You were recently named a 2021 ‘Woman to Watch on Broadway’ by the Broadway Women’s Fund, such a huge honor! How did you establish yourself as an in-demand orchestrator and musical director? What were some of your first steps in Broadway-land?
Thank you! So, my first steps in Broadway-land were actually not as a musician at all. I got my “foot in the door,” so to speak, with an admin internship at a Broadway concert venue when I was 19. The venue put on roughly 16 shows per week, so I found myself meeting 16 different music directors per week, and the rest was history. I often think about the quote by Sally Ride, “You can’t be what you can’t see,” and I think that’s especially true in the entertainment industry. I was incredibly lucky to connect with some influential mentors at an early age who helped introduce me to the right people.
It took a beat longer to find my footing as an orchestrator. Pretty much every project in the Broadway musical landscape, regardless of scope or budget, needs a music director — even if it’s accompanying a first table read. By the time a production is ready to hire an orchestrator, it’s likely booked at a Broadway theater or out-of-town tryout with millions of dollars invested — which of course brings us to the age-old “you need to have experience to getexperience.” It really wasn’t until I founded my own orchestra to create large-scale orchestration opportunities for myself that I started being able to work full-time as an orchestrator. I think it just proves that we don’t need to wait on other people to create the kind of work and opportunities we know we’re capable of. That said, I have always wished I could’ve had women mentors in the orchestration field, and I hope someday I’ll be able to provide that to young women who are starting out.
- How did you get involved with Ratatouille: the Tik Tok Musical, and what were some of your responsibilities as the musical director and orchestrator?
I got involved with Ratatouille at a fairly late stage — by the time Seaview Productions even reached out to me about orchestrating, it was already December 4th. We went into the studio with the orchestra on December 21st. The producers had seen my work with The Broadway Sinfonietta, and they reached out to me both to orchestrate the show and to use the Sinfonietta to record the score, which made the experience extra special.
My role as orchestrator on Ratatouille was fairly traditional in some ways — though everything was being done at hyper-speed. Our brilliant arranger, Daniel Mertzlufft, would feed me a piano sketch, and I would have to finish one chart per day to stay on schedule. One particular challenge to the musical work on this show was that the songs were written by 14 different TikTok creators — so it was important to both me and Dan to create a sense of musical cohesion throughout the score. As musical director, I coordinated & conducted the orchestra in the studio as we recorded my orchestrations to the show. My co-music director, Emily Marshall, took on the vocal side of things, working with the performers remotely on learning their material.
At 23 years old, you founded The Broadway Sinfonietta, which is an all female-identifying and majority women-of-color orchestra collective showcasing the excellence of BIPOC women musicians on Broadway. I bet it was pretty challenging to form this collective. What made you passionate about it, and what has the orchestra worked on so far?
My passion for forming the Sinfonietta has been bubbling for years, but it wasn’t until the pandemic that I finally had the bandwidth or resources to make it a reality. I’ve always been troubled by the lack of representation for women and people of color in the music space, and I think that women of color are often doubly overlooked. It was indeed pretty challenging to get off the ground, especially given the physical safety limitations of the pandemic. But with the support of some incredible Broadway producers (Jana Shea, Daryl Roth), we were able to create a safe environment to record in-person last fall.
We debuted in October 2020 with my original arrangement of “You’re Gonna Hear From Me” to immense support and excitement from the Broadway community. After an exclusive premiere with CBS, the orchestra has since been featured in NBC, Rolling Stone, BuzzFeed, TeenVogue, Elle, The Washington Post, the Today Show, and more. Our next project was a video collaboration sponsored by MAC Cosmetics, and then after that, Ratatouille. Less than a year later, and we now work steadily on commission for producers, brands, and individual artists, and just wrapped up recording on a London-based cast album for a new West End musical. The Sinfonietta is also about to record our debut album under a major record label (yet to be announced!). I haven’t been too vocal about this yet (though I suppose this is the right audience!), but we’re also in the early stages of launching a Hollywood Sinfonietta later this year, based in LA.
Over the years you’ve collaborated with some of the best in the business, including Tony Award-winning artist David Zippel (Hercules, Mulan), and performers like Leslie Odom Jr., Ariana DeBose and Alex Newell, to name a few. What were your biggest takeaways from these collaborations, and how do you prepare for a new project?
I’ve been extraordinarily lucky to get to work with such accomplished talent at a young age. I think one of my early takeaways was about how to carry yourself as a young woman surrounded by mostly older men — I’m sure “impostor syndrome” isn’t a new topic to this forum, and I had to learn fairly early how to just “fake it ‘til you make it,” but also how to build authentic confidence in my work and how to carry myself when I walk into certain rooms.
For me, I think every project requires a different approach in preparation. Broadly speaking, I always try to clear a window of time to make space for strategizing the big-picture creative vision of a project before diving into the nitty gritty. It can be so easy to get lost in the hamster wheel, and I’ve found that protecting time for the bird’s eye view helps keep me focused throughout the rest of a project.
Where do you see yourself in ten years, do you think you’ll continue working on musicals? What is your dream project?
Ah, such big questions! I absolutely think I’ll continue working on musicals, as musical theatre is what pulled me into the entertainment industry in the first place. I think this past year during the pandemic, without any live entertainment, we’ve seen the many different ways musical theatre can integrate with the digital landscape and with more mainstream Film/TV projects, so I’d love to do more work in the crossover space of TV/movie-musicals.
I’ve also been a Disney kid since a very young age, so getting to develop musical projects with Disney, especially with an emphasis on diversity & inclusion, would surely be a dream. One particular dream project is to do a Disney fireworks show for the parks.
Interview by Nami Melumad
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