Once again…with “Un-Block The Music,” I have found another soul sister of sorts…Emily Marshall, the musical director for Ratatouille! Like myself, Emily’s musical genes came from her mom’s side of the family.
“My grandfather on my mother’s side had his own band. He conducted, arranged, played sax and clarinet. He taught himself to play sax on a broomstick because his parents couldn’t afford a real instrument. He died a few months before I was born, so I never met him. We have all of the sheet music from the 40s to the 70s. Someone got rid of the boxes of his arrangements. It kills me!” Emily said.
(“Un-Block The Music” didn’t happen by accident. Music is in my genes. Coincidentally, my grandfather came from Portugal (actually the Madeira Island) to become a song writer and band leader in the U.S. Long after he passed away, there was a rainstorm and all of his arrangements that were in boxes behind his piano got wet, and the family threw them out!!! I feel your pain Emily!)
Anyway….Emily’s music prowess still prevailed. She was not only the musical director on this crazy, wonderful undertaking called Ratatouille, but she was the musical director on Be More Chill. That’s after having worked as a pianist on several other Broadway productions such as Beautiful, The Carole King Musical and Head over Heels.
Emily started playing piano when she was 7 years old. She always knew music was her career path, but didn’t know how to be involved. “I went to Ithaca College starting out as an audio production major because I loved being in the studio. However, I discovered that production wasn’t as music based as I wanted it to be.” So, Emily got involved with the classical piano program. (That’s not to say her time in production was a waste, she is producing albums now?!) She then realized being a solo pianist was not her jam either. So, she switched majors and added theater to her agenda. (A wonderful move, since Ithaca’s musical theater program is in the top 10 for theater schools).
In her sophomore year, Emily was asked to music direct a show. I didn’t even know that was a career,” she laughed. However, it was a natural move. Not only was she a pianist but had been taking dance for 15 years, and literally had been musically directing shows wither her little sister she was five, she said.
“Music directing combines all of the skills I love. And, I also love being the liaison between producers, actors, and the creative team while also having an artist’s say.” Once Emily discovered this career, it was full speed ahead from there. For the first few years out of college, Emily did a lot of regional shows. Then, she went on tours for A Chorus Line and We Will Rock You. At that point, she thought, “if I was going to do the New York thing, I should be in New York!” Beautiful was her first Broadway gig as a keyboard sub. She eventually made her way to becoming the music director, conductor and vocal arranger on Be More Chill off Broadway and then on Broadway!
Emily had been working on a show called Pool Boy in Pittsburgh and was introduced by phone to Joe Iconis who wrote the music and lyrics for Be More Chill. When she came back to New York a few weeks later, she met Joe and fell into the crazy wonder phenomenon that was that show. The social media frenzy surrounding that musical, probably set her up for the what was to come with Ratatouille. “There is not much more fun than playing Be More Chill every night. It was a roller coaster of a year and a half!” she said. https://unblockthemusic.blog/2018/09/18/joe-iconis-the-toast-of-broadway-finally/)
Keep in mind, Ratatouille premiered on January 1st. Emily did not become officially involved in the production until December 7. If you don’t know about the show, elementary school teacher Emily Jacobsen created a song for Tik Tok about Remy, the main character in Ratatouille. She posted her song on Tik Tok to make her friends laugh, but it went viral. And…her song turned into a community. With tons of creativity, several songwriters and a lot of cooperation, a musical was created. These collaborations between the composers was also such great exposure for these mostly new composers. (FYI…there is a nice touch at the end of the show when you see the composers of each song highlighted next to the performer who sang them.)
After coming on board, “I had to have all of the music recorded, mixed and sent to the actors by Christmas Day! Some of the songs existed on Tik Tok already, but all videos on Tik Tok are under a minute, so they weren’t truly songs yet! It was a process. The music team consisted of myself, Dan Mertzlufft, Macy Schmidt and the two copyists, Geoffrey Ko and Jessie Rosso. “Dan would write a song in a day, hand it to Macy, she would orchestrate it that day and they did the scores and sent it to me. I would then send it up to the band. We all felt strongly about the material. Macy and I would get excited about every song!”
Emily and Macy were also on board as co music coordinators. “We hired all of the musicians for the Broadway Sinfonietta; 20 wonderful women. Then we had to coordinate with the rhythm section…guitar, bass, drums, accordion and me playing keyboard at home. We also did have a full day session in the studio with all co-vid restrictions in place. The work that day was the equivalent to recording a musical 3 times in one day!,” Emily said.
About the quick turnaround in theater, Emily said, “We have always done workshops, but no one had worked this quickly. There weren’t enough hours in the day or enough hours for your brain to be on. You eventually have to recharge. Of course, creating this production during the holidays was another added layer to the challenge. Remember, too, that this was a great contrast to the last 9 months…so we are not in the swing like we usually are when the world is working. However, it was so nice to be creative again and to collaborate and make new relationships. I still haven’t met Dan in person…even though I talked to him every day!”
“Ratatouille has given us all new inspiration,” Emily commented. “Even through this CO-VID hardship, if you still haven’t given up…you are in this career for the long haul…you have no other choice!”
“Un-Block The Music” has time and again struggled with Social Media. I’ve learned some, but still need help. And, the whole theater industry has learned more than they have ever thought they would…God Bless them! Emily, too, said, “it’s not second nature to me either.” Tik Tok was not on her radar until Ratatouille. “My little sister texted me about the musical before I got involved. I screen shotted her text! She said…’you should take a look at this and music direct it!’ It was a manifestation. Three weeks later I was involved!,” she laughed.
What’s next for Emily? She is working on projects with Macy and the Sinfonietta. At shutdown, she was learning Jagged Little Pill’s music getting ready to conduct there. (She had to learn harmonica!) As all amazing creatives right now, Emily continues to develop and work on ZOOM readings. As for what is up next for Ratatouielle? “We are decompressing. We hope to do more, but are waiting to see where it goes from here,” she said.
(Just in case you missed previous stories I have written about Macy & Geoff…here ya go: