A musical director career

 11 February 2012

Philip Bateman is a musical director and singing coach. He has worked on West End shows like Billy Elliot and Our House. He spoke about how he built his career in musical theatre.

I teach songs, arrange vocal harmonies, conduct cast and band for a musical.
I teach songs, arrange vocal harmonies, conduct cast and band for a musical.

The role of a musical director

"I teach songs, arrange vocal harmonies, conduct cast and band for a musical.

"When I’m working on a show the working week is easier to explain: six shows a week at 7.30pm and usually a matinee on Thursday and Saturday at 2.30pm.

"I would be at the theatre an hour and a half before the show to take a vocal warm-up and give any notes from the previous show.

"There are usually understudy or ‘cleaning’ calls on at least 2 other days at around 2pm. So it’s a 6-day-a-week job, essentially working afternoons and evenings."

Becoming a musical director

"People gave me job opportunities, from which I built experience and a reputation."

"I went to Birmingham University and studied Music with Drama. It taught me a great deal of history in both subjects, as well as specific useful parts of my daily job:

  • harmony
  • orchestration
  • analysis
  • sight-reading
  • vocal technique (having studied singing specifically).

"People gave me job opportunities which I learnt from, and from which I built experience and a reputation. I also learnt from the musical supervisors, orchestrators and directors I worked with.

"Prior to university, I learnt enormously from my piano teacher and a drama teacher, who coached me and inspired me in both subjects. That was the foundation of what I now do as a career."

Achievements in musical theatre

"I worked as Musical Supervisor on Our House, the Madness musical, which ran for a year in the West End in 2003, and gained an Olivier Award for best New Musical.

"I’d never conducted a band in the West End before and I ended up working as MD and Supervisor. I wrote all the vocal arrangements, underscore and dance arrangements.

"I also worked as the original MD on Billy Elliot the musical, which won the 2005 Olivier award for Best New Musical."

Advice for becoming a musical director

"It is seen as a ‘glamorous’ industry. It’s not, it’s hard work."

"You have to be 100 percent committed to work in theatre and be extremely passionate about the work. Talent is not enough.

"You have to get on with people – you’re only as good as your last job and your reputation is everything!

"The industry is incredibly competitive. It is seen as a ‘glamorous’ industry. It’s not, it’s hard work. There’s not a huge number of jobs within it, and the turnaround of shows can be very quick. So there are always many people up for a job."

"Take opportunities and make them happen. Write to directors/theatres you want to work for, ask for advice and work for free when you start out!"

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