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Musical Collaborations at the RSC

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Part of the Palgrave Studies in British Musical Theatre book series (PSBMT)


This chapter concentrates on the production of music: who is involved in that process, and what are the structures within which they worked at the RSC at the time of this study. The facets of this enquiry include questions around the nature of music management, the employment practices of composers and musicians, the economics of music production and the working practices for musicians in performance. The findings reveal that the slow pace of evolution during which individuals worked together for several years, and in some cases decades, had a positive impact on the creativity and the nature of the ensemble produced among its members.

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  • DOI: 10.1007/978-3-319-95222-2_2
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  1. 1.

    There are occasional exceptions to this practice, when a percussionist, accordionist, or other instrumentalist has led the band, but they are relatively uncommon.

  2. 2.

    After reading music at Cambridge and studying conducting and horn at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, Woolfenden joined the RSC in 1961. By the time he retired in 1998 he had composed more than 150 scores for the company, leading the development of music and sound for that entire period.

  3. 3.

    Interviews will be referenced throughout with the subject’s name and the year of interview. The date and type of communication is listed in the bibliography.

  4. 4.

    Michael Tubbs read music at Cambridge and studied conducting and oboe at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama before joining the RSC. At the RSC he was a music director and composer, a job that he extended to include creating musical instruments, sound effects, coaching actors in singing roles and liaising with composers (Tubbs 2013).

  5. 5.

    For more on the convoluted battle with the Arts Council in light of the development of the National Theatre see Chambers (2004), 23–30, 81–5.

  6. 6.

    OBE—Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire.

  7. 7.

    Throughout this book a production will be identified by the name of the director and date of production in brackets if not mentioned in the text.

  8. 8.

    He has also composed several scores for Shakespeare plays at The Globe in London.

  9. 9.

    His first television score was also for a production directed by Peter Gill, Hitting Town (1976) by Stephen Poliakoff.

  10. 10.

    Ian Reynolds was a band member from 1974, band steward, and MU rep from about 1990–2009. He was employed as a dep in April 1974 and took over as full-time flautist shortly afterwards. His first show was Cymbeline in June 1974 and he left the RSC in August 2015 after receiving a 40-year long-service award in November 2014. Emails were exchanged in December 2015 and January 2016.

  11. 11.

    Andy Stone-Fewings was principal trumpet and MU steward at the RSC at the time of our conversation in 2015.

  12. 12.

    The final stage of this ‘cull’ is mentioned in the MU minutes noted below: after protracted negotiations a new agreement was finally reached in 2003.

  13. 13.

    Minutes of the MU National Executive Committee meetings are held in the Musicians’ Union archive at Stirling University. Those that relate to the RSC were kindly forwarded by Valerie Wells.

  14. 14.

    15/- in the LSD currency translated to 75p when the country converted to decimal currency in 1971—or an additional 3% of salary.

  15. 15.

    A minute of the Midland District Council dated 4 October 1970.

  16. 16.

    Stephen Brown was Midlands Regional Organiser of the Musicians’ Union when I spoke to him on 14 December 2015.

  17. 17.

    Across the sector cues are routinely written into scores in musicians’ shorthand using the symbol Q as in the example from the score here.

  18. 18.

    At some point payment for onstage duties was incorporated into the session payment so that by the 2013 agreement it is assumed to be a standard requirement of players at the theatre.

  19. 19.

    RST Balance Sheet as at 2 December 1972 carries this note (Arts Council of Great Britain (ACGB) 1972).

  20. 20.

    Both Cymbeline and Richard II transferred to the Aldwych from Stratford, but King John didn’t transfer. Given the pairing of productions and band members discussed above it may be that this partial transfer had some impact on the budgets and utilisation of band members, but I haven’t been able to discover any more detail about the meaning of that clause.

  21. 21.

    ACGB/1/3077 Minutes 1973/1974 and 1974/1975 available at the V&A archives.

  22. 22.

    This is documented by Beauman (1982) and Chambers (2004).

  23. 23.

    These percentages are deduced from audited accounts held in the Arts Council papers at the V&A archive, Olympia London.

  24. 24.

    All information is derived from the Agreement Between The Royal Shakespeare Company and The Musicians’ Union 2013.

  25. 25.

    Stated by Stephen Brown and confirmed by Reynolds 2015 and 2016 and Jones 2016.

  26. 26.

    It was directed by Adrian Noble in 1983.

  27. 27.

    The musicians have referred to occasions when they took cues, timed music and performed on stage without reference to the music director, but in general one of the musicians will be the music director for every production. Even when there is a designated music director it may be decided that an individual player is in a better position to take responsibility for certain parts of the music, especially in a difficult location, on stage, or when following the action.

  28. 28.

    This will be discussed further in relation to Macbeth (1962) in “Collaborative Composition at the RSC” and the development of sound as a separate department will be continued in “Electronics, Sound and Fury at the RSC”.

  29. 29.

    He later worked in commercial musical theatre in London and on Broadway, becoming a company director of Autograph Sound from 1981–1998.

  30. 30.

    Hair had recently arrived in the West End (1968) from New York and taken the town by storm.

  31. 31.

    Abd’Elkader Farah was later known in print as Farah, but to his friends as Abd’El.

  32. 32.

    This production was recorded for DVD, but the band didn’t appear on stage for the video.

  33. 33.

    Ironically, given that musicals are more likely to use the pit from where musicians and music director can see the stage, musicals are easier to follow than plays. As noted above, plays require musicians to adapt the timing of music cues live in performance so that it fits speeches, whereas songs, by linking melody, harmony, and rhythm are much easier to follow and although musicians still need to follow changes of tempo and adapt to the stage, the music is more likely to be played through from beginning to end (Brown, R. 2014).

  34. 34.

    Richard Brown, Jim Jones, and Ian Reynolds all spoke of variety as one of the key reasons for their enjoyment of working at the RSC.


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Taylor, M. (2018). Musical Collaborations at the RSC. In: Theatre Music and Sound at the RSC. Palgrave Studies in British Musical Theatre. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham.

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