I have the honor of subbing for my dear friend Jeremy Yaddaw on the current run of the off-Broadway show, Attack of the Elvis Impersonators. Subbing on a show is quite an arduous process. You can't simply show up and read down the charts. Your job as a sub is to play the show EXACTLY like the regular. The main goal is for the other musicians in the pit and actors on stage to not notice that there is a different drummer behind the kit.
Prepping for this show was a month-long process. First, I got the music and recordings from Jeremy. The recordings were two giant WAV files, so I imported them to Garage Band and split the file up into separate tracks for each song and scene. Next, I went through each track and followed along, marking up my book. The older I get, the more I find I write down EVERYTHING. I'm not sure if it's because I fear my memory will fail or if I'm just more meticulous in my old age. Probably a combination of both! In this example, both Jeremy and I have written in measure numbers, vocal and instrumental cues, changes to the actual drum part, and places where it's necessary to follow the conductor:
That's a lot of information for just 21 measures but it helps with the learning process and insures that nothing is missed in performance.
After putting my book together (a craft project which includes printing, whole punching, stapling, and making sure page turns are in the right places), it was finally time to play the music! I scheduled 6 or 7 three-hour sessions at my rehearsal space to go through the show, playing along to each song, making more notes about things I was hearing that were different than what the music told. There are a lot of up-tempo rockabilly numbers (hello, this is a show inspired by Elvis), so in addition to playing the songs, I worked on some shuffle grooves and swing fills using two of my favorite books - The Art of Jazz Drumming and Syncopation.
Somewhere in between practicing the music, I went to "watch the book" twice - once while being conducted by the regular music director and once with her sub. I took a thousand more notes.
The day before my first show, I went to the theater between the matinee and evening shows to play on the drums, a Roland TD-30. All drums have a different feel, especially when they're electronic! I had to make some adjustments in my technique to get the best sound out of these beasts - playing my right hand lighter on the hi-hat, my left hand harder on the snare drum, and my right foot lighter on the bass drum, to name a few. There are a few patch changes throughout the show, so I had to get used to advancing the kit between many of the songs. Here's a look at the kit:
Finally, it was time to play the first show. I made sure to eat a good meal, avoid caffeine, and show up to the theater an hour early to practice on the drums again. Thankfully, I was super nervous the two days before the show, so by downbeat I was feeling fairly relaxed. I tried to stay as focused as possible (the show moves quickly), make EVEN MORE NOTES of what could be better, and get used to playing with the guitarist, bassist, and pianist in a live setting through the Aviom (personal mixer).
After the last note, I breathed a sigh of relief and thought about things I would do differently for the evening show. I put a lot of time in to preparing for the show and it got to the point where the only thing left to do was to actually play it live. I have a few more dates with Elvis coming up and I am looking forward to each one of them!
TL:DR - Here is a NYTimes article about subbing on Broadway, featuring Ann Klein who I just played with a the Beechman a few weeks ago.