Saturday, August 17, 2019


by Amanda Jacobs

 ‘Broadway Sound’ is the terminology that was originally used to describe the orchestral sound of Robert Russell Bennett’s orchestration during the Golden Age American Musical Theater of the 1950s and 60s.  Bennett was the king of orchestration during these years, and scored over 200 musicals.  He was the ‘go to’ man of Rodgers & Hammerstein, Kern, Berlin, Lerner & Lowe … and all the other Golden Age writers of Broadway musicals.  In his autobiography, he describes the way in which he came to orchestration, his background and training, and how he went about creating the organic and orchestral sounds he generated with smaller orchestras. He also wrote some important essays on the orchestration process.

As his life and career were ending, Broadway musicals were shifting in sound as Rock and alternative types of music entered the scene.  Bennett’s  ‘Broadway Sound’ no longer served the style of music being created and songwriting began to take on newer forms of sound that no longer fit in an organic sound world.  Electric guitar, greater prominence of percussion and amplified sound began to be the norm and sound engineers became extremely important.  Song writers of the 70s and 80s were not as tuneful and harmonies began to be simplified and predictable.   

This simplification of sound and song created a very real need for arrangers and orchestrators to be better skilled than the composers because the melodic and harmonic writing of the scores did not carry the emotional messages that the tuneful melodies of the past did.  

Arrangers and orchestrators had to fulfill those needs through their writing with their additions and symphonic tricks of percussion and musical commentary on lyric, because the songs themselves were inadequate.  These scores were what Jonathan Tunick described to me as ‘needy’. 

The quality of the songs needed the aid and band-aids of the arrangers and orchestrators to provide the emotional impact and to support the actors on stage.   As a result, ‘Broadway Sound’ became a catch-all phrase for orchestrators who happened to be working on Broadway at that time.  In reality, so-called ‘Broadway Sound’ splintered into styles that orchestrators claimed.  And so, the myth of ‘Broadway Sound’ was born.

Producers further complicated things because they needed even smaller orchestras due to the rise in salaries of the union musicians, as well as the rise in costs of producing musicals in Broadway houses.  Thus, more and more synthesized sounds came into the pit along with doubling and tripling of instrumentalists.

As a result, we now have Tunick-sound, Starobin-sound, Jahnke-sound, Besterman-sound, Hochman-sound, Troob-sound, etc.   Today, musicals are matched to the need of the score based on style.  These orchestrators create very successful scores because producers and composers agree that orchestrator-style will enhance the musical worlds of the stories.   

For example, if you want a clear, clean and elegant score of early 20th-Century, you go to Tunick.  GENTLEMAN’S GUIDE is only nine players by my count.    If you need bells and whistles, listen to Troob.   His ALADDIN is magical with the Disney sound he creates.  If you need bold, synthetic sound, try Jahnke—KING KONG--genius.  If you want huge sound that will blow you away, best go to Hochmann—BOOK OF MORMON, BIG FISH.  The unique style of sound of each of these highly skilled orchestrators is matched to the project in order to honor the world of the story and flesh out the original musical ideas provided by the composer and creatives. 

AUSTEN’S PRIDE is a lush and fertile score, so it does not need tricks to create emotional interplay between song and ear.   In other words, it does not need to be nurtured and tended to for the life to be drawn out of it (e.g. constant presence of a thick sound) because melodic shapes and harmonies were specifically created to evoke these emotions.   The arrangements are constant conversations between the singer and the instrumental.   The characters of this world would idolize the sound of the Classical period.  This is the sound that they would know and understand, and this is why they would sing.

We know this to be true about the arrangements because the score is beautiful with piano alone.   Its orchestral needs should be created by enhancing its present elegance and adding the shimmer and glitter of percussion.  The support comes internally with the strings and winds.

The story of AUSTEN’S PRIDE does NOT take place in the Romantic period.  The novel world of FIRST IMPRESSIONS is set in the late 1790s and the world of AUSTEN and the story of her encounter with her novel takes place in 1812.   If we look to music history for support of the show’s sound world , Beethoven was still in his early period (Classical sound), and his heroic period (or middle period) occurred during the setting of AUSTEN’s world.   Scholars do not recognize Beethoven’s late period until the late 1820s.    So, musically we are not yet to the Romantic period.

Over the years of the show’s development, I see how my piano-vocal arrangements can be confusing to those who first encounter them because the arrangements of AUSTEN’S PRIDE are written with Romantic harmonies super-imposed on Classical styles of writing. A skilled pianist reads the writing of the arrangements and approaches it like a Classical score.  They see the phrasing and writing and know to play these romantic harmonies in a Classical style, whereas the less skilled player will play it in a Romantic style.  This is why it sounds beautiful on piano alone with a skilled player.  

Armed with this knowledge, successful orchestrations of AUSTEN’S PRIDE happen when both orchestrator and musicians understand the world of sound in this way.  The players in the pit simultaneously nod to the classical and romantic worlds, and the orchestrator wraps it all up with a generous sprinkling of shimmering glitter and the glamour of Broadway.


"The Broadway Sound": The Autobiography and Selected Essays of Robert Russell Bennett.  2002.  Rochester, NY: Eastman Studies in Music. 

Personal Interviews with Jonathan Tunick, July 7, 2015 and September 29, 2015.

Personal Interview with Chris Jahnke.  January 22, 2016.

Phone Interview with Doug Besterman.  May 2014.

Phone Interview with Larry Hochmann.  Summer 2015.