, oboe and English horn), but composers and orchestrators started asking for extensive doubling to obtain a wide variety of orchestral colors without costing the producers too much money or writing for an orchestra that wouldn’t fit in a Broadway pit. 

A prime example can be found in the orchestrations of the version of Kiss Me, Kate! that HRG&SP intended to perform this semester. We licensed the 1999 revival orchestrations of the show, which were done by Don Sebesky and called for the following woodwind players:

Reed 1: Piccolo, Flute, Clarinet, Soprano & Alto Saxophone

Reed 2: Flute II, Clarinet I & Alto Saxophone

Reed 3: Flute III (or Oboe), Oboe, English Horn, Clarinet II, Soprano Saxophone (or Clarinet) & Tenor Saxophone

Reed 4: Clarinet, Bass Clarinet, Bassoon & Baritone Saxophone

Despite the logistical challenges of getting one musician to play all of those instruments well, doubling on Broadway has led to a wider variety of sounds in each production. Orchestrators in the 1920s and 30s demonstrated their ability to think outside of the box, and in a time when arts industries struggle to make a profit, doubling has ensured that shows keep the timbral palette interesting. 

However, the increased prevalence of doubling does raise questions about the importance of music and musicians on Broadway. Sir Arther Sullivan wasn’t worried about the number of musicians in his pit–he used around 30 musicians for each show. The average Broadway orchestra is nowhere near that number, and they wouldn’t fit in the pit if they were. My question for you all is: when budget cuts need to be made in the musical theater industry, should the music be the aspect that gets cut? 

For more information check out:

https://www.local802afm.org/allegro/articles/the-evolution-of-doubling/Suskin, Steven. The Sound of Broadway Music: A Book of Orchestrators and Orchestrations.  2009.

Kiss Me, Kate Refund Information

Dear HRG&SP patrons,
Thank you to everyone who has emailed me about refunds for Kiss Me, Kate. After speaking with our contact at the Harvard Box Office, I have more information about those refunds. Because of the quickly developing situation, the Harvard Box office has already refunded your ticket purchases and donations. Here’s how:

  • If you ordered your tickets online through the Harvard Box Office, your refund occurred automatically. 
  • If you mailed in your donation via the order form we sent you, your check is being returned directly to you by the Harvard Box Office. 
  • If you purchased your tickets in person at the Smith Campus Center or via phone, you will need to be in touch with the Harvard Box Office for a refund.

This means that all refunds are being handled by the Harvard Box Office itself, and we, the HRG&SP, have not received any of your money from them. 

Thank you to everyone who asked for us to keep their donation. Unfortunately, because these refunds were automatic, we were not able to do that. If you would still like to make a donation this semester, please do so through our website. Click the “donate” button on our Patrons page. Here is a link

Once again, we are extremely grateful for you, our patron base, as it is your support that keeps us going from semester to semester. If you would be able to donate to help us make it through this difficult semester without a show and without ticket income, we would greatly appreciate it. 

Dutifully yours,
Ross Simmons
HRG&SP President

A Statement from the President on the Cancellation of Kiss Me, Kate

Hello HRG&SP Patrons,

Firstly, I would like to thank you for your dedicated support to our organization. We love, trust, and rely upon our patrons to keep the organization vibrant, strong, and active. Thank you all for responding positively to our decision to do Kiss Me, Kate and for supporting our organization as we expand the canon. 

That being said, circumstances outside of our control are forcing us to cancel this semester’s production of Kiss Me, Kate.

As you may have heard, Harvard has taken definitive action to curb the spread of COVID19. In response to the ongoing global outbreak of the virus, Harvard has cancelled in person classes and is asking everyone to leave campus. They are limiting all gatherings to no more than 25 people and are clearing out the residential Houses. The cast, staff, and orchestra already exceed 25, so there is no way to have the show.

Other theatrical productions, including the Hasty Pudding, the Lowell House Opera, and various other projects have also been cancelled in recent days over concerns about spreading COVID19.

