Music Essentials for Singers & Actors

Book Review

by Trevor Jones

Music theory is not always a musical theatre student's favorite subject. Andrew Gerle’s new textbook unlocks many of the mysteries of musical notation for singers and actors with clear explanations of music theory concepts given in an engaging, conversational tone.

Andrew Gerle is a composer, pianist, musical director and educator who teaches at Yale University and the Manhattan School of Music. As a composer, he is known for his musicals Meet John Doe, The Tutor and Gloryana. His previous book The Enraged Accompanist’s Guide To The Perfect Audition is a popular text for singers approaching auditions.

The early chapters of this book start with the very basics of music theory (rhythm, notes, clefs and staves). These early concepts are covered in great detail and, while it may seem a little rudimentary for singers with some pre-existing theory knowledge, it proves an excellent resource and grounding in the elements of music theory specifically required for musical theatre performers. Throughout the book, Gerle keeps the focus on the practical application of music theory and omits more complex theoretical concepts that are not as necessary for singers and actors. Each chapter also includes exercises to practice the new skills learned.

The real selling point is Gerle’s use of an incredibly diverse array of musical examples from musical theatre to demonstrate the concepts covered. The use of musical theatre songs to demonstrate intervals, for example, is a particularly refreshing addition. Each chapter also has a witty title linking a showtune to the content of the chapter (eg. "Willkommen," "I Got Rhythm," "I Know Things Now").

Gerle hits his stride in the later chapters when he brings all of the music theory elements from the earlier chapters into a practical strategy for sight-singing. His 1-STARRT analysis method to assist sight-singing gives a useful practical framework to help singers to develop their reading skills. The chapter on score reading for dramatic and character analysis is a particularly interesting discussion of how the musical elements of a song can be used to inform performance, but it could go into even more detail. Perhaps the author intends a follow-up book.

The appendices are thorough, including the interval recognition examples and a detailed list of definitions of common terms used throughout the book. Gerle has absolutely achieved his mission: to “provide an in-depth method that could help everyone, regardless of musical experience or training, become a proficient sight-singer, fluent in the written language of music and confident in a rehearsal room.”

MUSIC ESSENTIALS FOR SINGERS & ACTORS: FUNDAMENTALS OF NOTATION, SIGHT-SINGING AND MUSIC THEORY by Andrew Gerle. HAL LEONARD BOOKS, 2018, pp. 448. $34.99 PAPERBACK.

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