Benny Koonyevsky's setup for the Broadway production of The Bridges of Madison County at the Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre.
“The setup for the show is very simple and small. There are two big numbers where you move a lot between the vibes and the timpani and it needs to be practiced slowly. The rest of the show is very easy, technically, but since it's very exposed, you’d better hit the right notes and get the sound that the composer wanted, or everyone in the pit will look at you :-)
It was fun working with Jason Robert Brown (composer) and Tom Murray (conductor) on the parts. Mainly, we talked about dynamics, sounds, sticks, and phrasings. I never heard or worked with JRB before so when I got the music for the first rehearsal I was thinking, ‘Wow, low C on the timpani -- that's really strange!’ You don't see lots of low Cs in the timpani literature, and if you do it's one or two notes. In any case, after the first rehearsal I was totally blown away by JRB's knowledge of my instruments, his ears, musicality and singing! Also, it was great to have Tom Murray as a conductor. Both guys don't play around: they tell you what they think, and that's what I like, simple and in your face :-)
Before our first day of rehearsal at the theatre I spoke to Michael Keller (music contractor) and Eric Poland (percussion rentals and amazing drummer/percussionist) about the layout of the pit and sizes of instruments. That was a real lesson on the business and organization of a show, which I’ve never done. Michael Keller knew every aspect of the instruments, sizes and setup, and he also connected me with the stage hands, stage managers, and whoever I needed to talk to about my setup. That made the whole process really easy and smooth.
After the first day of rehearsals we got a bigger size vibes and moved them closer to the piano, since most of the lines that I play on the vibes are with the piano. I could see his hands and head which helped us to play together.
The pit was all acoustic except for a few notes on electric guitar and some electric bass, but overall it was like chamber music. I had to use brushes and play really softly. In a couple of spots I had to use extra snares on top of the snare drum since the soft playing was not getting the bottom snares in the mic. I also had to use big heavy timpani mallets to get the lower range of the timpani. I had Yamaha 32” and 29” drums. Mallets for the timpani were made by Nic Cannizzaro and myself. I used one Cloyd Duff stick for a soft high note on the 29” drum, and also used ABC Medium Soft, and Gary Burton Soft mallets on the vibes.”