The HRG&SP regrets having to share this sad news, but we have no choice but to cancel the production. We would have preferred a fully budgeted, fully attended, fully fantastic production. We would have loved to see all of you this semester. Unfortunately, that is no longer possible. 

We want to let you all know that we are extremely grateful for you and your patronage. If you have already donated or purchased tickets, please email me at hrgsp.president@gmail.com and I can help get you a refund. 

If you would like to lend extra financial help to the HRG&SP in this trying time, please feel free to donate on the “patrons” page of our website. Here is a link

The HRG&SP will be back at it in Fall 2020 with a glorious production of Ruddigore; or the Witch’s Curse! I hope to see you all there, happy, healthy and excited.

On behalf of the Board of Directors, thank you all so very much. We depend upon your support and patronage to keep the organization thriving. 

With a heavy but grateful heart, 
Ross Simmons
HRG&SP President

A Semester in the Life of a Lighting Designer

It truly takes an army to create a theatrical production, and at Harvard this is no different. In addition to its many talented actors and actresses, Harvard’s campus is home to dozens of musicians, directors, producers, writers, technicians, and designers. Today, I thought I would write about my experience within a subsection of these roles — my experience as a lighting designer.

Lighting is an aspect of stagecraft that is both obvious and invisible. Its design occupies a space between art and practicality; one of the challenges of the lighting designer is to make sure everyone on stage is visible, yet lit in a way that supports the show as a whole. To the average theater-goer, great lighting is unnoticeable because it fits seamlessly into the world of the performance. But how does one create a design that is both artistic and subtle, that adds to the message of the show without drawing attention to itself?

The first step in the process, as always, is to read the script. When I was the lighting designer for H.M.S. Pinafore in the fall, I read Gilbert’s libretto several times, keeping notes on the time of day, the ambience of each scene, and the number of people on stage. At the same time, I listened to Sullivan’s music to get a better idea of how the characters — and by association, the audience — were intended to feel.

Next, I considered the properties of light. Color, angle, intensity, and shape all influence the effect light has on stage. I knew I wanted warmer colors for Act I, set in daytime, and cooler colors for Act II, set at night. I knew Act II would have more light coming from the sides of the stage, which creates extra shadows for a secretive feeling. The more jubilant songs in the show needed brighter lighting to fit the intensity of their emotional impact, while dialogue and slower songs worked better under dimmer lights. Through considerations such as these, the outline of my design took shape.

To translate this design from my head onto the stage (or rather, above it), I first needed to look at our set. Sabrina designed a fantastic ship for our set, and looking at her skillfully-created model allowed me to picture where the physical lights could fit into the space. It was at this point that I got the idea to create an illusion of shadows cast by the ship’s rigging using a gobo — a special template, usually made out metal, with a design cut into it that changes the shape of a light.

Next came the paperwork. I managed to get away with only creating a light plot (a map of what lights are hung where in the theater), but usually a lighting designer generates many different documents to help communicate the lighting design to other members of the technical team. This can include a list of all the lights to be hung, diagrams of where the lights are to be pointed (or “focused”), and views of the theater from different directions to show the exact placement of each light. Needless to say, being a lighting designer is not a job for those who dislike paperwork!

Finally, the last steps in the process: hang, focus, and cuing. During load-in, when our show finally moved into the theater, I enlisted the help of my fantastic assistant, Emma Kay ‘23, and some members of the cast and crew to help me hang up and secure all the lights I wanted. Then, once the lights were hung, we set the exact position, shape, and color of every light — by hand! As you can imagine, light hang and focus is a tedious and tiring process, and I’m very grateful to the cast, the theater staff, and my fellow crew members for their help. Without them, our lights wouldn’t have been ready for the most important day in the lighting design process: cue to cue.

Cue to cue, also called Q2Q, is a process where the show is run in stops and starts as the lighting team creates and records all the specific lighting “looks”. Using the lighting console, which is connected to all the lights that have been carefully hung and focused, the lighting team (which can include the designer, one or more assistants, and sometimes a special lighting console programmer) adjusts which lights are on at what brightness and save those settings in what is called a “cue”. During full runs of the show, all the lighting operator needs to do is cycle through the pre-recorded cues as they line up with what the actors on stage are saying, singing, and doing, although that in itself is a job of no little finesse. Once the cues are recorded and any problems are noticed and fixed, the lighting designer’s job is officially done. (Or at least, done until strike, when all the lights must be taken back down again!)

