The arts and culture industries remain largely at a standstill in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, affecting millions of workers in an already delicate ecosystem. The Broadway Community Project, from industry veterans Greg Schaffert, Tiffani Gavin, Situation Interactive, and Playbill, was developed to shed light on the myriad fields and roles that go into making the curtain rise.
In the Broadway Community Project series, we shine a spotlight on the faces you may not see on stage, but are nevertheless critical in creating and maintaining a theatre production. These are just some of the arts workers who have put their stamp on an industry that contributed over $14.7 billion to the New York economy in 2019 and $877 billion in value added nationally; these are just some of the arts workers in need of relief as theatres gradually begin to welcome back audiences.
Today, meet Josie Bearden. As a music copyist, she works closely with a production’s music department, including the orchestrator, composer, and supervisor, to annotate and organize edits and ensure they make their way to musicians and other team members. Having started in the industry as a music assistant to Alex Lacamoire (working with the Tony winner on Dear Evan Hansen and the cast recording for Hamilton), Bearden first made the switch to the more niche role in London for the premiere of Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. More recently, she crossed the pond as part of the team on the Back to the Future musical. She also works on bringing music to the screen, with film credits including Little Women and the upcoming West Side Story. Learn more about Bearden and her work below.
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Name: Josie Bearden
Title: Music Copyist
What is a typical day like for you as a music copyist?
In simplest terms, the role of a music copyist is to prepare the physical score and parts for either a live performance or recording session. But that music could arrive in many different ways: an MP3 recording, handwritten score, Finale/Sibelius, a digital MIDI file, or any combination of these. One day you could be working on a Broadway show and the next might be a film or TV scoring session. Regardless of the medium, the copyist will work very closely with every person in the music department: orchestrator, music director, music supervisor, composer, keyboard programmer, music assistant, conductor, contractor, and, of course, the musicians themselves.
Do you have a favorite memory from your time on the job?
My favorite memory for any show I’ve worked on is always the sitzprobe. This is the first time that the cast gets to sing with the orchestra, and it’s the biggest overnight change you’ll see in the course of a production. After weeks of rehearsals with just one upright piano, things just come to life. Hearing Ben Platt sing "Waving Through a Window" was that moment when I realized what Dear Evan Hansen was about to become.
What are some of your favorite projects you’ve worked on?
My favorite overall is actually a movie musical: Steven Spielberg’s adaptation of West Side Story. This was simultaneously the most difficult and most rewarding project I’ve ever been a part of. After that, I’d have to turn to my first music copying job, which was in London for Tina: The Tina Turner Musical. I had to go from being a music assistant to copyist almost overnight, so it was a real turning point in many ways. And then more recently, I’d say Back to the Future. The music for this show is such a beautiful fusion of brand-new rock pop songs from Glen Ballard up against Alan Silvestri’s original score from the iconic film. And, the special effects are in a different league altogether. I still don’t understand how they do it.
What advice do you have for those aspiring to work in your field?
I didn’t really know what a music copyist did until I started working as a music assistant, and even after that, there was still so much to learn. Theatre is such a rapidly changing field that it’s almost impossible to prepare yourself for a specific role, let alone one as niche as music copying. My advice: be a fly on the wall in as many rooms as you can and just keep saying yes. You may be surprised at what interests you, and oftentimes it will change, but be open to that. Nothing about my career so far has been especially planned, but I’ve always followed this rule: If you’re in a room and there’s nobody else there that you’d like to become one day, then you’re in the wrong room. Stick to that until you find your room.
What does it mean to you to be a part of the theatre community?
Musical theatre is one of the most collaborative art forms I’ve ever been a part of. When we're in rehearsals or previews, it’s almost impossible to make a change in the show that won’t immediately affect seven other departments. As the saying goes, it takes a village to put on a musical.