The Musical Director’s Handbook by Stuart Morley is a very specific style of book to read for Cannonball Read 8. I work as a music director for educational theater programs throughout the year and have started to feel like my teaching style has flatlined. I’m dedicating the beginning of the year to reading various books on music directing, vocal training, directing, music, and theater to try and improve my skills. This book is the most directly connected to the kind of work I do and it is very good at what it sets out to do.
Morley wanted to write a primer for a new music director, aka the person in charge of teaching, arranging, and leading all the music in a live musical theater performance. The book is directed for beginners in the field, though the information and style make it a strong addition to any music director’s library.
For Americans picking up the book, it’s always interesting to learn how the focus on behind the scenes theater work changes in another country. Morley is British and many of his examples come from recent hits on the West End, like We Will Rock You. His technique is focused on a creating a much more naturalistic sound than is typical of the American Broadway style. He encourages a lot of work with speaking the text to find the natural rhythms and accents to then incorporate into the music; the typical American style does the opposite, forcing the words to the rhythm and over-exaggerating ever consonant.
For me, the book focused a bit too much on conducting and work with rhythm. Morley’s take on those subjects just isn’t particularly applicable to the style I grew up with and studied. The patterns are the same, but the language and emphasis is totally different. For a beginner, his explanation is clear and would be very useful to someone with no prior experience conducting.
The Musical Director’s Handbook is a fast, clear read that covers a lot of ground. Morley tackles everything from running auditions to organizing the pit orchestra for the best blend. I’ve already begun using many of his techniques in my own work and plan on following up on his recommendations for additional reading as soon as I can find copies of the books.