I hope my rather long-winded jaunt down the journey of a lighting designer illuminates some of the mysterious work that happens behind the curtain for our shows. If you’re interested in watching a show with fresh eyes to see if you can pick out elements of the lighting design, I highly recommend coming to see Kiss Me, Kate! this semester. Emma Kay ‘23, my assistant for Pinafore, is our wonderful lighting designer, and she has put together a design that will awe and amaze you — if, of course, you can spot its influence.

Of Scarlet Coats and Other things

Spend any period of time among Harvard undergraduates, and you start to notice quarter-zips,
sweatshirts, and the occasional jacket. These are no run-of-the-mill quarter-zips, sweatshirts, and
jackets to catch your attention like this. Alongside the labels of expensive brands, they bear the
most potent status marker of all: a club emblem. Model UN, the Krokodiloes, Harvard-Radcliffe
Crew, perhaps for the hyper-elite Harvard College Consulting Group—my first year found me a
sideline spectator viewing this ostentatious display of organizational belonging with bemused
interest, and, I must confess, at times a touch of envy.
Imagine my delight (accompanied by a Gilbertian laugh at my feeling of self-importance),
then, when our resident jack and master of all trades Sam Guillemette (in his role as the
merchandise committee) placed an HRG&SP board jacket in my hands. Harvard College Model
UN, I have absolutely nothing against you personally, but you could take your fashion cues from
us. On the front chest, HRG&SP’s wonderfully whimsical emblem stands out against a
background of crisp red that would suite a heavy dragoon from Patience capitally. On the back
of the collar are my three initials. Ever since we first put this uniform on, the new board
members, Ava, Mary, Clarissa and I, have been loath to let it out of our sights. I approach public
spaces with a new sense of confidence and self-esteem. I graciously answer the eager questions
of strangers smitten by the captivating arrangement of the Lord Chancellor, Sir Joseph Porter,
Yum Yum (?), and two treble clefs on scarlet. I stay surprisingly warm, especially given the
mildness of the recent Boston weather. And most of all, I feel that it is indeed a glorious thing to
be a G&S board member.
It is! Hurrah for HRG&SP. Starting off officially with my board duties at the end of January,
I didn’t quite know what to expect. As an ensemble member in Pinafore in the fall, I had seen a
remarkable show miraculously take shape over the course of eight weeks. I had gotten to know
the directors, producers, and fellow staff well. However, I had also noticed that at crucial points
(especially as we were building the set and throughout the performances) mysterious Other
People appeared at the Ag, laden with cookies and milk for matinees, posters to be signed, and
delectable assortments of cheeses. At the back of my mind I was also dimly aware that someone
was taking care of the countless irritating details that had to be attended to for everything to run
as planned.
This semester, I have not been allowed to pique the cast’s curiosity with a surprise visit to the
Ag to pinch hit during build and run. As the staff producer for our Spring production of Kiss
Me, Kate I have been in the trenches from the beginning—and enjoying myself immensely. I
have been given a privileged glimpse of how truly remarkable HRG&SP is: amidst the travails of
full-time student life we stage a full operetta every semester at a high level; we provide our
classmates with an opportunity to display their unique and extraordinary talents, whether as
actors, musicians, or technicians (I trust audiences were as impressed as the cast was by the
stunning set and lights for Pinafore); and most of all we keep alive the unique G&S tradition of
fostering a warm community that delights in elegant wit, superb music, good conversation and
good company.
There have been moments throughout the four weeks of the semester that have elapsed so far
when I have wished I could be attending to something other than my board and producer duties.
(There are at least two papers I could be writing now instead of this blog post, for example.) Yet
these spells of exhaustion are brief. Every time the brass crashes and the trumpet brays, and

every time I see a new example of the warmth of our community or the professionalism of our
members, my bosom swells with pride, and I snap my fingers at a foeman’s taunts. So, give
three cheers and one cheer more for HRG&SP…and do come see Kiss Me, Kate this spring, and
then Ruddigore in the fall!

