Friday, March 26, 2010


By Brendan Lemon

The other day, when I ask Carolyn Violi, the music director and conductor for the "Beauty and the Beast" tour, to name her favorite song from the musical, she hesitated for a moment. "I never get tired of playing the show," she explained to me backstage after a recent matinee, "because it's so beautifully written, which makes picking a favorite almost impossible. Still, if I'm pressed I guess I'd say 'A Change in Me," Belle's number about going in a new direction. In our lives we all go through these changes. I certainly have."

Perhaps the most dramatic of Violi's own personal shifts occurred about a decade ago.

For more than 20 years, she had been teaching music in public schools in the Indiana, Pennsylvania area, a place where she grew up and which claims Jimmy Stewart as a native son. "One of my former students was conducting 'Beauty' on Broadway," she says, "and he asked me to come out on the first tour."

So, from 1999 to 2003, the tour's duration, Violi worked her way up from keyboardist to assistant conductor to associate conductor. "There's so much music in the show, and that may help people advance in it, if they're committed."

So much music? "There's only one relatively quiet scene," Violi says, "and it involves Cogsworth and the key, that doesn't really have the orchestra.

That's about 5 minutes, and it's our longest break during the show. 'Beauty' uses a lot of underscoring; the orchestra barely stops."

Because the new tour itself almost never stops, I ask Violi about life on the road. "I'm not sure I would have gone on tour when I was younger," she replies, "but when the opportunity came along, I was ready for it."

Violi, who leads a band of ten players (including herself) in the "Beauty" orchestra pit, says she loves teaching, and has gone back to it when she is not touring. "So many of my students Facebook me, and they see me pursuing my dreams."

Even with all the satisfactions of teaching, Violi says that it doesn't always provide the kind of reward that happened during a performance of "Beauty" in Paducah, Kentucky. "One little boy came forward to peer over the orchestra pit. He said, 'All of ya, I just got one thing to say: You all are the best orchestra in the city of Paducah!' The kid couldn't have been older than 10. That kind of moment means a lot."


No comments:

Post a Comment