MIM Insights: Building a Playlist
November 11th, 2019
“We’ve used about 200 pieces of music in the history of MIM shows. Ambassadors [have] danced to about 150.”
Did you know that Minds In Motion dancers start working on their finale dance in November? We caught up with MIM Music Director Blanton Bradley to discover more about putting together a fabulous dancing playlist for the culminating performance. Blanton has been with the program since the beginning, so he’s quite literally heard it all. Here’s what he had to say about what goes into constructing a musical score each year.
What’s the process of music selection for the MIM shows?
In the beginning, the entire show–theme, script, and and music choices–were chosen by Brett Bonda (then MIM Director, now Managing Director of the Ballet) and our consultant from the National Dance Institute, Lori Klinger. As the program grew and matured, this evolved into a process involving the entire staff.
There’s a pretty wide range of styles that get used: opera, disco, bluegrass, classic rock—how do you arrive at such a variety?
Each dance in MIM carries a section of the theme of the show. Originally, we would look for a piece of music with a title that was in line with the theme of the dance. The searches were across genres, so this created a natural variety in styles of music. Our trademark became the variety. It makes an interesting audio experience for the audience and provides musical learning for the student dancers.
The musical styles have gotten more diverse as the years have gone on—can you describe the musical evolution of the shows over the years?
The year’s show theme is the first thing decided. Music comes later after the basic story of the show is built. As the staff expanded, so did the music variety.
Once upon a time, you would be called upon to compose a piece for the show. How many have you done, and what’s your favorite?
For the first 10 years or so, whenever the staff couldn’t come up with a piece for a dance, they called on me to write one. That was one of the original reasons I was hired for the position…For MIM, I was writing one or 2 pieces a year, including some Openings and Finales.
A couple of favorites are the Egyptian piece written for the first year (Collegiate). The Pharaoh [dance soloist] in the piece was a disabled child in a motorized wheelchair who entered the stage at the big ending to the piece.
The other fun piece was for a dance about the “new” internet. It was a piece which began with the old “dial-up” internet sound, followed by the announcement “YOU’VE GOT MAIL”. It always got a laugh from the audience. It’s always been a thrill to hear my work on the programs.
For rehearsal purposes, MIM musicians have “sheet music” of each piece that gets used in the shows. If the sheet music doesn’t exist, you have to transcribe it. Can you describe that process? How long does it take?
When I started in 1995, there were no “on-line” music services. All music had to be ordered from music dealers, or if it wasn’t available, I would have to transcribe it from the recordings. Many music selections are available on-line now for purchase, and sometimes for free. There are still pieces I have to transcribe from the recordings because they are not available in print from publishers.
I have to listen to the piece as many times as it takes to make a printed version for the MIM musicians. I use a music printing software called Encore. I have a keyboard plugged into my laptop with the Encore software, and I essentially play the notes into the software, which makes the printed version. It works in time with a metronome and shows all of your mistakes as well, which then you edit out. Then you add all the text and other musical markings. I also use an app called “TempoSlow”, to slow the track I’m “lifting”, so I can hear it clearly. It slows the music without changing the key. Depending on the complexity of the music, each of these transcriptions can take 2-4 hours.
What is the weirdest piece you’ve ever transcribed?
Some of the “ethnic” pieces can be the weirdest. They turn out to be very repetitive and are more about percussion than tonal sounds. This makes it a challenge to make a piano transcription that is interesting for the accompanist. The same is true of pieces that are more “characteristic” for the original instruments like banjo, fiddle, or guitar. These don’t often transcribe well for piano. “Fire” from Jamestown (2007 & 2018) is a good example.
What’s your favorite piece of music that has been used for MIM, either in a culminating performance or an Ambassador show?
Bears and skunk dance- “You made me love you”
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