A Note on Macbeth Orchestration

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by: Evan McGuire

In my years so far at Homestead High, I’ve enjoyed playing cello in pit orchestra more than anything else. After The Little Mermaid this winter, I wanted to become more involved in the theatre department, but as an instrumentalist, my skills are only required for our musicals, which happen once a year.

4G7A4469My primary interest outside of theatre is classical music, and during rehearsals for The Little Mermaid, I discovered a hidden gem: a 20-minute tone poem based on Shakespeare’s Macbeth. I loved the music and asked Ms. Figg if we could somehow incorporate it into our spring play. She was immediately on board with the idea and granted me the opportunity to conduct a small pit orchestra during performances. Both of us were excited by the challenges that an orchestra might bring to the direction of a show. The 10 musicians of the orchestra have so graciously taken time out of their busy schedules to rehearse together semiweekly. Because no play at Homestead had ever been accompanied by this type of live music before, we hope you enjoy what we’ve prepared for you. Maybe this can happen again in the upcoming 2019-2020 season of Homestead Theatre!

The music you will hear during the show comes from many different sources:

1. The most challenging music for the musicians was written by the late-Romantic era composer Richard Strauss (1864–1949), a German composer known for writing extremely challenging parts for musicians. He is also known for his tone poems, pieces of orchestral music which illustrate the content of a non-musical source: in this case, a Shakespeare play. Upon writing “Macbeth,” his third tone poem, Strauss had already begun to craft his unique musical identity, continuing to do so throughout his prolific career, which lasted until his death.

This piece of music was written for a massive 90-member orchestra, but as you can see, our orchestra only has 10 members. Most of the work I did involved taking important excerpts from this piece of music and condensing it to an instrumentation that, to put it frankly, would fit on our narrow platform at the rear of the stage. Strauss wrote the character themes that we use for Macbeth, Lady Macbeth, and the Witches. He also wrote haunting melodies that we use to represent conflict as well as the characters’ yearning and despair.

2. Much of the additional underscoring that contributes to this score comes from Homestead senior John Sellars, Principal Cellist of the Homestead Chamber Orchestra. Last year, John composed solo piano music for Homestead’s production of “Blue Stockings.” This year, he has taken it a step further and orchestrated 5 new pieces of original music specifically for our unusual 10-piece instrumentation.

3. We are also using excerpts from music that we learned in curricular orchestra this year. The Chamber Orchestra performed an arrangement of Shostakovich’s 8th String Quartet in December, and this piece contained a lot of very creepy elements that we were able to use as an underscore for parts of the show. Another piece of music from orchestra that we are using for the show is the 2nd movement of Gustav Holst’s St. Paul Suite. It is a very cheery and innocent sounding movement, so we used it as the score for the introduction Banquo’s child, Fleance.


One thought on “A Note on Macbeth Orchestration

  1. I very much enjoyed Evan’s explanation of the 10-Piece group he put together and the music that will be played and directed by him at the Macbeth performance. I’m looking forward to seeing it. Richard McGuire

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