Atlanta is thawing as I write this. Most of the winters I've seen in Atlanta, including this one, are pretty mild. It'll occasionally snow, but it usually melts the next day. Last week was unusual in that we had a pretty good dose of snow, coupled with a week of subfreezing temperatures. With around 10 snow plows for a city of half a million people, Atlanta was brought to a standstill for a week.
With rehearsals canceled last week, I was left with a clear calendar. While many Atlantoids were going stir crazy, I was taking advantage of the extra alone time to woodshed a show book. For you musical civilians, to "woodshed" is to practice something over and over and over and over until you get it right…and then you practice it a little more just to be sure.
I'm going to be playing in Act3 Productions' All Shook Up in March. I'm really excited about this. When I was a trombone player, pit orchestra was my favorite kind of playing, and I'm thrilled to have my first of what will hopefully be many opportunities to play in pit orchestras as a guitarist. That's the good news. The bad news is that the guitar book is very difficult. Keep in mind that All Shook Up is based on the music of Elvis, so it's not like the guitarist can hide in the mix. I would have preferred to reenter the world of pit orchestra playing with an easier book, but you have to take the opportunities that come. (Also keep in mind that I've only been playing guitar for seven years. Maybe in another seven years I'll look back and chuckle at how difficult this book seemed at the time.)
When I first opened the book and listened to the sound track, I was overwhelmed. Essentially, the book is page after page of tricky guitar lines. Really, there are two guitar parts, a lead guitar and a rhythm guitar, but I believe I'm the only guitarist in the show, so once rehearsals begin, I'll have to figure out which is more important, the lead line or the rhythm part. For example, if a sax or trumpet is doubling my lead line, then I may serve the ensemble better by switching to rhythm guitar.
In my list of pages, the left hand column is for pages that I need to practice every day, and the right hand column is for the pages that I can cycle through more slowly. I spend twice as much time working on the left hand column, so if I have 90 minutes to practice, I'll practice the "easy" pages on the right for 30 minutes, and then I'll woodshed the pages on the left for an hour. You can see that a couple entries in the left hand column have been scratched out. Those have improved enough that I've moved them to the "easy" column. Eventually I'll be able to scratch a few more out and move them to the other side.
To some, this may seem like an anal retentive way to approach music, but I had to figure out a way to learn a lot of difficult music in a hurry. My initial goal is to not embarrass myself in the first rehearsal, and my ultimate goal is to sound great come showtime.
I'm enjoying the challenge this show book presents, and I'm finding that it's helping me improve as a guitarist overall. I'm also kind of hoping that my next musical has a tamer guitar part…lots of "boom-chucks" would be nice!
- Tom Godfrey
- Atlanta, GA, United States
- When I suffered a lip injury that ended my career as a classical trombonist, I thought my life as a musician was finished, but I fell in love with music all over again when Santa gave me a guitar for Christmas in 2003. Even as I was struggling with my first chords, I was planning a new performance career. As a trombonist, I performed with the Heritage of America Band at Langley Air Force Base, the Ohio Light Opera, and in pick-up bands for touring acts that included Rosemary Clooney, George Burns, and the Manhattan Transfer. Reborn as a jazz guitarist, I sing and play my own solo arrangements of jazz classics, am half of the Godfrey and Guy duo, and hold the guitar chair in the Sentimental Journey Orchestra. I have been a freelance music copyist since 1995 and have been music director at Northwest Unitarian Universalist Congregation since 2011.