You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

For Emmy-Nominated Music Directors, There’s Little Room for Error

Of the five music categories in the Primetime Emmy Awards, the music direction category seems to be the least understood outside music circles. And yet the stakes couldn’t be higher, with four of the six nominees live broadcasts.

In the case of NBC’s “The Sound of Music Live!,” music director and first-time nominee David Chase (not to be confused with “The Sopranos” creator), says, “the biggest job is trying to have a point of view about the whole thing — to capture the essence of Rodgers and Hammerstein as channeled through (original Broadway orchestrator) Robert Russell Bennett and (film arranger-adapter) Irwin Kostal. It felt like a direct descendent of those, but had a freshness and originality of its own.”

William Ross offers a more all-encompassing response when asked about the task. A music director, he says, is “the person responsible for the planning, organization, scheduling and realization of the musical aspects of a performance or an event.”

Ross should know; he has been music director for the Academy Awards five times and won three Emmys. He’s nominated twice this year, for the Oscar telecast and PBS’ “Barbra Streisand: Back to Brooklyn.” Both involved “endless meetings, emails and conference calls” in the months leading up to their live presentations. Ross wrote and supervised arrangements and conducted both shows with 60-piece orchestras.

If there’s a through line that affects all music directors, it’s the budget, which can make or break a show. “The budget informs and affects every element,” Ross says.

For “The Sound of Music Live!,” Chase started six months before the Dec. 5 airdate, participating in the casting, researching every version of the production, arranging new material, conducting the orchestra and working closely with the stars.

And on the night of air, Chase says, “when the nuns were singing a capella, I was just off camera, wearing white gloves (so the performers could see his hands despite the lights), conducting.” Colleagues were cueing other performers or, in one case, ready to play piano in case something went wrong with the pre-recorded tracks.

If a good deal of music heard on the Tonys is pre-recorded, the show itself airs live, accompanied by an orchestra at Radio City Music Hall.

Jamie Lawrence, who with his father, Elliot, was music director on the 67th Broadway kudofest, describes it as “a huge organizational job, and a production job,” coordinating the various Broadway casts that perform key numbers from their shows and managing the always ambitious opening number (in the case of the 2013 edition, a seven-minute Neil Patrick Harris extravaganza that involved nine Broadway casts).

Jamie Lawrence has a 1986 Emmy for arranging on the Tonys, an earlier era when the entire music team (music director and all the principal arrangers) could win. Today, only the music director is recognized.

Three musicians are credited, and nominated, as music directors for “Saturday Night Live.” Eli Brueggemann, who received his second and third Emmy noms this year, for songwriting and music direction, says: “I’m the off-camera composer, producer and conductor for sketch music. Leon Pendarvis is conductor of the band and Lenny Pickett is leader of the band, who curates the music that we play during commercials.”

Pickett has played sax in the “SNL” band since 1985 and has served as a music director since 1995; Pendarvis has been in the band since 1980. Brueggemann joined the team in 2011.

“You do all the preparation, then you see the actors in their costumes on Saturday and you’re able to see the video of your (dress) rehearsal” before an audience at 8 p.m., Brueggemann says. “So by 11:30, you’re not nervous. There’s a little bit of fear, but that’s really just the spark, knowing what you have to do and going out and executing it.”

One show that stands out is “The Beatles: The Night That Changed America,” the three-hour 50th anniversary salute to the Fab Four. The special not only reunited Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr onstage, it also featured such superstars as Stevie Wonder, Katy Perry, the Eurythmics and Brad Paisley covering classic Beatles songs.

Says music director Don Was: “It was up to me to put the (backup) band together and make sure we played it right; to deal with the artists and make sure they were happy. The thing you can’t plan for is the spirit behind the show. To play those songs in front of the Beatles and their families was electrifying.

“The pivotal moment emotionally was during the sound check. Paul was running through ‘Hey Jude’ and Ringo was playing drums. The first couple of notes came through and everybody stopped. People started crying.”

Was cites the moment as a lesson learned. “If you’re going to be the music director, start with great songs,” he says. “It really makes it easier.”

More Music

  • Adam Lambert Libertine show, Front Row,

    Adam Lambert Does Double Performing Duty on 'Idol' as New Winner is Crowned

    A new “American Idol” winner was crowned Sunday night, but not before Adam Lambert returned to the stage for the season finale for a pair of performances that included his new single and a duet with eliminated contestant Dimitrius Graham Sunday. The show concluded with Louisiana teen Laine Hardy showered in confetti as he was [...]

  • Beyonce Emilia Clarke

    Emilia Clarke Worried Beyonce Would Hate Daenerys After 'Game of Thrones'' Final Season

    After eight seasons as the Mother of Dragons, “Game of Thrones” star Emilia Clarke has a lot of celebrity fans. But the most impressive? Probably Queen Bey. In a New Yorker interview posted after Sunday night’s series finale, Clarke revealed that she met Beyonce at an Oscars after-party hosted by the musician and her husband, [...]

  • Zia McCabe, Brent DeBoer, Courtney Taylor-Taylor,

    Concert Review: The Dandy Warhols Need No Confetti at 25th Anniversary Show

    When the Dandy Warhols released their first album in 1995, the year’s bestselling record came from Hootie and the Blowfish. Suffice it to say, a lot has changed in the music industry and the world since Courtney Taylor-Taylor and Peter Holmström met in Portland, Oregon and decided to form a band. Yet on Saturday night [...]

  • John Mayer Madonna

    The College Dropouts: John Mayer, Madonna Among Music Stars Who Didn't Graduate

    It’s commencement time at colleges coast to coast, which means seeing successful musicians at podiums receiving honorary degrees — among them, Justin Timberlake at Berklee College of Music and Jon Bon Jovi at the University of Pennsylvania. But the music world is full of stars who never matriculated and still managed to come in at [...]

  • ‘Hitsville: The Making of Motown’ Acquired

    ‘Hitsville: The Making of Motown’ Acquired by Showtime for U.S.

    Polygram Entertainment, Universal Music Group’s film and television division, along with Capitol Music Group, Motown Records and Fulwell 73 announced today that “Hitville: The Making of Motown” has been acquired by Showtime for release in North America with plans for a fall premiere, and Altitude for theatrical release in the UK and Ireland. The feature-length [...]

  • Dimitri Vegas

    Dimitri Vegas Talks 'Rambo V: Last Blood' Role, Working With Sylvester Stallone

    Dimitri Thivaios, better known as dance music’s Dimitri Vegas, is taking his skills beyond the DJ booth, picking up a major film role in the forthcoming “Rambo V: Last Blood.” The Belgium-born Thivaios, who headlines massive EDM festivals like Tomorrowland with his brother Michael (they perform under the banner Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike), has [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content