While theater enthusiasts can cite chapter and verse about any musical written by Stephen Sondheim, Jerry Herman or Stephen Schwartz, few outsiders will recognize such names as Jonathan Tunick, Phil Lang and William David Brohn.
Those men spent years working in relative obscurity, and yet their tireless efforts are largely responsible for giving the music of Sondheim, Herman and Schwartz their characteristic sounds. Who are those talented craftsmen? They’re orchestrators.
Often given little more than a melody and the corresponding harmonies that support it, the orchestrator transforms a basic tune into a chart that will be played by as many as two dozen professional musicians.
Another member of that talented group of unsung musical heroes is Larry Blank, a gifted musician who has orchestrated the Broadway productions of “The Drowsy Chaperone,” “Catch Me If You Can” and “A Christmas Story.”
Because orchestrators are given the responsibility of creating arrangements that will cast great tunes in the best possible light, it should come as no surprise that they’re equally at home in front of an orchestra.
Blank will be the featured conductor for the Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s upcoming pops concert pair, a celebration of music from the Broadway stage and film. Joining him will be guest vocalists Ron Raines, Lisa Vroman and Christina Saffran.
These concerts will not only feature some of Broadway’s most popular show tunes, but the kind of musical wizardry that a master orchestrator can accomplish. Spotlighted will be Blank’s arrangements of “I, Don Quixote” from “Man of La Mancha,” “Oh, What a Beautiful Mornin’” from “Oklahoma!” and a Disney medley he created for the BBC.
Tricks of the trade
A New York native who attended the prestigious High School of the Performing Arts, Blank learned his craft by working side by side with some of Broadway’s most talented orchestrators, among them, Irwin Kostal (“West Side Story”), Lang (“Hello, Dolly”) and Ralph Burns (“Pippin”).
“Those guys took me under their wings, and I learned about all sorts of little devices and tricks that are used in orchestration,” Blank said recently by phone from his home in Los Angeles. “I once complained to Kostal that when trumpets put in their cup mutes, they play sharp.
“He told me if you start a number with them already in cup mutes, it will be in tune. Kostal also said that woodwinds define the harmony, so you should write them high enough so people can hear them. Those are things you have to be aware of in this business.”
Blank’s Broadway career began not as an orchestrator but as a conductor. His first show was “Goodtime, Charley,” a 1975 musical about the 15th-century French King Charles VII and his association with Joan of Arc.
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Oklahoma City Philharmonic’s ‘March Madness’
•What: Pops pair featuring conductor Larry Blank and vocalists Ron Raines, Lisa Vroman and Christina Saffran.
•When: 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday.
•Where: Civic Center Music Hall, 201 N Walker.
•Information: 842-5387 or www.okcphilharmonic.org.