The author’s Board jacket.

A reflection on the Horner Room

Hello, all!

As you may or may not know, Board Members are instructed to write their blog posts on 2 out of the 5 letters of HRG&SP. Today, I wanted to write about Harvard and Radcliffe. Specifically, I want to write about the Horner Room and the Agassiz Theater.

The Agassiz theater is named for Elizabeth Cary Agassiz, the widow of Louis Agassiz. Louis left a very mixed legacy (he was a creationist and a white supremacist). Elizabeth, however, was known for establishing the Women’s Education Association of Boston, in 1872. She also fought to allow women to attend Harvard, although this wouldn’t come to be until 1920, when women were permitted to enroll at the Graduate School of Education. To enter the Ag, one must pass under Elizabeth’s name, in gold over the doors.

The Horner room is where we rehearse and hold Victorian Ball (save the date: April 4, 2020!). The room was named for Matina Souretis Horner. Matina was the sixth president of Radcliffe College, as well as an assistant professor in Harvard’s Psychology Department. Horner was famous for her theory that women had a “fear of success” – a fear that our ambition would be seen as unladylike and vulgar. (No way that could be relevant today.) Horner fought to maintain Radcliffe’s independence as its admissions slowly merged with Harvard’s. 

As much as I am glad to soon be in possession of a Harvard degree, I understand why Horner and many others wanted to keep the Radcliffe legacy alive. Merging the two schools really meant eliminating Radcliffe. And the college in recent years has repeated this history in the hopes of creating gender equality. It has been disheartening to watch as men are allowed into previously female-dominated spaces while women and nonbinary people are still excluded from many groups – regardless of these groups’ obligations to the college.

My first memory of the Horner Room was attending a mixer during my Opening Days as a freshman. I remember being awed by the gracious space. That was the first place where I felt comfortable at Harvard. And over the course of the past four years, it has become my home base. I’ve written before about the way building smells and buzzes with energy.

I have been so privileged to be involved with HRG&SP for the entirety of my college career, and we are extremely fortunate to live in the Agassiz. While we are scattered from the SOCH to Lowell Lecture Hall to the Smith Center for rehearsals, we perform and build in the Agassiz. 

The Ag is one of the few spaces on campus where all but one of the portraits hanging on the wall are of women. It means a lot to me to have Matina Horner, Elizabeth Agassiz, and many others watching over me. I have been blessed to have role models in these women the women of Radcliffe who passed through the Ag. 

I spend a lot of time thinking about women at Harvard and in the arts. It matters that we have women to look up to. So I hope all of you, dear readers, remember the legacy of HRG&SP’s home.

Welcome back!

The semester is back in full force this week. Classes have been picked, sections have been distributed, books have been bought, and auditions have been held! It’s been a busy past couple of weeks for us here at Harvard, but we have some important announcements to make. 

I am happy to announce officially that our spring show will be Kiss Me, Kate, the Cole Porter classic. Kiss Me, Kate is a witty and beautiful musical that is clearly in the tradition of Gilbert and Sullivan. I know that even the G&S diehards among you will enjoy seeing it. 

While it is unusual for us to perform a non-G&S show, this isn’t the first time our organization has done so. This is, in fact, the fourth time. In our 64 year history we have performed Die Fledermaus, The Threepenny Opera, and Of Thee I Sing. Below you will find pictures of various paraphernalia related to these shows from the Harvard Theater Archives.  The most recent of these was Of Thee I Sing which was performed in April of 1999, more than two decades ago. 

Kiss Me, Kate will run in the Agassiz from March 27 through April 5. Tickets will go on sale at the Harvard box office on March 1st. If you want to buy tickets before the general public, you can do so by becoming a patron! We will be mailing a special order form to our patrons this Monday, so be sure to join our mailing list soon to get the patron letter and order form! You can find it under the “Patron” tab of this website. 

