OK…I know it is not Wednesday. “Un-Block The Music” intended to put a Women’s story up yesterday, but I had the good fortune to have four interviews scheduled with women, and I didn’t have time to write! That’s amazing news on two levels. People are starting to come to life and are learning how to work during this Cornoavirus, and I think we are becoming a little more optimistic. Secondly, people are loving the idea of “Women Wednesdays” and are contacting me and following the blog! Yes!!!! This week, “Un-Block The Music” has an amazing woman to highlight, Julie McBride.
When this pandemic hit, Julie was musical director for Unknown Soldier which still had a couple of weeks left on its limited run. Then, by mid-April, she was scheduled to step into Moulin Rouge. I just have to believe that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo is right when he says New York is just on pause. So, many amazing artists everywhere are just waiting to entertain a world that sorely needs it! Until the day we can all go back to theater, “Un-Block The Music” hopes I can help entertain. Now, let’s talk about Julie!
Julie’s story started in Ohio. Both of her parents were church musicians and she grew up playing piano, mostly classical at first. “When I was in high school, I started to get into theater a little bit.” She sang in the choir and eventually auditioned for Muse Machine Theater, which is an organization serving Ohio and Kentucky students. Its’ goal is to help kids explore their own creative paths. “I auditioned for them and got accepted into the orchestra,” Julie explains. “They would bring professionals from New York to Ohio to direct shows. I played the piano part in The Wizard of Oz, and thought this is what I want to do!”
After studying classical piano at The University of Cincinnati, she applied to grad school in New York and got into Mannes College The New School For Music. “After I found out that I had been accepted to Mannes, I saw that Disney was advertising for an internship program, so I applied and got accepted to a music internship at The Lion King (on Broadway).”
As “Un-Block The Music” knows from experience, internships are what you make of them. The Lion King had already been running for five years or so when Julie got the internship, so it ran pretty smoothly. Julie wanted more. She was able to talk to the person doing the three-part keyboard, and she convinced him to let her learn his book. “That’s how I got my first Broadway subbing gig which was what I always imagined myself doing. Since I knew those musicians so well, I felt that it was a warm environment and a lot of the people around me were willing to mentor me and help me along the way,” she says.
Most everyone “Un-Block The Music” interviews says it is so important to have someone who has experience in your field to take interest in you. “The only way to learn how to function at some of these jobs is to watch and learn. If you don’t have that experience, I don’t know how you do it,” Julie says. “That Lion King connection propelled me to where I am now. That music director eventually hired me to be his associate on a reading he was doing.”
This was around the time Julie met Tom Kitt (composer and now the musical supervisor on Jagged Little Pill). “He didn’t know anything about me other than his wife and I were teaching at the same school. He said. ‘I composed this show, Next To Normal, and it is debuting at Second Stage Theater next month. The musical director, Mary-Mitchell Campbell, needs an associate. Would you be willing to audition for her?’ I said, ‘Oh my God…I would love to!’ Mary hired Julie as her as Associate Music Director. “I don’t think I realized how big a deal it was. I never did that kind of work before. I was just thrown into the fire. And, when it opened on Broadway later on, I was able to step back in and play rehearsals, sub conduct and be the associate again!”
When Julie first came to New York her goal was to play piano in the Broadway pits. “It never crossed my mind that I would be a conductor. It was a surprise to me that these kinds of opportunities started coming up and I enjoyed doing them. I was able to work with people that were good at it, and I was able to learn from them,” she says. “I started to music direct from there. I was doing little things like concerts and readings; taking every gig I could get. I was even playing music for auditions.” “Un-Block The Music” congratulated her on that. Having sat through enough voice lessons and listened in on lots of auditions, I know that job is particularly hard, never knowing what the singer is going to throw at you! “Glad I did it, but wouldn’t want to do it again,” she laughs.
Julie says, her favorite gig came from her old friend Tom Kitt; SpongeBob Square Pants, The Broadway Musical. When Tom called, “I was confused at what it was. I said, ‘I’d love to work with you, but what is it a stadium tour?’” Nothing like it existed on Broadway. There were several pop/rock composers who wrote original songs; people like Steven Tyler and Joe Perry (Aerosmith), John Legend and Sara Bareilles. Tom Kitt wrote some additional music and did the orchestrations. “At that point I hadn’t even conducted on Broadway yet. We did readings of it for five years before it went to Broadway. It was pretty unique in the way it was put together. Julie was also involved with the tour which was cancelled….again…because of this crazy virus!
Also, under Julie’s working umbrella at the time this pandemic began was Unknown Soldier which had been scheduled for a limited run through March 29. Can you imagine going from SpongeBob to Unknown Soldier, certainly a testament to Julie’s talent. Unknown Soldier is the story of a woman cleaning out her grandmother’s home and discovering a mysterious photograph of an anonymous soldier tucked away in a box of keepsakes. It’s about her journey to find out family secrets. Daniel Goldstein wrote the book and the lyrics. The music was written by the late Michael Friedman. “I worked on the first reading of the show 10 years ago. It was a wonderful treat to revisit this music.” The challenge came for Julie because the composer was not there. Every decision about changing keys or inserting bars was difficult. “It would be easy with the composer there but without him, we all felt the pressure of doing what he would have wanted. It was a unique and interesting challenge,” she says.
As for the music, “it has a very classical and sweeping nature. It was going back to my roots and was refreshing. I was playing on a real acoustic piano…no electronic music at all…so unusual today, and a pleasure to do. We are hoping to record it.”
Julie attributes her success to not only doing a good job, but learning how to be flexible. “I find that doing a good job and being willing to learn and being receptive to your surroundings is key.” You should be able to think on your feet and “know what needs to be done without someone asking. That was a big key in how my career has progressed.”
Next up for Julie is Broadway’s Moulin Rouge. “Un-block The Music” is optimistic that we will get to see and hear Julie in that role and many others to follow.
“Instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can create.”
― Roy T. Bennett, “The Light in The Heart”