The Saga of “CRANETRAX”: An Opera Waiting to Happen

During my early years as a music teacher in an elementary school in Peterborough, Ontario, Canada, I was asked by the local theatre guild if I would become the musical director for their next musical production. Innocently, I agreed. I mean, “What could happen, right?”

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Well, as it turned out quite a lot could and did happen during eight weeks of agony we called “Rehearsals”. We had nepotism in casting which resulted in some serious acting problems, a “professional” choreographer who didn’t realize the cast were amateurs and therefore inexperienced at dance, and “youthful” band members culled from various local high schools. The result was less than wonderful. However, for me, the defining moment of the show came on opening night when one of the key band members chose to go to a school dance instead of play the show. I found myself loudly whistling middle wind parts from the conductor's score!

After this experience, I realized that if I wanted to produce reliable musical productions, I had to find another way.

I already owned a little moog synth which mostly just made bodily function sounds. I got the theatre guild to purchase a great big Arp Quadra and I proceeded to use pencil and paper to transcribe, by hand, the 210 pages of the piano score of “Oliver” for piano and two synthesizers. I began this job on the evening of December 27th and I finally completed the overture in the first week of May--two nights before Opening Night! This worked out rather well, but just about did me in with the quantity of work involved.

It was around this time that a friend of mine introduced me to the computer, and a piece of software that would print out whatever you played into it. Ah, the answer to my prayers. Not so. It turned out that if you lifted your hand a tiny bit early or late the computer would calculate that and insert 65 one hundred and twenty eighth note rests. By the time I had edited all those extra marks on the sheet, it would have been faster to use pencil and paper.

And then came the advent of “midi” - a technical term that simply referred to a new and effective way to use computers for arranging music. Although the initial sound was pretty rough, over the years the quality of the orchestral samples have improved to the point that it is impossible to tell the sound from the real instrument. Today, the sounds I use are real-world individual orchestral instruments played by professionals and captured within the software. Strings, brass, woodwinds, percussion, even the “sound” of a particular music hall, have been recorded. This for me was magic and over the years has evolved into the creation of a new “instrument”. In effect, I am now the conductor of a world class orchestra. This “instrument” has allowed me to create some rather interesting musical arrangements for theatre and for friends to practice with.

These arrangements have also become the backbone of my private vocal teaching. I now transfer the accompaniments I create to a CD or USB key for a student to have immediate and consistent access to a piece of music they are learning. I can adjust the piece quickly and easily in terms of key and tempo. Now my students can learn a piece of music without having to plunk notes on a piano. Over the past 30 years, these tracks have been used for rehearsal and, indeed, performance, by thousands of music students, past and present.

CraneTrax is a venue designed to make these tracks available to students, teachers, coaches and performers everywhere. You can use our accompaniments to learn, rehearse and even perform when a suitable accompanist is not available.