(This was a reaction to my recent blog about what level of sight reading is and isn’t necessary these days from Ric Molina, who amongst other things plays guitar in the Broadway show WICKED. It was so good that I felt that it should stand on it’s own. I completely agree with what Ric is saying here, my real point in my blog on sight reading was to encourage people that don’t read that much that a moderate amount of reading ability will get them through a lot of the work that happens these days.But on the other hand, a pit band is one of the hardest reading gigs there is and if anything HARDER these days, because composers and orchestrators can write for the guitar with things that are really playable. BTW, regarding where he is responding to about what I said about the reading stuff that Tommy Tedesco used to have in Guitar Player magazine, I realize that what I was really thinking of was what he used to bring into the students at Musician’s Institute to read, the stuff that made the magazine was way easier than that. Bart Samolis and I basically used to prep our selves with what you might have to read to audition for the old Zappa band, and that’s what he was comparing things to when he was referencing what he has to read in his every day work. Here’s what Ric had to say:)
This is a great article about sight reading and I want to thank you and Bart for sharing your experiences out there on the west coast. It seems that for the most part the kind of reading we do here in NYC is interpretive as well, when it comes to recording sessions. I recently did the guitar tracks for the song “Let it Go” from the Disney movie Frozen and the composer just sent me the Logic session and a pdf of the piano part. I had to develop acoustic and electric parts from there with basic direction from the music supervisor. These cues were things like where to put power chords and where to follow and play counterpoint to the piano part. These tracks can be heard in their original state on the karaoke version from the deluxe version of the CD along with drums and bass that were cut in home studios here. The final recording was recorded in LA with an orchestra.
My day job is playing guitar 1 in the pit at the Gershwin theater for the musical called WICKED. This is a 24 piece orchestra and I play electric, acoustic, mandolin, banjo and classical guitars. When we began in 2003 I had three days to look at the entire score, two days of rehearsals with the orchestra and a week of tech rehearsals where we played a cue then sat around for an hour while they worked on staging. The thing most people don’t know is that for three weeks we had about half the score in hand while the creative team wrote and rewrote the music. Every night, in front of live preview audiences I would find a new chart on my stand at the half hour call. Some of this music is very difficult to sight read and even the more groove oriented music is written in full voicings with riffs and all kinds of lines that are to be played with the other soloists in the orchestra.
The WICKED book has had a reputation for being thorny because there are a lot of instrument changes and effect changes along with a couple of quirky lines for mandolin and classical. Now, ten years later I see most of the new shows that aren’t “jukebox musicals” have original music written for the guitar that is as challenging if not moreso than the WICKED book. There is a new generation of orchestrators here who can play the guitar and who have a strong knowledge of what is possible on the axe. The scores that I am seeing are all over the place, doubling any other instrument in the ensemble with a mixture of chords and lines. These books are very tightly written and it has been my experience that the orchestrators hear it all and they expect to hear you play it as they wrote it.
The same is true for the jazz groups here in the city. More and more groups at Smalls and the 55 Bar are showcasing odd time signatures and through-composed music that is very challenging to read and play and to improvise over. In today’s musical environment there are Julliard graduates who are playing at the Blue Note with DJ’s and ripping over changes or playing Indian music with jazz instruments. The level of musicianship and the bar for guitarists in particular is quite high compared to those cues we used to read through in Guitar Player Magazine.
One thing is for certain, there’s no shortcut to mastery and to work steadily in this quickly evolving scene you will do well to have your bases covered. With club work dwindling and sessions becoming scarce most professional guitarists go to the established venues of Broadway. In that world reading well is a given. Doug, I really enjoy the interviews you have published here and I thank you again for sharing those valuable insights. I look forward to the next one!
Yours Truly, Ric Molina
Ric’s blog is www.ricmolina.com
Ric’ band is Www.Ricmolinagroup.com