Tag Archives: 802

Kenny Seymour: Bringing the Music of The Temptations to Broadway and Beyond

Music Director Underscores the Universality of Music

Ain’t Too Proud is the story of the influential Motown group The Temptations, and their journey from the streets of Detroit to the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame during the turbulent times of the 1960s. It is a show filled with the group’s signature dance moves and iconic music—and it recently received 12 Tony award nominations.

Seymour is the man behind the music of the show, and he has been with the production since nearly the beginning.

“As the music director, I’m somewhat the all-around music person. … I’m teaching vocals, conducting the band, playing the show, working with the orchestra, and maintaining the musical integrity of the show as it goes in the long run,” he says. “Over time, you need to make sure that you have the same show because things change and you want to make sure the integrity of the music remains the same so that everyone is getting the same incredible experience.”

The show started with a five-week workshop in New York in January 2017. Prior to that, Seymour was prepping the piano vocal scores and vocal arrangements to be able to teach for the first day of rehearsal. After New York, the show went to Berkeley, California, and after a brief hiatus played at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC, the Ahmanson in Los Angeles, and the Prince of Wales in Toronto, Canada.

“And then we got the news that we had gotten the Imperial [Theatre on Broadway]. That was phenomenal. It was overwhelming because there was so much work and so much love that went into this production from the very beginning,” he says. “That was like the end of the marathon that you enjoyed running.”

During the touring, the production played with a core group of musicians and picked up local union talent in each city they visited. Seymour’s job was to teach and train the local musicians to play at the musical standard and quality for the show, he says. Now that they are on Broadway, the musicians (all active members of Local 802) are the same, but when the show goes on national tour (which it will in 2020, the news was recently announced) Seymour will return to the road with the rest of the creative team to set up the shows in various cities.

All of this touring is done under union contracts. “The contracts set parameters that allow us to operate under guidelines that are established for every other creative art so that we are a respected unit of the entire creation as well as the entire production,” Seymour says. “It adds an order of structure and support: When to be in rehearsal, when to schedule breaks, when the doubles are, what payment will be in overtime. The rules are there, everything is laid out, it’s clear, there’s no questioning about what you have to do.”

“I believe that it is important to have an organization like the musicians union to enable us to be supported in a way that allows us to do our jobs without worrying about being taken advantage of, and having certain guidelines so that we can create freely and really be focused on what we do as musicians, which is to create and to play music.”

Seymour says he feels fortunate because he loves going to work every day and playing in a show whose music is “like a soundtrack to people’s lives.” And that is one of the things Seymour says he loves about music: its universality. Years ago, when he toured Japan with a band named Zhané, Seymour remembers how the entire audience would sing along but, after the show, when the fans would come up to the musicians, it turned out most of them did not actually speak English—they just knew the words to the songs. “The music was so universal and cross cultural that they knew it, they felt it, and they loved it,” he says. “That’s the one thing I love about musicians and being a musician: I can speak that language with anybody in the world.”

Seymour himself was influenced by music as a young age through his parents. His mother was in the original company for the Broadway production of Hair, while his father was a member of the group Little Anthony and the Imperials. Seymour’s mother would actually take him as a baby to Hair rehearsals. At age 4 Seymour started playing piano, and by age 7 he was singing commercial jingles professionally. (Ever hear the commercials for Lite Brite? Some of those are him at age 9.) As a teenager, Seymour transitioned from children’s jingles to playing his piano in local bands, and doing club shows and wedding gigs.

He attended the Manhattan School of Music and Berklee College of Music and over a 20-year career has amassed a large resume of accomplishments, including performing live and in studio with numerous established artists; musical director for artists, bands, symphony orchestras, and on- and off-Broadway shows; composer for television, movies, and theater productions; and arranger/copyist for television shows and events, including Stevie Wonder’s performance at the 2009 Presidential Inaugural Ball.

Ain’t Too Proud is Seymour’s third time on Broadway, having previously been the synthesizer programmer for the musical Hot Feet in 2006, and music director/conductor/Key 1 for Memphis: The Birth of Rock and Roll in 2009.

Seymour first joined the union when he worked on Hot Feet, which was also his Broadway debut. “I wanted to be a Local 802 member for a sense of solidarity, a respect for the craft, having a team behind you,” he says. “A lot of times musicians are looked at as—you’ve heard the term music is ‘not a real job,’ that you’re just ‘playing’—so it gives you a fortification to the business that music is and the craft that it is. It’s not just a hobby and it’s not just something that people do in the park for fun. It’s actually a business, a job.”