Finally, as a reassurance to our dedicated G&S fans and HRG&SP patrons, I am glad to say that we are returning to the canon in Fall 2020 with the classic Ruddigore; or, The Witch’s Curse!

Thank you to everyone who helps keep our organization up and running. We couldn’t do it without you. 

Dutifully yours, 
Ross Simmons ‘21
HRG&SP President

The program from our 1999 production of Of Thee I Sing.
A review of our 1965 production of Three Penny Opera.

December Announcements!

As everything for Pinafore sails to a halt and finals and final projects start ramping up, the HRG&SP board has been busy with our duties. First of all, in the words of Gilbert, “after much debate internal” (and some concerns with rights) we decided on our show for next semester- we will be presenting Kiss Me, Kate! This will be the first non-Gilbert and Sullivan show that HRG&SP will have done in over a decade and we are excited to have a show from the golden age of Broadway musicals, one in the style of G&S shows. While we will by no means be replacing the G&S canon we perform with non-G&S shows, this will be a fun opportunity for our organization to branch out, and a chance for people who might not be familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan but are enthusiastic about musical theater to join us by becoming involved in our organization or seeing our shows. We are looking forward to this venture next semester, and then to getting back to G&S as usual next fall and the spring after that.

Now give three cheers and one cheer more- we also recently welcomed Ava, Ben, Clarissa, and Mary onto our board of directors! We are so excited to have them join us and are really looking forward to seeing the perspectives and ideas that they bring to HRG&SP, and where they help lead the organization from here. The board of directors is getting ready to elect a new team of executive officers, so this is my last blog post as president, and I must say I am honored to have served as the leader of such a great organization, full of so many talented, funny, and kind people. And though before my fall I was captain of it all, I will again be a member of the crew- in the meantime, however, I will be working on my final projects and continuing to get ready for the exciting semester ahead!

Sitzprobe is in the air!

Hello friends!

It’s getting colder and windier here in Cambridge, so I hope everyone is enjoying the transition into fall. Harvard is never quite so beautiful as it is in the fall. This semester, I am extremely excited to be orchestra producing HMS Pinafore. I am usually in the cast of HRG&SP shows, but I am glad to have this opportunity to learn about another part of the process. 

The first orchestra rehearsal was a bit sparse, but even though we were missing a few instruments, the first few notes of the overture blew me away. I recognized the jaunty tune and knew that we were going to have a good show. As the orchestra has grown week to week, I can do nothing but smile. 

Last weekend, we had our Sitzprobe where the cast and orchestra performed together for the first time. It was elysian. Mary Reynolds (Tufts ‘21) has done such a good job as music director! The rehearsal went smoothly and we got through the whole show with minimal hiccups. Janiah Lockett ‘20 (the stage director), Sam Guillemette ‘20 (Cast Producer), and I were bobbing our heads, tapping our feet, and humming along to the famous and unforgettable tunes of this classic operetta. 

I hope that you all can come to see our show!

HMS Pinafore runs in the historic Agassiz theater from November 8th through November 17th. Tickets are available at the Harvard Box Office website. 

Thanks again for your support of HRG&SP and our shows!

Ross Simmons ‘21
HRG&SP Historian
HMS Pinafore Orchestra Producer


Announcing H.M.S. Pinafore!

As the semester kicks into gear and G&S events begin to start, the rest of the board and I have been busy preparing for this semester, and we are thrilled to announce this semester’s show: a traditional staging of HMS Pinafore! We are excited to have Pinafore set in the 1800s on a British ship and are looking forward to the captain and his daughter, sailors, the bumboat woman, the monarch of the sea, sisters, cousins, and aunts all gracing the stage of the Agassiz theatre once again.

We have a fabulous crew, cast, and orchestra made of many inveterate and quite a few new G&S players, and I can’t wait to see all of their creativity, visions, and talents come to life. The first cast and orchestra rehearsals and the first few production meetings have happened and are off to a great start, and we are looking forward to “sailing the ocean blue” with you in the Agassiz Theatre in November- “in the meantime, farewell!”