Issue 16: Escaping the Canon

(Photo: Pennie Withers)

Conducting both Musical Theatre and Gospel Music is the type of craft that can often be overlooked in university/conservatoire training. Yet it is common for Musical Directors to be multi-talented conductors, orchestrators, composers and performers. This is most certainly applicable to all three of the interviewees in this issue. I have been hoping to publish one like this for a quite a while.

The brilliant David Firman started out as MD of Footlights at Cambridge, and went on to become a long time collaborator of Andrew Lloyd Webber (amongst many others), conducting the original productions of his most famous musicals. He chose to talk about the landmark musical Jesus Christ Superstar (a show most of us are familiar with!) and spoke in great detail about the general craft of conducting Musical Theatre. I also left in the information he shared about working with the late great Victoria Wood in case it is also of interest. David has such a wealth of experience that I could have happily interviewed him about numerous projects, but I hope you enjoy what we focused on and feel compelled to look into his other work.

Second in line was another great catch: Musical Director Gareth Valentine, who spoke with me about Chicago by Kander and Ebb. Gareth worked on the West End Production for three years, and as a multi-talented composer, musician, singer and dancer he understands theatre from a number of perspectives. Do you know many conductors who have also tap danced on a grand piano? I think not. In the 90 minutes we were chatting I learned a great deal from him about Chicago and his role in the production, both in London and on tour. The documentary ‘Making of London Chicago’ (referenced in the interview), in which Gareth appears, is good viewing for those interested in the overall process of staging a West End production.  

And finally, Reverend Bazil Meade MBE, Musical Director and Founder of the London Community Gospel Choir, joins the trio. As a former Gospel choir conductor myself, I have been aware of his work for decades, having first seen LCGC perform at the Phoenix Festival 1997. I have been a fan ever since, and can thoroughly recommend his autobiography, A Boy, A Journey, A Dream. It is a great read if you’re interested in the background of Gospel music, directing a hugely successful choir, or even life growing up on the Caribbean island of Montserrat (a lovely escape for me stuck in lockdown London!). Bazil was a great addition in this issue as he has also conducted West End productions alongside his own choir.

I hope you enjoy this interesting diversion. As ever, huge thanks to David, Gareth and Bazil for their fantastic contributions. Thank you also to Mark Warman (featured in the last issue – on Scott Walker), who put me in touch with David and Gareth, as well as two other conductors who will feature in the next issue.

Happy Reading!

Dr. Hannah Baxter (Editor)