Seymour says that, to him, a union of musicians means solidarity. “It means providing healthcare for musicians who would not otherwise have it, or the opportunity or access to healthcare. It means a community of support, a community of knowledge. It means that if you don’t know what to charge or how to approach a certain situation you have somebody to go to bat for you, and in case there are situations that may not be in your best interest from a professional standpoint, somebody has your back.”

And, of course, Seymour loves his job and his union because of the musicians. “One thing that I really enjoy is the fact that everybody on the creative team loves music and it’s so seamless … there’s a common goal and the telling of the story and the way that the music is intertwined helps move it forward in such a way that you’re affected by the brilliant book,” he says. “Also, having musicians that really understand the music and really feel it. Everybody in the band really loves the music and takes it to heart; it’s not just notes on a page. And I think that makes the difference when you’re playing live: You can play the notes, but to be able to convey emotion with those notes is something totally different.”

While he is busy

on Broadway currently, Seymour’s musical interests are varied. He loves composing (especially for films; he says that as a kid he “fell in love with Star Wars and was a John Williams fanboy”). One of his current side projects is composing for the “English Egg” Language series—an English acquisition program for young children that uses storybooks, songs, and play as a first approach to learning English. He started working with the company in 2009 and has composed cues for every release since its inception.

mary halvorson

Halvorson Named MacArthur Fellow

Guitarist and composer Mary Halvorson, 38, of Local 802 (New York City) has been named a 2019 MacArthur Foundation Fellow. The MacArthur Fellowship is a $625,000, no-strings-attached grant for individuals who have shown exceptional creativity in their work and the promise to do more. 

mary halvorson

According to the MacArthur Foundation, Halvorson “is pushing against established musical categories with a singular sound on her instrument and an aesthetic that evolves with each new album and configuration of bandmates. She melds her jazz roots with elements of experimental rock, folk, and other musical traditions, reflecting a wide range of stylistic influences. … A virtuosic performer and adventurous composer, Halvorson defies convention with her idiosyncratic, sonic explorations at the intersection of jazz and rock.”

Over the past dozen years, she has performed solo and in settings ranging from intimate chamber jazz ensembles to genre-crossing groups of five, seven, and eight players. Her debut album as a bandleader, Dragon’s Head (2008), features her original compositions written for a trio of guitar, string bass, and drums. On Away with You (2016), she leads an octet that blends the timbres of a brass section with the dramatic effects of a pedal steel guitar, an instrument more frequently associated with country music than with jazz.

Halvorson’s additional albums as a solo performer or leader include Saturn Sings (2010), Bending Bridges (2012), Illusionary Sea (2014), Meltframe (2015), and Code Girl (2018), and she has performed on numerous other recordings as a side musician or co-leader.

Since 2018, Halvorson has served as an instructor at The New School’s College of Performing Arts. She has performed at numerous national and international venues and festivals.

Local 802 Musician Plays 3D Printed Cello

It’s a crazy time we live in with technology pushing boundaries at every corner, and now it’s even capable of printing instruments. Not too long ago a violin was printed and it looks terrifyingly beautiful to say the least with its abstract design.

David Heiss of Local 802 (New York City, NY) was lucky enough to play the world’s first ever printed Cello. It also has a stylish futuristic design and only one string. Not that it holds David Heiss back from seeing what it can do.

You can watch him play the beast below (if the video doesn’t appear click here).

The Senior Concert Orchestra of New York Returns

The Senior Concert Orchestra of New York returns! It’s always sad when a musical organization no longer has the funds to perform, and that’s why it is ­great news to hear the Senior Concert Orchestra has made a return. This is in thanks to the Music Performance Trust Fund and the Lortel Foundation for supporting the Orchestra.

The MPTF recently hired Dan Beck, a veteran music executive, songwriter and manager. It is with his lead, and the rest of the staff at the MPTF, that made the organization a supporter of the arts by awarding grants to worthy causes such as the Senior Concert Orchestra, which had to leave Carnegie Hall six years ago due to lack of funding. Not surprisingly, Carnegie Hall is one of the most expensive places to perform in The City. They will be one of the first recipients to receive this grant in 2014.

The Senior Concert Orchestra is headed by 84-year-old Gino Smbuco who is a retired violinist with the NY Philharmonic. He fought for a year to get the Orchestra back at Carnegie Hall and with the grant from the Lortel Foundation they were close to accomplishing that goal. It was Dan Beck heading the MPTF that gave them the final push.

The symphony is comprised of players in their 90s, 80s, and 70s with the old musicians being 98-years-old! The rest of the symphony is comprised of local 802 (New York City). Many attended Juilliard and have impressive resumes playing for the Philharmonic, the Metropolitan Opera, and City Opera. It’s a diverse group of gender and ethnicities that all have two things in common: they are in their senior years and they love music.

The show is set for November 16 at 3 PM.